Inside Apple's new Office

Last night (our time) Satya Nadella, 52 days into his new position as CEO of Microsoft, made two major announcements via a live webcast from San Francisco.

The first: Office for iPad. 3 new apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint that are designed to be touch-centric and easier to navigate and format than what is currently available to us.

The second: Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility Suite. More focussed on big business users, this is a new way for IT professionals to manage multiple devices (not just Windows) on their network, whilst being able to best protect their corporate assets.

Both of these announcements aimed to fall in direct step with what Nadella has been insisting since day one in his new role – that Microsoft should empower both individuals and organisations to be more productive, on any device.

It’s an interesting one considering much of the criticism at Microsoft and Nadella’s predecessor Steve Ballmer has been at their so-called ‘insular’ approach. Ballmer in particular has been accused of wanting everything to be in the Windows ecosystem.

I guess the fact that we’ve been waiting for an Office app since, let’s be honest, 2010 when the iPad was first unveiled, makes that one hard to argue with.

The consumerisation of IT, i.e the benefit of more choice, means that Microsoft have had to change that train of thought. It might have taken them a rather long time to do so, but it seems as though Nadella is starting to deliver on that first promise he made – a customer focussed approach in delivering great experiences.

Whilst the webcast’s demonstration of new Office apps for iPad looked great, and certainly addressed many of the gripes I currently have with formatting and touch on mobile devices, there are some limitations.

The apps are free, but you won’t be able to do a great deal with them without an Office 365 subscription. Viewing documents and presenting using PowerPoint is pretty much your limit.

With a subscription you’ll be able to create, edit and format new documents, have multiple authors editing at the same time, and save everything in real time on OneDrive.

However, Office has always been aimed at a business audience so the draw of being able to go out to meetings with an iPad and make presentations using a decent version of PowerPoint will be hard to resist. I know I won’t be able to….

Nadella also drew upon a recent Forbes article which talked about the toughest jobs in the world. ‘IT professional’ was not among them which he said was a glaring omission.

With the BYOD trend, multiple devices are tapping into networks and at best, draining the bandwidth, and at worst, doing something more seedy and potentially stealing corporate data. It’s a lot to keep on top of which our National Technical Director Paul Burns has blogged about in more detail.

Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility Suite is their attempt to address this situation, whilst still empowering the end user to use the device they want.

Now Microsoft are under no illusion that every business is going to be using a Windows Phone or Surface to access services, the mobility suite lets IT professionals manage a hub of devices including Apple and Android, set identity and access management for people using services from the company portal, see where people are logging in from, and keep an eye on suspicious behaviour.

It’s all built on the highly secure Windows Azure platform which is not only used by Microsoft, but many other vendors are also using it. That, coupled with Office 365, means that Microsoft are trying to allow access to the Cloud for everyone, on every device, but with an increased focus on protection and BYOD.

Nadella says it will allow IT professionals to become heroes by enabling end users to use any app, on any device, safely and without compromising corporate data. I’ve talked before about people effectively being able to walk out of a building with an entire database of confidential information on the size of a cassette tape – the Enterprise Mobility Suite is designed to help prevent this.

These two announcements are definitely a positive sign from Nadella. It positions them more as a services company – we’ve heard talk of the new ‘services and devices’ mantra for a while but really this was ‘services and devices, as long as it’s on Windows’ up until now.

This marks an active change and commitment to delivering access for people and business to their information, when and how they want.

Our CEO David Stonehouse blogged at the time Satya Nadella was first announced as the new head of Microsoft, writing that his success will all depend on the most basic level – how well he is able to deliver what customers want. To quote David it’s about “helping people to do what they want more effectively; making it easy to consume content, find information, communicate and, in business, make decisions.”

And as for Nadella being able to work with competitors (which many accused Ballmer of being incapable of)? Well, he and Apple CEO Tim Cook looked pretty cosy on Twitter last night…

The next thing to look out for from Nadella is an update on Windows – he gave a clue about it in his closing statements and said that Windows is a ‘massive agenda’ and that ‘We will innovate’. Details to be unveiled at next week’s Build conference so watch this space…

You can watch the full Microsoft webcast here.