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Planned obsolescence in Office

Does Microsoft Office have planned obsolescence? What does that mean for Office subscriptions/rental.

An item in The New York Times Why Apple wants to bust your iPhone talks about how there’s deliberate design elements in iPhones to encourage people to buy a new model.

It’s a ‘carrot and stick’ approach. There’s the ‘stick’ of the sealed battery, no external memory slot and new apps that can’t run (or run slowly) on older phones and other problems.   Plus the ‘carrot’ of new features in the latest models.  Apple would presumably justify these practices in other ways – for example they might say that the fixed battery allow them to make a smaller and more efficient device.

It’s much the same, but a bit more subtle with Microsoft Office. 

Microsoft does drop support for older versions of Office, in particular security updates for older Office software.  Document compatibility is a good way to encourage Office upgrading.  The switch to ‘docx / xlsx’ etc did a lot to push sales of Office 2007.  While there is a ‘Compatibility Pack’ for older Office releases, the pack made conversions clumsy and a second-rate option at best.   Dropping compatibility with older versions of Windows encourages sales of Microsoft’s operating system too.

Office for Mac always lags behind Office for Windows in features and that’s because Microsoft would prefer people to use their Windows OS rather than Apple’s OS.

The Microsoft Office ‘carrot’ is new features in the latest version of the software.  That’s why each new version of Office is ‘gee whiz’ features that are easy to demonstrate and impress people.

Just like Apple, Microsoft can and does justify their actions with technical reasons brushing aside the obvious self-interest in those decisions.

However both Apple and Microsoft have the problem of finding new things to put in their products as those products become more mature.   A ‘Feature Plateau’ if you like where a new product has a lot of room for development and a steep rise in features in the early updates, but over time the rate of change drops.

Getting people to buy a new version of Office has been Microsoft’s problem for a decade or more.  It’s harder and harder to get people and organizations to buy a newer Office.

Microsoft’s solution, over time, has been twofold.

First there’s greater integration with other Microsoft products – Windows server products and cloud services.  This doesn’t just bring more income to Microsoft, it also gets the customer more entangled with Microsoft and makes it a lot harder to switch away from Microsoft Office.

Subscriptions / Rental is the latest way to keep customers money coming in.   Rather than have to entice people to buy a new Office version, Microsoft is pushing hard the idea of paying each year.   Customers who rent Office don’t have to be ‘sold’ a new Office – if they want to keep using MS Office at all they’ll have to pay and pay and pay – every year.   The current prices and extras seem like a great deal, but there’s no guarantee that those prices will continue in the future. 

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