Microsoft reported to acquire calendar app Sunrise

Techcrunch reports that Microsoft is continuing its acquisition spree for competitive productivity apps, scooping up calendar company Sunrise for something over $100 million. This follows the recent release of Outlook for iOS (see The best Gmail client is Outlook? Really?), which was the outgrowth of its acquisition of Acompli, an Outlook competitor, a few months ago.

Apparently, Microsoft intends to continue Sunrise as an independent product family (there are iOS, Android, Mac OS X, and web versions), so I expect we’ll see Windows versions in the offing. Supposedly Microsoft plans to integrate Sunrise functionality in other products, as well.

Sunrise had raised $8.2 million from investors that include Balderton Capital, Resolute.vc, NextView Ventures, Lerer Ventures, SV Angel, BoxGroup, 500 Startups, Slow Ventures, and a long list of angels.

Microsoft releases Office apps for iPhone, no Office 365 required

Microsoft has decided to make Office apps for iPhone, iPad, and — soon — Android freely downloadable, and will not require users to create a paid Office 365 account to do so. This replaces the former Office Mobile application, which had a less than wonderful user experience.

Office for iPad was released in March to great acclaim: over 40 million downloads later, Microsoft has decided that free Office apps on mobile devices is a strategic opportunity, a way to hold onto the company’s leadership position in productivity apps. Note that the company announced an integration with Dropbox earlier this week (see  Dropbox partners up with Microsoft), another effort to stay as close as possible to the 35 billion Office documents stored there.

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A Word doc on iPhone

Microsoft surely must be hoping that some percentage of those that download the free apps will sign up for Office 365. The most obvious example: people wanting to edit documents stored in OneDrive for Business or Dropbox for Business will have to sign up for Office 365. So Microsoft is comping the consumer, and accepting that loss of hypothetical revenue while looking to the enterprise side of things to keep the doors open in Redmond.

I wonder if Microsoft will go so far as to support Continuity on iOS and Mac OS X, going forward?

Google is planning to steal Microsoft’s future

A few new indicators have popped up, showing that Google is going right after Microsoft’s jugular: enterprise email.
The most clear cut indicator is new stats mined by Dan Frommer, showing that Microsoft dominates the Fortune 500 — and presumably, other large and multinational corporations — but in mid-size and start-ups, Google has the upper hand.
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As Frommer points out, Google is the only Fortune 50 company with its email records pointed at Gmail:

Among the mid-size companies, almost 60% host their email with Google, including corporations like Twitter, Dropbox, Box, Airbnb, Square, Uber, and EtsyAnd among the Y Combinator startups—mostly very small companies with some funding, but often tight budgets—92% host their email with Google.

This is the big challenge for Microsoft: how do they continue to milk the cow — the large corporate customers, that are tightly tied to Microsoft’s platform for email and productivity, like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint — and still get out to chase the mid-sized companies that are its future?
The answer? They can’t. Or at least, they aren’t doing it hard and fast enough to be dominant in these other sectors.
A follow-on question: what would they have to do do get ahead of Google? Microsoft’s numbers show that Office 365 subscription sales are up 0ver 100% from last year, but licensing software — like Microsoft Exchange — is flat.
Google is developing a number of channel partners to attack Microsoft in the enterprise, as well. Last week, Spring and Google announced a new partnership that allows Sprint to sell Google Apps for Business, which includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive/Docs, and other Google products and services.
Obviously, Sprint would like to sell this to more than existing enterprise mobile customers, enticing new companies into the Sprint fold. Vice versa, this could open the door for companies to look at a new option, because many small businesses may not have considered Google’s services before.
Google’s goal is to get SMB penetration, and through that — in time — everyone. As even the largest companies decide to move to Email-as-a-Service, Microsoft will have to work hard to convert existing Exchange/Outlook customers to Office 365, and to make the value proposition for smaller companies compelling.  We’ll have to see if Nadella and company can pull it off.

Sprint will start reselling Google apps to businesses

Sprint(s s) and Google(s goog) already have a history of close cooperation on consumer apps — Sprint was the only major U.S. carrier to support Google Wallet — but now it looks like they’re making their partnership more professional. In August, Sprint will start offering Google apps to small business and enterprise customers. The carrier won’t just resell access to Gmail, Calendar, Drive and Docs business accounts; it will provide customer support, giving those businesses a single point of contact for their mobile network and device problems as well as their app issues.

