This isn’t really news, it’s just a prediction.
With all the new, free office equivalents out there, Microsoft will be giving Office away. Hooray! The fact is that the free alternatives are looking pretty good. If you don’t like Google’s Writely, you can use Zoho. If you don’t like Zoho, you can use OpenOffice. The point is that there are lots of viable, free choices.
Now, Microsoft is the only vendor that is deeply entrenched in the corporate market, and that is their stronghold. One of the biggest threats to that stronghold however, would be to lose the consumer and low-end markets. As we all know, the tools you learn at home and at school are the tools that you carry with you to the office over time. College students right now can either spend $199 for office (that is after the $300 “student discount”), or they can use a free alternative. Obviously, they will be increasingly electing to use the free stuff. Schools already get lots of donated copies of office, but it’s not completely free. These institutions will also be looking to cut costs and consider what is free.
So, it is inevitable that Microsoft must curb the spread of free alternatives – otherwise they risk losing the small & medium sized business in the medium term, and the corporations in the long term. It’s just a matter of when they feel enough pressure at the consumer level to finally give it away.
Regardless of which word processor “wins” the consumer market, one thing is clear – prices are finally going to drop. Since most of Microsoft’s revenue comes from the corporate arena, this shouldn’t even affect their bottom line too much. Wow – everyone wins.