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Microsoft unshackles users from Windows with Office add-ins for Mac

Making Office add-ins available for Mac is one of many steps Microsoft has taken away from its old Windows-only strategy.

Office users who rely on Mac, iPhone or Android devices to access their Word or Excel files have been restricted from using some Office add-ins, but that's changing.

For some time now, users with advanced Office functionality have been limited to working in Windows environments, due to Office add-in OS requirements. Microsoft recently removed those requirements, enabling independent software vendors to build add-ons that can run on Office regardless of platform or device. Microsoft also added new Office 365 features and support for Mac, iPhone, iPad and Android devices. This begs the question -- why is Microsoft making such a big effort to support its products in non-Windows environments?

Office 365 leaves the Windows nest

The Office Store was introduced when Microsoft released Office ProPlus to provide a way for business users to purchase productivity apps or add-ins. However, many users quickly realized that the add-ins were limited to the systems upon which they were installed. This restricted the workspace to the device with add-ins installed -- commonly Windows. With many users working across multiple devices, it became a limiting factor and forced some IT administrators to roll out Windows-only based machines or Windows virtual desktops.

During one of the recent Ignite 2016 sessions, Microsoft highlighted a different approach. In its future Office releases, developers will be able to build Office add-ins that will be compatible with all versions of Office, regardless of device.

This move gives IT departments and end users the freedom to purchase the device of their choice and still experience the full capabilities of the Office suite. This may also mean that Microsoft will lose Windows 10 sales, since users won't have to use Microsoft devices to access Office components, but the flexibility may make those same users bigger fans of the vendor.

There have been steps in recent years that bring Microsoft closer to its goal of making its products work well with other platforms, such as the release of Office for Google Android and Apple iPhone in 2014. The company has extended other software to competitors' platforms as well. During Ignite 2016, a number of users were roaming the Skype for Business booth to get a glimpse of the upcoming release for Macs. In the previously released preview, a number of organizations had mixed reviews due to product limitations. But as we near the final release of Skype for Business Mac, users are getting excited about features including:

  • Contacts and presence
  • Peer-to-peer calling
  • Group video calling
  • Conversation history

There are certainly other examples reinforcing what Microsoft has set to do as part of its "cloud first, mobile first" strategy. In a number of sessions at the Ignite conference, IT decision-makers saw firsthand how many of Microsoft's products and services play well with different platforms in the market. The message was clear; it is about helping transform organizations, empower users on any device, anywhere -- despite Microsoft's goal to have 1 billion Windows 10 devices in the market by 2018.

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