Tag Archives: office

Microsoft financials: record revenue, signs of Windows 8 concern

Yesterday Microsoft released its financial figures for the last three months of 2012.

Quarter ending December 31st 2012 vs quarter ending December 31st 2011, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Profit Change
Client (Windows + Live) 5881 +1140 3296 +416
Server and Tools 5186 +171 2121 +409
Online 869 +85 -283 +176
Business (Office) 5691 -619 3565 -623
Entertainment and devices 3772 -466 596 +79

Although Microsoft reported record revenue, I do not consider these figures all that revealing. The transcript of the earnings call is more to the point. A few notable remarks from CFO Peter Klein and General Manager Investor Relations Chris Suh

  • 60 million Windows 8 licenses sold and 100 million apps downloaded. At 1.66 apps per license that shows lack of interest in the new Windows Store and raises suspicions that some of those sales may actually be downgraded to Windows 7. The remarks from Klein confirm that the new platform is off to a slow start:

It’s early days and an ambitious endeavor like this takes time. Together with our partners, we remain focused on fully delivering the promise of Windows 8.

While the number of apps in the Windows Store has quadrupled since launch, we clearly have more work to do. We need more rich, immersive apps that give users’ access to content that informs, entertains and inspires.

  • Suh states that Windows is selling better to businesses than consumers. Declining interest from consumers is obvious if you walk around a few retailers selling Windows PCs:

Within the x86 PC market, we saw similar trends to prior quarters, with emerging markets outperforming developed markets, and business outperforming consumer. The consumer segment was most impacted by the ecosystem transition, as demand exceeded the limited assortment of touch devices available.

  • System Center 18% revenue growth
  • SQL Server revenue 16% growth
  • Online revenue (this is Bing not Azure) up 11%
  • Windows Phone sales 4 times higher than last year
  • Skype calls up 59%

The company says little about Office 365 and Azure, but my perception is that both are growing fast though how significant they are versus traditional software license sales is less clear.

Trouble ahead? With Windows 8 struggling for acceptance, Office under threat from online and device alternatives, the games console business (overall not just Microsoft) probably in permanent decline, and Windows Phone not yet quite mainstream, you would think so. On the other hand, this is a company with a broad and deep product range and looking at the solid performance of the server products and continuing strength of Windows and Office in business, we may continue to be surprised at its resilience.

Colligo Briefcase: offline SharePoint for iPad and iPhone

I took a quick look at Colligo Briefcase, an offline SharePoint 2007 and 2010 client for the Apple iPad and iPhone. There is a free Lite version, limited to 50Mb and with cut-down features; Briefcase Pro which costs a modest $2.99; and Enterprise which adds centralized management.

SharePoint is a powerful collaboration platform, but Microsoft’s client support if you would rather not use a web browser is surprisingly poor. You are really meant to use Office, which of course does not exist on iOS, and even then the offline support is poor.

I used Briefcase Pro, which connected first time to my on-premise SharePoint server. I selected which lists and libraries to sync, and a few minutes later everything was available. Impressive. Better, in fact, than Microsoft’s own SharePoint Workspace on a PC; but that is not saying much.


Briefcase lets you easily preview Office documents. I am sure there are certain formatting or content types that do not work, but I found this effective for Word and Excel. OneNote is not supported for preview; a shame. I could not even get OneNote documents to open in OneNote on the iPad.


I confirmed that Briefcase works fine offline. In Airplane mode, I could still browse and preview documents.

I tried but was unable to connect to Microsoft’s SkyDrive. There may be a way. This would be useful, since Microsoft’s own SkyDrive app does not work offline.

My biggest concern with Briefcase is security. What if confidential documents are in SharePoint and the iPad or iPhone is stolen? Briefcase Enterprise has a remote wipe capability, but it is still a concern. You can set an additional PIN on the app:


More worrying though is how data can leak out of Briefcase into other locations. Imagine a user has an iPad and has agreed to Apple’s default settings for iCloud and Pages, the iPad word processor. In this mode, documents in Pages are automatically synched with iCloud.

