Cloud first, mobile first: Word, Powerpoint, and Excel come to iPad today

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Satya Nadella paces around a small stage in San Francisco. It’s only been 52 days since he became CEO, and yet he’s already been the man behind products his predecessor’s would have never touched.

Office for iPad had apparently been finished for a few months now, yet it had been stuck in limbo, a scary admission that users might not switch to a Windows tablet just for one service. Today, though, Nadella stands with an iPad, an iPhone, an Acer laptop, and a Samsung tablet in his background. This is Microsoft’s future.

As you read this, Office is being rolled out to the iPad in a move Nadella calls ‘Cloud First, Mobile First’. And while this might seem like an inevitable situation, for a company like Microsoft it’s a crazy shift, Bring Your Own Device on steroids. Instead of waiting for you to switch to a Windows tablet or phone, Microsoft just wants to be on the device you already own. Today was just one aspect of Nadella’s plan, “the most critical piece of [our] innovation agenda.”

As Julia White, general manager of Microsoft Office, takes the stage, another big change from Microsoft comes out, with White talking about her iPad. Even though we’ve lived through keynotes filled with celebrity endorsements, with B-grade stars all pretending to love their Windows Phones and Windows RT tablets (and later tweeting from competitors products), now it seems Microsoft employees were able to talk, even if it was considered hypothetically, about using competitors products, considering the possibility that their customers are actually using these products. Because they are. And with Nadella’s background in cloud, Microsoft’s future is ironically not as clouded as some have thought in the past few years.

Office for iPad, which should be available as you read this, is the freemium office suite the iPad has been waiting for, unless you consider iWork as sufficient. For free, users can now read and present their documents, or Powerpoint presentations. Though with an Office 365 subscription, not only will users get desktop Office on their laptop or computer, but now they’ll get access to editing and creation capabilities on iPad.

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Each program from the main Office suite is a separate app, with Word, Powerpoint, and Excel all housing a clean, bright ribbon-UI. And these apps don’t just seem to be a bigger version of the disappointing iPhone version, but rather a true extension to Microsoft Office. Editing was fast, with a simple demo of moving an image being silky smooth, and you can use “co-op”, as presenter White described it, to collaborate with other users. It was finally the rich document editing that we should expect from Office, and yet the rich editing we’ve never seen. White promised true document compatibility, while Nadella was proud in saying that “there’s no holding back on anything.”

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Powerpoint and Excel were also on display at the event. The native Excel app featured a custom numeric keypad, powerful chart inclusions with real-time previews, as well as automatic updating charts. Only a few features were announced for Powerpoint, and yet the way White was using the app made it easy to forget how complex this port must have been. With Powerpoint, there’ll be an ability to create a “virtual laser pointer” when presenting, as well as full document manipulation on the iPad.

This is all despite Windows RT still just using desktop office. It’s also important to remember, this news comes just a week after the release of OneNote on Mac. But this is the next chapter for Microsoft. As Nadella says, “what modivates us is … the digital life of our customer.”

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White also used the event to announce that Office for Mobile would come free on iPhone and Android platforms. This was as well as an Enterprise Mobility Suit, another set of tools to help the BYOD movement. Finally, White announced Microsoft Azure Active Directory Premium availability, as well as Windows Intune changes.

Though where does Windows fit in all of this? Stay tuned, it’s still a priority, Nadella promises, and there’s more news to share next week at BUILD.