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Microsoft Beckons New Consumers to Old Online Services

Microsoft Beckons New Consumers to Old Online Services

Microsoft's "SkyDrive" is now "OneDrive," and its free "Office Web Apps" are now "Office Online." A few feature tweaks came along with the rebranding, but the main story is the new names. Microsoft found that customers were confused about its use of "Apps," thinking the software had to be downloaded to mobile devices, which wasn't so. Dropping "Skydrive" was prompted by a BSkyB lawsuit.

By John P. Mello Jr.
02/21/14 10:13 AM PT

What's in a name? Microsoft is hoping more traffic to two of its online properties.

The company has renamed its cloud storage service because of legal entanglements and the website for free versions of its Office productivity apps because of consumer confusion.

The name changes, which took effect this week, weren't accompanied by very much in the way of feature changes.

"It's just a cosmetic move," Jim McGregor, a founder and principal analyst with Tirias Research, told the E-Commerce Times.

SkyDrive, which competes with services like Dropbox, iCloud and Google Drive, has been rebranded "OneDrive." The renaming was announced in January. It was prompted by a lawsuit by British Sky Broadcasting, which took umbrage at Microsoft's use of "Sky" in its product's name.

Along with renaming SkyDrive, Microsoft released a new version of the storage service's Android app. The version, already available for iOS devices, includes a photo backup feature that adds 3 GBs of storage to a user's account.

Confused Customers

The new OneDrive offering includes 7 GBs of storage; up to an additional 5 gigs of space can be added by referring up to 10 people to join the service. Each person is worth 500 megabytes of space.

Also added to the service is a new monthly pricing feature that lets users add an additional 50 gigabytes of space for US$4.49 a month. If you need that space for a prolonged period of time, though, it's a lot cheaper on an annual basis -- only $25.

Microsoft also renamed its Office Web Apps. They're now called "Office Online" and are located at Office.com. However, you can access the apps from within other Microsoft Web offerings like OneDrive and Outlook.com.

"We heard from customers that the inclusion of Apps in our name was confusing," Amanda Lefebvre, the product marketing manager for Office Online, wrote in a company blog.

"Are they something I install?" she continued. "Do I go to an app store to get them? No, to use them all you need is a web browser. Ah! You say. So it's like Office, online. Yes, exactly. Office Online."

Residual Confusion

While the renaming may have cleared up some of the confusion about Microsoft's online Office apps, some is likely to remain because of its paid online offerings.

"It doesn't alleviate the confusion with Office 365 where you have to pay for it," said McGregor of Tirias.

"If Microsoft really wanted to reinvent itself, it should take all its Office applications, put them online, and make them free," he observed, "but they would have to displace that lost revenue with some other type of revenue -- and that would take a whole business model change."

"That would give Microsoft a tremendous competitive advantage over Google and others," he added.

Although it may be easier to find Microsoft's Office apps from their new website, it's still difficult to unearth them from within Outlook Online and OneDrive.

To get to them from Outlook, you have to first go to OneDrive. Then, once in OneDrive, you won't see them until you try to create a new document. Microsoft has a nice toolbar to access all the Office apps, but you can't get to it in OneDrive until you open one of the apps.

No Switchers

Renaming "SkyDrive" and "Office Web Apps" may eliminate some confusion, but it remains to be seen if it will attract more users to the sites, especially those who've already settled in with competitors.

"Everyone loves Dropbox" -- one of OneDrive's competitors -- "because it's easy and it just works," said Val Wright, a principal at ValWright Consulting. "That creates a really challenging mountain to climb for Microsoft to convert customers to their products."

It also means the renaming moves won't have much impact on the nasty rivalry between Microsoft and Google.

"The only way someone switches from one product to another is if that other product makes life easier. There's nothing in Microsoft's changes that would make someone switch," Wright told the E-Commerce Times.

"Is this going to make someone drop Google Docs and Google Drive and switch to Microsoft services?" she asked. "Probably not."


John Mello is a freelance technology writer and contributor to Chief Security Officer magazine. You can connect with him on Google+.


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