With Office 2016 Coming to Windows Store, Microsoft Demotes Office Mobile

Posted on May 3, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Office 365, Office, Windows 10 with 43 Comments

With Office 2016 Coming to Windows Store, Microsoft Demotes Office Mobile

Several readers have pointed out to me that Windows 10 users on PCs can no longer browse for the Office Mobile apps in Windows Store, though they are still available if you have a direct link. What’s going on?

Great question. But first, a bit of background.

As you may know, Microsoft confusingly makes two versions of several Office apps that run on Windows 10. There are the traditional desktop applications that come individually or as part of Office 2016. And then the Office Mobile apps, which include Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile, and OneNote Mobile. (The latter of which is actually included with Windows 10 as well. Adding to the confusion: Anyone can download the OneNote 2016 desktop application for free.)

Looked at broadly, the Office 2016 desktop applications are complex but full-featured. You must pay to use these applications—well, except for OneNote—and the most typical way to acquire them these days is as part of an Office 365 subscription.

By comparison, the Office Mobile apps are simple but basic, and the versions we see on Windows 10 are nearly identical to the Office Mobile apps on Android, iPhone, and iPad. They are also free, though you must have an Office 365 subscription to access some functionality.

Frankly, I think the Office Mobile apps are toys, and I’m surprised that Microsoft hasn’t improved them to be more powerful on Windows 10. This is, I think, a lost opportunity. But it is also an interesting commentary on the state of the Universal Windows Platform (UWP)—on Windows 10, the Office Mobile apps are built on UWP—which has never resulted in a single professional application of any kind.

Microsoft has seen some success, however, with a technology called Desktop Bridge (formerly “Project Centennial”). This solution addresses a very real problem for many developers, in that they may have a large, complex legacy application that was built for the Windows desktop years ago and will never be replaced by a more modern version. Oftentimes, it’s just too complex to do so, and not worth the effort for many reasons. (For example, desktop applications will work on 1.5 billion PCs whereas UWP apps will only work on 400 million Windows 10 PCs.)

So using the Desktop Bridge, a developer can wrap their desktop application in a UWP container, essentially, and distribute it via Windows Store. In doing so, they automatically gain access to Microsoft’s app updating infrastructure, and developers can also choose to extend these versions of their apps with UWP features like live tiles, notifications, and the like. For these reasons, Desktop Bridge apps are also a win for Windows 10 users. Though to date, we’ve only seen a few high-profile examples of such apps, like Adobe Photoshop Elements, Evernote, and, soon, Spotify.

Now, Microsoft has chosen to release at least some of its Office 2016 desktop applications through the Windows Store, and it is of course using that same Desktop Bridge technology to make it happen. The resulting applications will be just as complex to use as the “normal” versions, but will also be just as powerful. They will be “better” than the normal versions in that updating will happen through the Store automatically and not via some custom desktop updater that can steal performance at boot-up and other times. They will almost certainly take advantage of UWP features, too, though Microsoft has not really explained what it’s doing there.

Instead, what Microsoft has done is described the schedule: Starting in June, it will make preview versions of some Office 2016 applications—Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2016—available in the Windows Store for Education only, and perhaps only to those running Windows 10 S. (The wording is unclear.) Office 2016 will become generally available in the Microsoft Store for Education later this calendar year, Microsoft says.

I assume—but probably shouldn’t—that all of the Office 2016 desktop applications, and the entire Office 2016 suites, will be available in the Windows Store for everybody at some point. That is, if you have any applicable Office 365 subscription, you should be able to download those applications from the Store to take advantage of the unique advantages. Likewise, if you just want to purchase, say, Word 2016, from the Store, you should be able to do so.

Leaving aside for a moment what this means to the future of the toy Office Mobile apps, this much is certain: At some point fairly recently, Microsoft removed the ability to browse or search for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint Mobile from the Store on Windows 10. You can try it now yourself: You won’t find them on a PC.

Unless you know the trick: You just need a direct link to each. Which you can find easily enough by searching the web-based version of Windows Store. For example, I installed each of these apps on a Surface Book last night using the following links:

Word Mobile for Windows 10
Excel Mobile for Windows 10
PowerPoint Mobile for Windows 10

So what gives? My guess is that Microsoft is purposefully deemphasizing the toy apps, and is preparing to switch over to the desktop applications in the Store. And they would prefer for those with real PCs to see only the full-featured Office 2016 desktop applications and not the toy Office Mobile apps.

And yes, I do think that Office 2016 is coming to the Store for everyone: Microsoft’s event yesterday was about the education market, so the communications likewise emphasized that. (And there were other Office/Office 365 announcements for education as well.) But it doesn’t make sense for Microsoft to limit the availability of these applications. And I don’t believe they will.

