A little over thirty-two years ago, Microsoft had a great idea.
It was a period when productivity software didn’t come in a package. Word and Excel, to name two of the best known, had to be purchased separately. Just like its competitors from other companies: the Lotus 1-2-3, for example, was a Lotus spreadsheet program; O WordStar, a text editor from MicroPro. And there were many others.
Bringing them together into a single solution may seem obvious today, but it wasn’t during the 1980s. There was greater competition between companies, and Microsoft still didn’t have the dominance it has today. The idea of creating a suite with the company’s main software was one of the factors that helped to consolidate this domain, by the way.
So, the Microsoft Office came into the world in 1990 with its classic trinity: Word, Excel and PowerPoint. From a market point of view, it made perfect sense. The various Microsoft products were emphasized together, encouraging the user to focus on the tools of a single company. There was still no real integration between the programs; that would only come with time. At first, the focus was business.
It was more than right. The Microsoft bundle was little by little occupying the spaces of the competition, until the word office has become synonymous with the productivity suite. The brand has become one of the strongest in the company, competing with Windows itself.
But thirty-two years later, Microsoft is ready to go on without it. I mean… in a way.
Microsoft 365 is the new Office
In this month of November, Microsoft begins the transition to retire the Office brand. Now, all the programs that were previously part of the suite will be inside the umbrella Microsoft 365. The decision is not exactly a surprise, not least because it was already underway.
Microsoft 365 has been around since 2017 as an enterprise-wide suite of solutions. In its subscription version, Office was already part of it, through Office 365. Now, the name “Office” is no longer used to refer to the suite of productivity applications that were part of the package.
The decision seems motivated by the idea of unifying the company’s various tools in one place. In addition to Word, Excel and PowerPoint – programs so popular that entire courses were created in the 1990s and 2000s to teach them how to use them. –, Microsoft has been increasing its family of solutions. OneDrive, OneNote, Teams: there is a wide range of apps for the most diverse purposes.
It is clear that the Office brand, very identified with Word, Excel and PowerPoint, was somewhat lost in this context. At the same time, their apps are so versatile and pervasive that putting them side by side with the others that are part of Microsoft 365 seems to make sense.
Thus, Office as we know it will cease to exist, but not the applications that constituted it. It’s a slightly different situation than what happened with the line pentium, discontinued this year. There was also the end of an iconic brand, but without a legacy that users will continue to have access to.
Here goes the Office, the whole; the parts of it, which also became relevant brands in themselves, remain.
Office x Google Docs: different moments and contexts
As we’ve seen, Office has become synonymous with a productivity suite. One of the factors that led to the popularization of the package was certainly the diffusion of personal computers – with Windows installed, of course.
The tools in the package evolved, as did the operating system itself. With Windows becoming so strong on PCs, it makes perfect sense that Office has followed suit – including a major chunk of Microsoft’s revenue.
If we think of the closest thing to a competitor for Office tools today, what we have is the Google Docs. Yes, there are other free and open source suites such as LibreOfficebut it’s Docs who took best advantage of the key change in local to online and collaborative work.
Just as the spread of computers drove the adoption of Office programs – the success of wordfor example, was only possible because the tool was designed to emphasize the use of Mouseand not the keyboard, like its competitors – the greater presence of the Internet in people’s lives benefited Google Docs.
The tool may not be as complete as Microsoft’s, but for more lay users, who need to type texts or make simple spreadsheets, it delivers what is needed. Also, the collaborative aspect has been in Docs’ DNA from the beginning. Microsoft, on the other hand, had to adapt a solution that was born offline to a new environment, which leaves it a little behind in this regard.
It is unlikely, however, that Google Docs will take up the Office space. Microsoft’s productivity apps still carry enormous weight, and the public’s recognition of decades of improvement. Docs still had to build that reputation – and, being a Google initiative, we never know what might happen…
If you were also curious about Microsoft’s strategy of retiring one of its main brands, be sure to listen to the Technocast 266where we also rescued the history of the best known of the productivity suites.