Forget about Candy Crush, Facebook, Snapchat and Yahoo Weather. The real action in software is in so-called office applications: spreadsheets, word processors, presentations graphics and other tools that are essential, even if unexciting. That’s what your employees care about most for their mobiles, desktops and notebooks, even if they rarely talk about it.
In mid-April, Microsoft Word for iPad was the No. 2 free app in Apple’s iTunes store. (The No. 1 app is a game called Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.) Microsoft Excel for iPad was No. 10 and PowerPoint was No. 11. Not bad for software introduced only a couple of weeks earlier. Of course, the Microsoft Office apps are only free to use for reading documents; if you want to create or edit documents, you have to buy an annual subscription to Office 365.
(Related: Social apps: Another way to make millions)
The company has also released Microsoft Office Mobile for Android to generally positive reviews.
On April 17, the Apache Software Foundation said that downloads of OpenOffice had hit 100 million. Now, we don’t know how many of those downloads correspond to continuous users vs. those who didn’t stick with the software.
OpenOffice has been around for a long time; it used to be called StarOffice. Apache describes it as:
Apache OpenOffice is the leading Open Source office document productivity suite, available in 32 languages on Windows, OS X, and Linux. OpenOffice includes a word processor (“Writer”), a spreadsheet (“Calc”), a presentation editor (“Impress”), a vector graphics editor (“Draw”), a mathematical formula editor (“Math”), and a database management program (“Base”). As Open Source software, Apache OpenOffice is available to all users free of charge; the C++ source code is readily available for anyone who wishes to enhance the applications.
In any case, 100 million is a pretty impressive number, even if you compare it against the 1 billion people that Microsoft says use Microsoft Office.
There are more players in the office productivity apps market than Microsoft and Apache, of course. Google Apps includes a browser-based word processor called Docs, a spreadsheet called Sheets, and a PowerPoint alternative called Slides. For Mac OS and iOS, Apple sells a word processor called Pages, a spreadsheet called Numbers, and a presentation program called Keynote.
Where has the innovation been? After years of essential stagnation, the most interesting action is at Microsoft. Office 365 is an exciting platform. The mobile versions for iOS and Android are good. Not great, but good. What sets Microsoft apart, however, is its broader integration of Office with its back-office software, like SharePoint, and the wealth of APIs for Office 2013 and Office 365.
Not everyone needs word processing, spreadsheets, presentation graphics and other basic productivity apps. Certainly there’s a lot you can do without them, and many professional positions can get by with more specialized software. Many salespeople, for example, can live entirely within Saleforce.com.
Yet at the end of the day, many mainstream users with Windows or Mac laptops or desktops, or Android and iOS tablets, are going to want to use those tools. Best I can tell, this will mean Google Docs, OpenOffice or Microsoft Office for most people. As we look around at our customers, employees and partners, we should realize that they—not games, not social media—are still the killer apps.
Do you use “office” software? Write me at email@example.com.
Alan Zeichick, founding editor of SD Times, is principal analyst of Camden Associates.