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Microsoft Partners See Opportunity in Office for iPad

Several Microsoft partners with substantial Office 365 practices greeted the long-rumored arrival of Office for iPad with enthusiasm.

"We're definitely very excited about Office for iPad," said Pete Zarras, president of Cloud Strategies. "It should be pretty good for Microsoft and Apple and even better for customers."

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and other Microsoft executives rolled out Office for iPad in a news conference late last week that also included a new offering called the Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS). Office for iPad consists of three different apps for download from Apple's iPad marketplace -- Word, Excel and PowerPoint. All three are free to download for document viewing and presentations, but file creation and other features require an Office 365 subscription to unlock.

Those three apps, plus Microsoft OneNote, quickly commanded the first four positions in the "top free app" chart in the Apple store, and Word and Excel also held high positions among the top-grossing apps, suggesting many customers were converting to subscriptions from within the Apple store.

For Zarras, the iPad availability improves the story behind the Office 365 subscriptions that he already sells to customers.

"I think it really ensures the value proposition of five copies of Office per Office 365 user. When you say one of those can be on your iPad, too, that's the instant translation," he said.

As for the arguments from Apple proponents that Cupertino and third parties have apps that offer sufficient productivity, making Microsoft's offering too little too late, Zarras doesn't find them compelling. "Given the alternative to go to the source or go to a wannabe, now that the source is available to them, I think they're going to be excited to have it."

Matt Scherocman, president of Interlink Cloud Advisors, is enthusiastic about the message iPad support sends about Microsoft's cross-platform commitment.

"You're taking the cross-platform veto away. Some CEOs don't want to buy Office 365 because they've already got iPads," Scherocman said. While he's been showing naysayers that they can run Office through different iPad workarounds for a while, he expects the native touch client to make a difference. "Today, it's more efficient than it was."

Having Word, Excel and PowerPoint in the mix also bolsters the case Scherocman has been making to clients about Microsoft's impressive roster of cross-platform mobile apps, including OneNote, OWA, Office Mobile, OneDrive for Business, OneDrive for Consumer, Lync, an Office 365 admin console, RDP, Xbox SmartGlass, Bing and Yammer.

To Ric Opal, vice president at Peters & Associates, the Office for iPad announcement wasn't even the biggest news of the day, as far as his company is concerned: "Office for iPad is whip cream on the sundae."

What really grabbed Opal's attention was EMS, which includes Windows Intune, Azure Active Directory Premium and Azure Rights Management Services. Azure AD Premium provides cloud-based identity and access management with single sign-on to many third-party tools and services, while Intune was expanded to support the Samsung KNOX platform and Remote to My PC capability for Android and iOS devices. (While Office for iPad was available immediately, EMS won't be available through Microsoft volume licensing channels until May 1.)

"The bundling and the pricing is going to be attractive to the enterprise" in a way that will be strategic for Microsoft and its partners, Opal said.

Opal views EMS through the lens of the big battle right now over where enterprise customers park their cloud assets. "If I'm a corporate account, I'm making a decision to keep infrastructure local, to do some hybrid implementation or to throw it all up in the cloud. Microsoft wants that to be in Azure. Customer choices are also co-lo, Rackspace, Amazon, [etc.]," Opal said. "If I were going to use Azure AD Premium, that basically says my directories are married to Azure. If I'm going to trust my directory to Azure, then why wouldn't I take that next step and put some databases up in SQL Azure? If I can get the customer to buy EMS, that puts customers on the bridge to the Microsoft cloud."

Opal expects EMS to help "pretty significantly" with a number of current head-to-head opportunities that Peters & Associates has against Google.

Meanwhile, with the iPad announcements ending up both being broader than expected and having immediate, rather than future, deliverables, Opal finds himself excited about Microsoft's upcoming slate of industry conferences.

"Based on the cadence that we've experienced, I'm looking forward to Build, Tech-Ed and [the Worldwide Partner Conference]," he said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 31, 2014


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