Now the user wants to edit a Word document that is in Briefcase. She hits Open in … and selects Pages. Pages does not just open the document, it imports it. The user views or edits it in Pages. Now that document is sent to iCloud, and in due course will turn up on other iOS or Mac computers belonging to that user.

Another issue with Pages is that there is no easy way to get it back into SharePoint. Pages can use WebDAV, which should work, but must be configured separately. This may be why Colligo suggests Documents to Go. Supported apps have an Open in Briefcase option that enables upload.

The Enterprise edition of Briefcase lets administrators disable the Open in command to improve security. This is unfortunately necessary if you require any sort of security for SharePoint data accessed through Briefcase.

It is a shame there is no quick way to open a Briefcase document in the web browser. There is a Copy Link option, which you can paste into Safari, but you have to re-authenticate and it is not seamless.

A few niggles then; but given that most users will do more viewing than editing while on the go, Briefcase is an excellent and, for the Pro edition, low-cost way to use SharePoint offline.

Fixing Visual Basic for Applications code for 64-bit Microsoft Office

The first macro programming language in Microsoft Office was Basic, and it is still there in the forthcoming Office 2013. In fact, Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) has been slightly updated, and reports itself as version 7.1 in the preview. The version is Office 2010 is 7.0.


Although it is embedded in Office, VBA is a powerful tool and there is not much that you cannot do. It is based on the same runtime that powers Visual Basic 6.0, the last version before the .NET revolution.

Visual Basic makes it easy to call the Windows API though the Declare statement. One implication though is that code written for 32-bit VBA may need revising to work in 64-bit Office, and I ran into this recently with some VBA code of my own.

Some existing Declare statements will work fine on both platforms, but Microsoft chose to force developers to review all of them by introducing a new PtrSafe attribute. The name of this attribute is dubious in that it does nothing to ensure pointer safety. In fact it does nothing at all other than to say to the compiler that the Declare works in 64-bit Office, whether or not it really does. Still, it means you have to add PtrSafe to all your Declares, the idea being that you check that they work. Without PtrSafe, the Declares will not execute in 64-bit Office.

The details of what to change are here. What that article does not mention though is that Microsoft has provided declarations for the most commonly used API declarations that work in both 32-bit and 64-bit VBA. The file is called Win32API_PtrSafe.txt and you can download it here. The file is too large to load into a single VBA module but you can use it to find the declarations that you need.

It can still be difficult to work out how to call some APIs. Note that if you get it wrong VBA and Office may crash. You are giving up the safety of VBA once you use these functions.

I have not yet seen Office running on ARM in Windows RT, but the rumour is that VBA is not supported. That is not surprising, since with VBA you can code pretty much any desktop application, if you don’t mind it running within Office, undermining Microsoft’s intention that only Windows Runtime (formerly known as Metro) apps can be installed on Windows RT.

Microsoft Office 2013 SkyDrive Pro in action, with offline documents

Microsoft Office 2013, combined with Office 365 or the new SharePoint, introduces SkyDrive Pro. This is an area where users can store documents online, similar to the public SkyDrive, but as part of an organization’s SharePoint site or Office 365 team site.

One features which I was glad to see is the ability to store documents offline in a special Explorer folder. These are kept synchronized with the online storage.

Here is how this works with my preview Office 365 account. I log in to the online portal, and click the SkyDrive option in the menu.


I see my SkyDrive files.


At top right is a SYNC hyperlink. Click that, and this sets up synchronization to a special Explorer folder, which in my case is called SkyDrive @ Office Next. This is not just a shortcut to a network location. The documents remain there if you are working offline.


This excellent feature seems to depend on a new client called SkyDrive Pro Preview which has an icon in the notification area and also shows up in Task Manager.


