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Microsoft's Qi Lu on Trying to Make Office a Habit Again (Q&A)

In an interview, the Microsoft executive says the company wants to take advantage of all platforms.


Microsoft hopes to make Office a habit again, and bringing the suite to the iPad is just the beginning.

That’s the message from Qi Lu, the longtime head of Microsoft’s search and online services who now heads Office along with those online services.

Lu sat down with Re/code’s Ina Fried to talk about Office, Bing and where Microsoft is headed. He also touched on Office for Mac, the company’s search partnership with Yahoo and other topics. Here’s an edited transcript of that discussion.

Re/code: What are the top problems you are working to solve right now?

Qi Lu: My group’s charter is to build connected applications. Our fundamental focus and mission is to deliver experiences and scenarios that enable individual end users or organizations to get more done. Fundamentally, we see the world as driven by important tidal waves of cloud and mobile. We want to lean in, being cloud-first, being mobile-first.

Okay. That’s the business-y marketing answer. You are a technical guy. What are the big technical things to take Microsoft from where it was to delivering on that vision?

One is building what we consider modern endpoints. Endpoints can be a website. Endpoints can be an app. In particular, what you saw today is one type of endpoint, for touch-first devices. The endpoints can be tablets, can be phones, can be other types of devices.

On that front, the key is how do you take full advantage of what each platform affords you. Office is really known for a few important traits. One is high fidelity, second is rich in features, the third is information protection. It needs to be unmistakably Office.

We want Office to be a habit. Anytime you are a student thinking about writing something, think about using Office to author documents. Anytime you see a rich document, you think Office.

How do we carry that into a fundamentally different environment from where we grew up with mice and keyboards? I can tell you that’s definitely not easy. There are so many different ways you can go.

The second part is moving to the cloud. That’s also a massive undertaking.

You talked about Office being a habit. Is it fair to say there is a generation of workers where it is not yet a habit?

This world is changing. It’s driven by cloud and mobile devices, certainly a new generation coming to embrace those devices. They many not necessarily have been exposed [to Office].

If you look at industry numbers, within the next 12 months or so around the world, over two billion people will be using cloud-connected mobile devices, whether phones or tablets. Those people may not necessarily have used Office before. We view that as a really good opportunity for Microsoft.

Historically, Microsoft has had one team developing Office for the PC and then a smaller Mac team developing Office for Mac. Things have quietly changed behind the scenes. Talk about developing Office for all these different devices.

The new world is technologically more complex — ours, Mac and Android, then we have the Web. You have many platforms to deal with. For Windows alone, we have two, [traditional Windows and Windows 8].

Our philosophy is always, we want to take full advantage of what each platform provides to you and build experiences that are truly compelling.

At the same time we want to share as much code as we can. Without sharing code, the fundamental agility won’t be there. Anytime you want to add a feature you would have to go back to all these code bases.

Some of the Mac people have been working on Office for iPad. We haven’t seen a new version of Office for Mac in a while.

We are definitely working on a new version of Office for Mac.

Is that later this year?

We won’t be able to say anything specific. We are working on it.

We haven’t heard a lot about search in a while. We’ve heard that Yahoo hasn’t been very happy with the partnership. Is it critical to Bing’s future to have that Yahoo partnership?

We’re very happy with the Yahoo partnership. We are strongly committed to do what we can to deepen that partnership.

Scale is indeed a critical part of search for both end user experience and search economics. We are focused on getting more value, getting more scale through organic growth but also through partnerships.

You may know this, but Bing provides back-end services for Apple’s Siri. We’re serving billions of queries for iOS Apple users. Both sides, Apple and us, are very happy with this partnership. That brings more scale.

The other is our partnership with Amazon. On Kindle devices, Bing is also the search default, and we are getting more and more volume. That’s still early. We see a lot of opportunities to drive more partnerships.

You mention Amazon. You’ve said you are going to bring Office to Android. Would you bring Office to Amazon Kindle, too?

That’s a very, very interesting question. I won’t be able to say specifically, but our fundamental focus is if a platform enables us to build a very good experience and our customers are also using those platforms, if those conditions are there, certainly we will consider those platforms.

You bring up Amazon, which is an interesting flavor. A similar thing is happening in China. We view all of these as potential opportunities. There is more than an Office opportunity. There’s a services opportunity for Chinese devices that aren’t using Google services.

Have you guys been talking with the Chinese phone makers, the Xiaomis of the world?

I won’t be able to comment specifically.

But is it fair to say it is an interesting opportunity?

No question. We will look for those opportunities.

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