Dropbox continues raising money, and prepares for big announcement this week

Dropbox has lined up more than $500 million in debt financing, according to the Financial Times. Apparently, it is growing its own infrastructure, (now a hybrid of its own and Amazon’s), and even though the company raised $350 million in venture earlier this year (see Dropbox, now valued at $10B, raises $250M), there is a great deal of interest to make bets on the leaders in the exploding work tech sector.
Phe price pressures in the file sync-and-share market are rising as prices fall: Google has dropped it prices, for example, and I would personally save over $15/month if I switched from Dropbox (see Google Drive changes the economics of file sync-and-share). Dropbox has real pressure to match these price shifts, and data center efficiencies is one aspect of that.
Liz Gannes at Re/Code notes that Dropbox will be launching new product this week on Wednesday, and rumors suggest ‘productivity’ — office — tools are coming. I’ve written about this many times: see Dropbox for Business is only the start: next, work management and office apps and Dropbox acquires Zulip, readies two-headed client. This week we’ll see what they announce. My prediction:

  • Some reworking of the Zulip chat app — recently acquired — closely integrated with Dropbox, providing a Yammer-like (or Yammer-lite) experience for small workgroups.
  • Announcing or maybe releasing applications to edit and create Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents. These applications will likely run in the browser only at first, but on Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android in the near future.

This will be melded with the new Dropbox for Business, so that some functionality may require signing up for that premium service. For example, I currently use the Packrat Service on my Dropbox account, so that files I delete from my hard drive are not actually deleted in the cloud. I pay a large premium for that service, and business users would likely do so.

Office for iPad posts 12M downloads in first week

It’s been widely reported that Microsoft has twittered the impressive results of one week of Office for iPad, which has led to over 12 million downloads.
The other shoe hasn’t dropped though: how many people have signed up for Office 365, which is required to create or edit Office documents on the iPad. At $99 per year, it’s fairly certain that Microsoft hasn’t seen anything like 12 million subscriptions, even with free giveaways at Microsoft retail stores, or the discounted license of $79 on Amazon.
As some are saying on the Microsoft tweet, how many have deleted the app from sticker shock?
Screenshot 2014-04-04 09.55.59
The reality is that Satya Nadella, the new CEO, has accepted the new terms of the competition around office apps in general and Microsoft Office in specific. He’s started by dropping the price of the apps — for use in viewing and presenting Office documents on the iPad — to zero. He’s now running an experiment to figure out the following:

  1. How many will download the app? The answer so far is 12 million in the first week, and we could project some ongoing trail with tens of millions more downloads in the coming weeks and months so long as there isn’t some backlash.
  2. How many will convert to Office 365 subscribers at current rates? The Microsofties are looking closely at those numbers, that only they can know. I’m betting the number is low overall. Corporate buyers might step up in large numbers, but I bet they are running some experiments forst, too. I will suggest that as fewer than 5% have converted. Certainly if the numbers were huge, Microsoft would be crowing about it.
  3. What is the best price point for the capability to edit and create Office docs on the iPad? It’s definitely less than $79/year. The value of being able to keep to the Office app formats — instead of converting to Apple or Google docs — is high, but mostly for big businesses, and those folks will pay for integration with Yammer, Sharepoint and other Microsoft niceties, like collaboration inside of documents.

My bet is that they will go to a zero price version, one that involves an integration with OneDrive with a minimum storage, and then users would need to pay for additional storage, or for Office 365 integration. The collaborative editing of documents, and other functionality will be partitioned in increasingly higher per month or per year bundles.
But — bottom line — I bet the low conversion in all but large and super large companies will give Nadella the proof he needs to justify releasing a new free Office for iPad tier, one integrated only with OneDrive, and costing the starting prices of zero.
[An aside — I still am amazed that these vendors consider word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations the sum and span of ‘productivity’. None of these guys has a task management app?]

Office comes to the iPad, at last

Satya Nadella’s San Francisco press conference yesterday was indeed the unveiling of Office for iPad, as predicted. This is actually three separate apps — Word, Excel, and Powerpoint for iPad — and as I guessed, you will need an Office 365 account if you want to do anything more than look at existing documents. But otherwise, again as I suspected, the apps are free (see Microsoft stock is soaring on desire for Office on iPad, and Microsoft accepts the inevitable, takes first steps toward making Windows and Office free). An Android version is coming soon, as well.

Nadella wrote on the official Microsoft blog,

We’re bringing Office, the gold standard in getting things done, to the iPad. A billion people rely on Office every day, and we’ve worked diligently to create a version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint that delivers the best productivity experience available on the iPad. It’s built from the ground up for touch, is unmistakably Office in its design, and is optimized for iPad. Office for iPad offers unmatched rendering of content and delivers unparalleled authoring, analysis and presentation experiences that Office customers expect on all of their devices. Download it today for free.

The oddest wrinkle is that there is no way to print documents on the iPad apps, which is annoying, and likely to be the number one complaint/request of new Office for iPad users. I expect a patch for than, stat.

