The world’s most popular productivity suite is said to be running on over 1 billion devices worldwide. After 25 years on the market, it looks like Microsoft is just getting started. With the launch of Office 365 in 2011, Microsoft has expanded Office from the standard desktop applications into a platform of Servers, Apps and Services. The history of the suite is of particular interest so I decided to prepare a fun article about it. Microsoft’s entry into the applications market started with a pre-cursor to Microsoft Excel called Multiplan, a spreadsheet application developed for computers running the CP/M disk operating system which was later ported to MS-DOS, Xenix and the Macintosh. The success of Multiplan ended with the rise and dominance of Lotus 1-2-3 once a popular spreadsheet app that has since faded into the history books – no pun.
Microsoft Office for Windows version 1 product box
Microsoft made another attempt at the spreadsheet market with a new application called Excel released in 1985 and Microsoft Word (1983) which was originally called Multi-Tool Word for Xenix systems – Microsoft’s early distribution of the UNIX operating system. The success and popularity of early Office applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel are part of what eventually led to the introduction of the productivity suite market, but an early attempt started with integrated packages called Works. Integrated packages included word processing, spreadsheet, database and contact manager utilizing wizards to accomplish task like preparing a letter or a resume.
Installing Office, then and now.
Suites and integrated packages targeted different users. Suites in particular were more expensive, but offered significant value by bundling popular applications which would cost upwards of $1,500 if bought separately versus $600 for the entire suite. Integrated packages were much cheaper targeting budget users with limited needs and they used less resources too such as disk space. In 1989 Microsoft came up with the idea to offer Microsoft’s most popular desktop applications as a bundle called the ‘The Microsoft Office for Macintosh’. Included were Microsoft Word 4.0, Excel 2.2 and PowerPoint 2.01 and Mail 1.37. In 1990 Microsoft released a version for Windows which bundled Word 1.1, Excel 2.0, PowerPoint 2.0.
The value of the early version of Microsoft Office was really the price and having three powerful apps together. The programs themselves were not well integrated, as you can see below, Word, Excel and PowerPoint don’t have the uniformed interfaces as they do in later versions. Neither do menus and functions work the same across apps as they do in later versions. Forget about technologies like Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) which were not yet well established although there was an early pre-cursor called Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) that was supported.
Installing Office version 1 for Windows
Back in 1990 installing Office was an involved process. Office version 1 for Windows used a graphical installer for the initial phases of setup, but each app required installation separately and used a DOS based interface. Each application also required a little knowledge of paths and commands for placing the application files on disk. This probably suggests how separate the product teams were from each other. Word would install its own files in C:\ while Excel would require that you create your own path and folder.
Today, installing Office is a set it and forget process, all you need to do is go to your own portal and choose your platform and that’s it.
The licensing has certainly changed too. Now you can install Office on up to 5 computers for just $10 per month. Office 2000 Premium at one-point cost $800 and this was just a single license. Over the years, the suite has grown in features and capabilities, from the early days of toolbars and drop down menus to including Task Panes and the ability to Save to the Web. Office most dramatic update came with the release of Office 2007 in 2006 which featured a new user experience called the Ribbon. The Ribbon exposed and provided quicker access to features and functions in the applications which had grown to over 1500 commands.
Over the years, new Office modules have been developed and discontinued. Some of these include InfoPath, Team Manager, Liquid Motion, Vizact, FrontPage and my favorite, PhotoDraw which I still use for vector art illustrations. The suite has also grown into a family of apps, some of which were not originally developed by Microsoft. One of the most popular apps in the suite, PowerPoint which is used by most persons as a noun when describing presentation graphics, was originally developed by a company called Forethought, who were originally the makers of the FileMaker database package prior to becoming a subsidiary of Apple. Other apps such as Visio were also bought and added to the family.
OneNote a note taking application introduced in 2003 has become one of the most important modules in the family in recent times. Described as a companion for Microsoft’s early Tablet PC efforts, OneNote has expanded beyond its Windows centric roots to a free solution available on multiple platforms to now an integrated modern application bundled with Microsoft’s latest operating system Windows 10. Today, OneNote is used for gathering and managing information in a variety of formats, these include videos, audio, pictures, inking and text.
Microsoft Word 1.1, Excel 2.0 and PowerPoint for Windows 2.0
Office today is a highly integrated platform of applications, services and servers. Running not just on Windows, but popular platforms such as OS X, iOS and Android. The suite’s popular apps such as Word and Excel still maintain their tradition of compatibility. I was able to prepare content in the first version and open it in the 2016 versions with little issue. Because of the significant changes in file formats and security, there is a need for explicit approval when opening files in binary formats but it can be done with little effort. Early versions of PowerPoint are incompatible with modern versions and require opening in earlier versions of such as PowerPoint 97 in order to maintain compatibility.
The 2016 versions continues Microsoft tradition of compatibility.
Office has been described by Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella as Microsoft’s most important API. Services and intelligence tools such as Skype, OneDrive, PowerBI are a critical part of the future of Office. Office has become a connected platform through servers such as SharePoint and Exchange along with tools that make discovering and analyzing information powerful and effective through newer services such Office Delve connecting people to the right information when they need it.
Office for iOS
My thanks to Amy Stevenson, curator of the Microsoft Archives for providing resources included in this article such as the Office version 1 for Windows software. If you want to learn more, check out http://www.microsoft.com/visitorcenter