Digital Original: The Cloud Rolls in on the Software Front

Cloud computing is growing. Adobe’s Creative Suite Cloud program has more than a million users among designers and printers. Now Microsoft is counting on Office 365 to push software applications on the cloud into the general user population. If it is as widely accepted as Adobe’s Creative Suite, you can expect more software to be distributed as a subscription model.

Subscriptions to Office for business have been around since 2011, but adding a home edition pushes cloud software into the hands of the masses. The general public has become familiar with subscriptions for entertainment software such a Netflix for movies and Pandora for music, but this is the first major software application available for the general public.


Pricing & Features

For $99.99 a year, a user can install Office 365 on up to five PCs or Macs. For a small business, Microsoft offers its Small Business Premium for $149.99 a year. It includes a 25-gigabyte Outlook mailbox, plus the ability to host online meetings and set up a public website with no hosting fees.

Users will have more advantages with the subscription version. You can freely deactivate any of the five computers under your subscription at any time through the website. This makes moving the software from computer to computer easier. If you are on the road, you can access your account over the Web at and it works just like the one on your computer. Using it online doesn’t count against your five-computer limit. Microsoft is also opening an Office Store with free and paid apps.

People will still be able to buy a standalone version of Office, but it won’t be on discs anymore. Buyers will have to download the software and it can only be used on a single computer.

As always, the Mac version isn’t updated as quickly as the PC version and cloud subscribers will get the Office for Mac 2011 version. Both versions will be updated automatically as changes are made to the software.

In addition, users will also get online storage, so it will be easy to work on the most updated file when moving from one computer to another.

Industry experts are watching closely to see how the public reacts to this type of software distribution. For printing companies, it could mean an increase in Publisher and Word files. Printers will also see increased costs for maintaining software because they can no longer hold off on updating their software to the latest version.


Free Open Source Alternatives

With the new announcements from Microsoft about its Office products, more attention is being focused on free alternatives to the software. Open source office software has been around a long time and users are finding it is as feature rich as Microsoft Office. More importantly, open source products support the common document file types, including Microsoft file formats.

Most free or open source alternatives to Microsoft Office have the basic applications for office productivity: word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. Several of the alternatives provide more, including drawing applications, database tools, and storage options.

The top free programs to look at include ApacheOpenOffice, LibreOffice, GoogleDocs, and NeoOffice.

Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice are built on the same open source code. They let you save documents in the OpenDocument format, read Microsoft Word documents, and save your work in the Word format and standard Excel formats. Both suites include a word processor, a spreadsheet application, a presentation application, an image application, and a database tool. Both support the Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, and Mac OS X operating systems and have third-party extensions and templates available. LibreOffice offers additional functionality, including PDF import, a presentation minimizer, and a Wiki publisher.

NeoOffice has most of the same features found in OpenOffice, but it focuses on Mac users. The newest version supports OS X 10.8 and integrates into the OS X interface and use of Mac OS X fonts and printing services. It also provides support for a fee.

GoogleDocs is available to anyone with a Google account so they can create, share, and collaborate on the Web. It has tools for documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and forms, all centrally stored and accessed via the cloud-based storage service Google Drive.

Software is changing. You can expect standalone software packages to start disappearing as online delivery becomes common. Subscriptions provide a consistent revenue stream for software companies. You may end up paying more for the software over the life of the product, but you should gain so many advantages it will be worth it. You will also see additional free open source software options come on the scene. In the end, the user will benefit.


John Giles is a consultant and technology director for CPrint International. He is the author of “12 Secrets for Digital Success” and “The DTP PriceList”. He can be reached at 954-224-1942 or You can also find John on Twitter at @JohnG247 and LinkedIn. Read his blog at Order John’s books from Crouser & Associates (