So, Microsoft has finally filled the huge strategic hole for Office by rolling out Office on iOS. I will download and try the package of apps on my iPad and iPhone, and we’ll see how they feel. But the specifics of the feature set are a secondary consideration. The real question is this: did Microsoft wait too long? Did they allow too many business users the chance to try other applications — like Quip, Apple office apps, Goggle Docs, etc. — and now will be confronted with the prospect of having to convince them to return to the fold, like wayward sheep? Will they come back? Will they sign up for Office 365?

And the boogeyman for Microsoft isn’t really Apple, Google, and other existing alternatives. It’s the apps that Dropbox, Box, and other file sync-and-share companies are planning to bring to market. They have hundreds of millions of users and steadily growing, and Microsoft Drive is far behind. The right combination of apps from these competitors could cause a seismic shift in the world of business, where Microsoft becomes an also-ran.

Office 365 Personal is more proof Microsoft is trending toward free apps

I wrote the other other day that Microsoft’s Satya Nadella seems to have turned the corner on a new price strategy for Windows and Office: he’s heading towards free (see Microsoft accepts the inevitable, takes first steps toward making Windows and Office free). As I said, Nadella realizes he must trade the promise of continued revenue from Windows and Office with the reality of remaining relevant.

The strategic shift on Office will be to give away the applications for (functionally) zero, so long as the user has signed up for a monthly subscription at Office 365. In effect, Microsoft wants people to share through their infrastructure, and not through the infrastructure of competitors like Apple, Google, Dropbox, Box, and others.

The newest indication of this policy is yesterday’s announcement by Microsoft for Office 365 Personal:

Coming this Spring, Office 365 Personal is a new, great option for people interested in using Office 365.  It’s designed for an individual, allows for one PC or Mac and one tablet to be connected to the service and will be available for $69.99 USD/year or $6.99 USD/ month (ERP)1. We recognize that there are households of all shapes and sizes and we’re committed to delivering the right Office for everyone – whether that be one person or an entire household.

Office Home Premium will now be called, simply, Office Home. And we can expect that Home and Enterprise versions will trend toward this model: the apps are free so long as you sign up for the monthly service, and as your move up from Personal to Home, and Home to Enterprise there will be more connection and integration options — like Sharepoint, Yammer, and business intelligence capabilities — that will justify enterprises paying over $150/year/seat before discounts.

But the apps will become free, and the war becomes what’s in the infrastructure.

 

Will Microsoft move fast enough to hold onto its Office point position?

A number of news items from last week that converge toward a major scene of contention for how works gets done in the near future:

  • Editorially, the markdown coediting tool, has announced that it will be shutting down on May 30 2014. Apparently the company just wasn’t seeing the growth that they had hoped for. I reviewed the product in Editorially is the co-editing solution of my dreams, and my experience in using it with others was not great. Writing new documents from scratch seemed to work fine, but otherwise, real problems. Or one single problem. As one participant said, ‘If I can’t import and export Word documents, it’s impossible.’
  • Microsoft and DocuSign announced that DocuSign will be rolling out an integration that will allow Office 365 users to send, sign, track, and store DocuSign documents without leaving the application, and keeping all the documents within OneDrive for Business (formerly SkyDrive).
  • I wrote about Google’s new partnership with VMWare (The Office Wars intensify as Google brings Windows apps to Chromebook), which is an attempt to make an end run on Microsoft’s apparent unwillingness to roll out full-featured Office apps on anything by Windows.
  • This last week, Dropbox made another strategic hire (see Dropbox makes Dennis Woodside its first COO), gearing up its attempt to take the high ground in the Office wars.

Microsoft Office applications — particularly Word, Excel, and Powerpoint — have become central to the work graph in most established businesses, and are extremely common even in younger and less Microsoft Windows-dominated businesses.
It’s essential, however, to think about Office docs in two ways:

  1. Office as a protocol, specifying the layout and semantics of the elements that make up these documents, such as tables, text styling, document layout,and so on.
  2. Office applications, which are apps capable of creating, editing, and saving documents that accord with the Office protocols.