If the SkyDrive Pro client is not installed and you attempt to sync your online files, the bad old SharePoint Workspace shows up instead. The consumer SkyDrive client will not do. SharePoint Workspace also supports offline files, but does not integrate with Explorer and is prone to go wrong.

Now here is the puzzle. Microsoft loaned me a Samsung Slate with Office 2013 pre-installed, and this has SkyDrive Pro. However it also has SharePoint Workspace, and the associated Office Upload Center, which duly went into a sulk when trying to sync my SkyDrive Pro files.


Clicking Resolve and entering my login details did nothing. However, when I clicked on the SkyDrive Pro icon instead, I got the new-style Office sign-in, following which everything worked.


A few puzzles then. Is the SkyDrive Pro client really new, or it is just a new wrapper for the bad old SharePoint Workspace?

Further, it seems that Microsoft has not yet cracked the problem whereby users sign in, tick the “Keep me signed in” option, but still get asked to sign in repeatedly.

Office in Windows RT: not licensed for business use?

Journalist Jon Honeyball remarked on Twitter that the version of Microsoft Office in Windows RT, and therefore in the first Microsoft Surface Tablet, is Office Home and Student 2013.

I was sceptical, but it is there on the spec sheet [pdf]:


We already knew that Outlook is missing; but now it seems possible that Office in Windows RT is licensed only for non-commercial use. Here is the statement about Office 2010 Home and Student:

I own or work for a small business; can I use Office Home and Student 2010 at my work?

No. Office Home and Student 2010 is licensed only for non-commercial use for members of your household.

Such a restriction would blow so large a hole in the positioning of Windows RT as the ideal BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) for business that I am inclined to believe it will be changed for Office in Windows RT.

Then again, Office is a huge business for Microsoft and it is easy to hear the internal debate over this. “You cannot just give it away”.

Another possibility is that Microsoft will come up with some licensing deal which permits use of Office in Windows RT at work, for a suitably Enterprisey fee.

Update: Note that Microsoft has already announced a few things here about Windows RT licensing:

Windows RT Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) Rights: When used as a companion of a Windows Software Assurance licensed PC, Windows RT will automatically receive extended VDA rights. These rights will provide access to a full VDI image running in the datacenter which will make Windows RT a great complementary tablet option for business customers.

Companion Device License: For customers who want to provide full flexibility for how employees access their corporate desktop across devices, we are introducing a new Companion Device License for Windows SA customers. For users of Windows Software Assurance licensed PCs this optional add-on will provide rights to access a corporate desktop either through VDI or Windows To Go on up to four personally owned devices.

This means that if you have a PC licensed with Windows Software Assurance, you can access a virtual desktop from Windows RT without further charge.

Generally, I believe Microsoft also allows you to use Remote Desktop into a physical client without an additional license, provided it is single-user. In other words, only one user at a time can use a physical Windows 7 installation, whether sitting at the machine or remotely.

None of these provisions covers Office on the client though. They are concerned only with remote desktop access of various kinds.

What would you like to see in Microsoft Office 15?

Today brings the news that Microsoft Office 15 is now in Technical Preview (also known as private beta).

There is little news about what is in it other than this:

With Office 15, for the first time ever, we will simultaneously update our cloud services, servers, and mobile and PC clients for Office, Office 365, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Project, and Visio.


So what would you like to see in Office 15? Here are a few things on my wish list:

  1. Properly integrate SharePoint (and therefore Office 365) with Windows so that you can use it easily without ever opening a web browser. That might mean fixing SharePoint WorkSpace or doing something better, like Explorer integration without the various hassles associated with WebDAV.
  2. Fix Outlook, or better still replace it. I hear many complaints about Outlook, either concerning its performance, or else one of its many annoyances such as how hard it is to reply to an email while quoting sections of the original message – astonishing, when you consider the maturity of the product.
  3. Improve cross-platform support. Office on the Mac is poor compared to the Windows version, particularly in terms of performance. It is also time Microsoft came out with apps for iOS and Android for touch-friendly document editing.
  4. Update the user interface for touch control as far as possible. This will be critical for Windows 8 tablets, especially on ARM.
  5. Improve structured document editing in Word. Styles are hard to use, so are bullets and numbering. I tend not to use the paragraph numbering in Word because it is so fiddly and annoying.

