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Microsoft Makes Office Apps Free for Small PCs and Tablets

Definition of "small" devices: Under 10.1 inches for free Office, nine inches or less for free Windows.

Dawn Chmielewski

Microsoft said Wednesday that it plans to make the core viewing and editing features of Office free for devices with screens of 10.1-inches or smaller.

That will bring the Windows side of things more in line with what the software maker has done with its recent Office releases for iOS and Android, where most core features are free, with some advanced features requiring an Office 365 subscription.

“Based on our research, we are classifying anything with a screen size of 10.1 inches or less as a true mobile device: You’re probably using it on the go, when it’s not practical to use a larger computing device such as a PC or a Mac. You probably aren’t using a mouse or a keyboard, instead navigating via touch interface,” Microsoft corporate VP Kirk Koenigsbauer said in a blog post.

The software maker is also working on new Windows versions of Office, with one focused on touch-centric devices and the other, known as Office 2016, aimed at traditional desktops. Both versions are due later this year.

Microsoft, which has historically made most of its profit from Office and Windows, has been increasingly willing to offer its core products for free in areas where the company has smaller market share, such as phones and tablets.

Windows is also offered for free to makers of small-screen devices, though Microsoft’s definition there limits the no-cost version of Windows to machines smaller than nine inches. Microsoft says there is no change to that policy.

In the past, Microsoft and its partners have offered a free year of Office 365 on some small-screen devices.

Microsoft says it plans to continue crafting deals with all manner of hardware makers. This week it announced deals with Samsung, Dell and others to preload some Office and other apps onto Android devices.

(Update: A Microsoft representative clarified that the new policy applies to the mobile app versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint on iOS, Android and, soon Windows 10. It does not apply to desktop versions of Office such as Office 2013 and the forthcoming Office 2016.)

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