In this perspective, Google and Apple both have tools that can act as Office applications, since they can — to some degree of fidelity — input and output Office documents. (Although what Google does with my Apple Pages-created invoice files are a travesty.)
The situation today is this: Microsoft has not released Office applications that play in full fidelity across all mainstream platforms, in particular iPad and Android tablets. Their solution for Mac OS involves buying (or renting as a part of Office 365) a full install of Office for Mac, which is a fairly heavyweight solution considering I already have Pages, Numbers, and Keynote installed, and they are now free for anyone buying new Apple hardware.
Dropbox has said it is investing in a broad spectrum of applications to better compete for top-of-the-hill in business. And Google and Apple are investing serious bank, as well. And all three are going to make the economics of Office very difficult for Microsoft: it’s trending towards free.
Microsoft faces the Innovator’s Dilemma: if it doesn’t disrupt its own dominance in Office apps, then one or more of these three competitors is likely to upset the marketplace with a nextgen suite of Office apps that provides a better value proposition at a lower (zero?) price point. For example, imagine this Office Killer from Dropbox:

  1. Very high fidelity interoperability with Microsoft documents, like tables with calculations within ‘Dropdocs’ Word-like word processor.
  2. Tight seamless integration with Dropbox file-sync-and-share capabilities.
  3. Close integration with a Dropbox work management capability, which I am dubbing ‘Droppr’. This would provide both inside and outside the document discussions, annotation, and review tools (compare versions, show who wrote what, etc.), as well as more general work management, like discussions, following, projects, and activity streams.

Note also that Box is likely doing similar things.
I rest my case by asking the question a slightly different way. If Microsoft fails to rise to this challenge, every month more people are drifting away and adopting alternative tools that eat documents based on its protocols, and if something like the Dropbox Office suite comes out before Microsoft moves to offer something similar, then they could lose a major battle, and maybe, in the long run, the enterprise battle.

Quip 1.5 adds new features, but not the ones I want

I have written with interest about Quip, the social editor (see I want a social editor, but Quip isn’t there quite yet), so when I saw that there was a new version I went to take a look.

The new version is 1.5, and focuses on three new features in particular.

Importing Documents

Quip now imports documents from Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Drive, allowing Word documents of text files to be pulled in. This works on the web and iOS version, except for Google Drive which is only supported on the web at the moment. Likewise, local files can be dragged into Quip and converted.

I found that complex Word documents — specifically those with internal comments of the sort my editors add to indicate changes to be made — made documents non-importable, although I could sort of make it work with cut-and-paste, except images and other sophisticated elements were lost.

And a more fundamental issue: why import, but not sync? What would be most appealing to me would be to support a general capability for a/ converting documents to Quip format, b/ placing those documents in both the Quip and Dropbox storage (as one example), and c/ allowing sharing in both worlds.

My bet is that this is simply too complex to accomplish. First of all, Quip documents don’t exist outside of Quip, except as PDFs. There is no capability to convert a Quip document to Word, for example. It is a closed world.

It would seem natural to allow the conversion to something like Markdown, but even that isn’t supported.

I understand that Quip is intended to be a coediting experience, with coworkers sharing commentary about the contents and purpose of the documents, but I still would like to at least publish to the web in something other than PDF.

Inbox Filters

Apparently many users of Quip get overloaded by quips from their coeditors, and the tool’s designers have developed filters to decrease the overload. (I can’t find this on the Web version, actually.)

On iOS, this filter can be used to filter out comments and document updates that have already been seen.

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Focus Mode

Apparently the designers have provided a mechanism to view documents and work on them without seeing comments of coworkers, but I can’t find it on the web version or on my iPhone, so I presume that it only works on iPad. There is no mention of it in the help files, which is a classic headache for fst-miving start-ups that announce new features and then take weeks to modify descriptions in FAQs and help.

What I Wanted To See

Of course Quip is listening to the folks that are using their tool the most, which doesn’t include me. For me, it’s unworkable.

Markdown — Quip allows, styling of text, tables, hyperlinks, headers and so on, but only through a programmatic interface. For example, to make a paragraph a heading I select the paragraph handle on the right margin, and select a specific size of heading:

Screenshot 2013-11-24 04.41.44

 

It works in a limited fashion but is cumbersome. For example, users have to learn keystrokes for styling text: there are no menus for that.

I’d suggest they should allow two views of the doc, the WYSIWYG view that they already have, and a markdown view, using the well-known text markup language. Then power users could edit the document in a text mode, which is immensely easier.

This solves a number of issues, including a workable, universal export format for Quip documents, which today is limited to cut-and-paste into a rich-text file, manually.

Various Social Features — I still want a richer social experience, as I outlined in  I want a social editor, but Quip isn’t there quite yet, and I am still hopeful that we will start to get there. Note that one of the capabilities I want — attaching comments to specific sections of the text — could be tied to getting granualrity finer than the paragraph.

The Bottom Line

I see Quip as an interesting experiment, but one that has yet to hit the Minimum Viable Product for a full-time writer like me. For others who might be writing the equivalent of memos, Quip 1.5 may be sufficient, and could edge out lower-fidelity, asocial solutions like Dropbox and Textedit. However, if Dropbox and the other file sync-and-share apps continue on their rush toward competition with iCloud, Google Drive, and Office 365, Quip may be squeezed pretty hard, and lacking an export capability won’t be enough to hold onto the users they have gained.