The problem is that Office is a huge and intricate bag of legacy. The work Microsoft did in replacing the menus with ribbon toolbars was admirable in its way, and potentially more touch-friendly, but if you scratch the surface much is unchanged underneath. All the old commands remain.

Microsoft financials: Office and server dominate as Windows falters

Microsoft has released its quarterly figures for January-March 2011. My at-a-glance summary is below.

Quarter ending June 30th 2011 vs quarter ending June 30th 2010, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Profit Change
Client (Windows + Live) 4740 -41 2943 -123
Server and Tools 4643 +494 1774 +214
Online 662 +94 -728 -40
Business (Office) 5777 +402 3618 +399
Entertainment and devices 1485 +341 32 +204

Business as usual? More or less, but there are a few points to note.

The figure that jumps out is the stunning performance of Office, which includes SharePoint and Exchange. Why is everyone buying Office 2010, when a document like the one I am typing now could be done just as well in Word 2.0 from 1991, or more plausibly the free OpenOffice?

The answer is the Microsoft has successfully transitioned many of its customers to using Office with SharePoint and Exchange, making it harder to stick with old versions and selling CALs (Client Access Licences) as well as the Office suite itself. This is highly profitable, though the aspect that puzzles me is that Office 365, which is cloud-hosted SharePoint and Exchange, is more cost-effective for the customer since it includes server software, CALs and in some cases the Office client for a commodity-priced subscription.

In other words, I find it hard to see how Microsoft can remain equally profitable if a significant proportion of its customers switch to Office 365. The company may be depending on its ability to upsell those customers to further online services; or perhaps it has not fully thought this through and has set Office 365 pricing at what it needs to be in order to compete with Google.

Fortunately for Microsoft, there is enough doubt concerning the safety of cloud services to sustain continued strong sales of on-premise solutions.

Second notable thing: Windows is in decline. The reason: it is losing market share to Apple and to Google Android. Netbook sales are down 41% according to the release, and I would guess that those sales have mostly gone to Apple iPad and Android tablets rather than to Windows notebooks.

Will Windows 8 reverse the decline? Speculation of course, but it will not repeat the success of Windows 7. In fact, my guess is that Windows 8 will be a hard sell to enterprises which have finally been persuaded to migrate from Windows XP. They are settling down for another five years of stability. Windows 7 was a consolidation release, just the sort of thing enterprises like. Windows 8 will be a revolution release, with most of the interest focused on what it can do in mobile and tablets. If it does succeed, it will do so slowly; there will be no rush to upgrade from 7 other than from the usual early adopters. It may improve sales in the consumer market, but neither Mac nor iPad nor Android is going away.

That leads on to mobile, the figures for which are buried under a pile of Xbox consoles. A good quarter for Xbox, though note how poor the margins are compared to those for Office or Windows.

Finally, the online money drain continues. Note that this is Bing and online advertising, not Azure or Office 365. Microsoft must feel that it the strategic value of these online services is worth the cost, particularly since they tie into mobile and the ecosystem which Nokia is depending on for a reversal of its fortunes. Given that the company has money to burn, there may actually be some sense in that; though for a segment to make such large and consistent losses over a long period has to be a concern.

Office 365 and why it will succeed

Today is launch day for Microsoft’s Office 365, which offers use of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync hosted by Microsoft at commodity prices – not quite as low as $50 per user per year for Google Apps, but low enough that it is likely to be a substantial saving for most customers, versus the cost of installing, maintaining and backing up on-premise versions of the same software.

The debate about the merits of Office 365 versus Google Apps is a fascinating one, but the reality is that many organisations are not ready to give up Word and Excel, Outlook and Active Directory. Why?

  • They are too deeply invested in Microsoft’s platform, and depend on home-grown and/or third-party applications that run on it.
  • Office and Exchange is a business standard.
  • Desktop applications still have advantages for things like word processing or manipulating large spreadsheets.
  • Offline is important, and Microsoft is better at this than Google.
  • Microsoft ticks boxes in areas like compliance and archiving

The beauty of Office 365 is that migration from on-premise servers can be almost invisible to users. It is also an easy and effective solution for new businesses. Every mobile device seems to support Exchange, and one thing it has always done well is to synchronise nicely with multiple clients.

The other side of the coin is that Google Apps is by far the better option if you want to live in the cloud. Outlook Web App is not bad, but creating and editing documents entirely with Office Web Apps would not be fun at all. Office 365 will also be a struggle if you are inclined to ditch Windows. Email will be OK, and I guess Mac users have Office 2011, though in my experience that is inferior to almost any version of Office on Windows.

What about the really interesting questions? Is data more secure with Google, or with Microsoft? Is either platform resilient enough to manage without backups? What is the risk of extended downtime that could have a drastic impact on productivity?

Unfortunately it is not possible to offer precise answers to these questions, which I guess is why on-premise retains its appeal.

OpenOffice moving to Apache; next step reunification with LibreOffice

Oracle has announced that it is contributing the OpenOffice.org code, the source for the free productivity suite that competes with Microsoft Office, to the Apache Software Foundation’s Incubator:

Incubation is the first step for a project to be considered among the diverse Open Source initiatives overseen by the ASF. A submitted project and its community will join the more than 50 projects in the Apache Incubator, and will benefit from the Foundation’s widely-emulated meritocratic process, stewardship, outreach, support, community events, and guiding principles that are affectionately known as "The Apache Way".

Everybody love the Apache Foundation so this is good news for the future of the project, though the Document Foundation, formed by renegade OpenOffice.org contributors fed up with Oracle’s stewardship, says the event is neutral from their perspective. The Document Foundation welcomes the ability to reuse code that will now but under the Apache License, but adds:

The Document Foundation would welcome the reuniting of the OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice projects into a single community of equals in the wake of the departure of Oracle. The step Oracle has taken today was no doubt taken in good faith, but does not appear to directly achieve this goal. The Apache community, which we respect enormously, has very different expectations and norms – licensing, membership and more – to the existing OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice projects. We regret the missed opportunity but are committed to working with all active community members to devise the best possible future for LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org.

It seems inevitable that the two projects will be reunited, and it seems that dialogue has already begun:

TDF is therefore willing to start talking with Apache Software Foundation, following the email from ASF President Jim Jagielski, who is anticipating frequent contacts between the Apache Software Foundation and The Document Foundation over the next few months.

A curious story, but one that seems likely to end in a good way. IBM, which is a big supporter of the ODF XML document formats used in OpenOffice, is welcoming the move:

Over the long-term, we plan to work with other Apache contributors to extend the vision of productivity beyond documents. We are learning much more about the semantic web through our additional work on LotusLive Symphony, and the vision in the research and lab teams has to extend productivity into new realms. Meanwhile, the Apache community can be expected to accelerate adoption of ODF as a primary set of document formats, and to drive ODF compatibility in other products and solutions in the future.

says Ed Brill. It is good to read about new approaches to productivity, because this has been a weakness in OpenOffice which is sometimes perceived a a kind of inferior-but-free equivalent to Microsoft Office. In the meantime, Microsoft has worked to make its own suite more distinctive, to defend a territory that accounts for a significant share of its profits. The ribbon user interface is part of that strategy, but more significant is its integration with SharePoint, and the emergence of Office Open XML as a unifying format for editing documents in desktop Office and within the browser using Office Web Apps.

Unifying the open source teams behind OpenOffice and getting it away from Oracle are both important steps towards making the project more compelling.