But as of today, all we know for sure is that these applications are coming to Office 365 for Education customers, in preview form, in June. And that the Office Mobile apps are suddenly a bit hard to find from Windows 10. Curious.


Join the discussion!


Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Comments (43)

43 responses to “With Office 2016 Coming to Windows Store, Microsoft Demotes Office Mobile”

  1. Fusciacastle

    You call the mobile apps a toy. Not on a cramped commuter plane they're not. Not for a quick draft while leaning back in tablet mode.

  2. wolters

    I use Excel for my home budget and I often use Excel Mobile with my Surface Book. Why do you ask? I can't tell you how many times I had sync problems with OneDrive using fill Excel. Always running into sync problems and losing data. With the mobile Excel, never once had the problem.

  3. gatisnolv

    You can also find the applications by typing their names in Windows search.

  4. Bart

    this is iPad simplicity vs Windows complexity. Guess what the average consumers wants AND needs. Right.

    Can't help but think this is a dumb move.

  5. Luka Pribanić

    Well, I doubt that MS will sell us Word or Excel for 50-100$ per app, but if it means I can install it to any PC later on, and have it on my MS account forever, and no subscriptions required - I'd buy at least those two. Rest? Not likely, as I don't remember when I've used anything else but Outlook, and that only at work. So yeah, Store version of Word & Excel, keeping fingers crossed. But I'm affraid those will be somehow tied to O365 and will be pretty much just "demo" apps when used without subscription of some kind. Which will make it worthless sh** (sorry for honest opinion, but no other way to say it)

  6. DaveHelps

    How do the Office mobile apps compare to the desktop apps with regard to power consumption? Having recently bought a Surface Pro, my thinking was that when on the go One Note mobile & friends should be less hungry, and thus worth retaining.

  7. Care

    That explains it. I had posted this as a problem on Feedback Hub a few weeks ago.

  8. rameshthanikodi

    The future of Windows is Win32 again. Win32 evolved.

  9. skane2600

    For a Windows Store version of Office to be fully compatible with its desktop equivalent, it would have to support things like the ability to be automated from the outside by a scripting language such as VBscript. That doesn't seem likely.

  10. SvenJ

    The Mobile apps are not toys. They are in fact adequate for a large percentage of what normal people do in their personal lives. Paul is a writer and no he couldn't do that with Word Mobile, but I could write a letter, maybe keep a diary. An account/CPA couldn't use Excel Mobile, but I can compare Cell carrier plans, do a basic home budget, keep track of stuff in a sort of DB. Can I do a CEO level briefing in PowerPoint Mobile. Probably not, but I could present one in PowerPoint Mobile that was done in PowerPoint 2016. A middle schooler could do a perfectly acceptable presentation in PowerPoint Mobile. Not everyone needs or wants the power and complexity of the full Office products. OneNote has actually come a long way towards adding a ton of the desktop apps capabilities into the UWP app while still keeping the touch/tablet awareness of the rest of the Mobile suite, so that can be done.

    The full desktop apps, wrapped or not, are just not conducive to using via touch on a small tablet. Might as well just forget about that market. They are even pretty frustrating on a Surface sized machine. They have been since XP Tablet edition. Nobody wanted tablets because no apps that took advantage of their options were designed...not even by MS. The UWP apps changed that. Maybe they aren't great yet, but they were at least designed acknowledging they were likely going to run on a touch capable, if not touch based, device.

    If we take this approach we really don't need the Photos app, we have a wrapped version of Photoshop Essentials. No point continuing with Mail, Calendar, People and ToDo, just bundle up Outlook 2016, and shove that on the average consumer. The mobile apps could be aspirational examples for good UWP programming that does span the breadth of Win 10 devices from phones to tablets to 2-1s, to laptops, desktops, HoloLens and hub. Maybe that concept is too hard for even MS to implement.

  11. Ugur

    If i was MS, i'd stop trying to force things down users' and developers' throats and you know what, give them options and allow them to choose how they want it.


    -Why does the surface laptop not offer a menu at the beginning where it allows to choose whether one wants to go with Windows 10 S or pro installed right away?

    And keep that option (unless disabled by the administrator for schools or similar) available forever on the device.

    (And an even nicer implementation would be if one could switch forth and back between the two in non destructive way, like if i could enable windows 10 S mode, switch to an account of a kid/pupil and hand it to that person and he/she could then only run the store apps installed, then i take the device again and enable windows 10 pro mode with the click of a button/switch to my account and blam, all the windows desktop and desktop apps stuff is as i left it. Now that would be cool and very useful way beyond feeling like a store tie in attempt)

    -for all MS apps offer both the full desktop version (brought over via desktop bridge or however) and the touch/small version. And brand them clearly so it's clear here's the office for your basic and on the go and/or touch needs and there's the full desktop office as alternative option and in the related apps section for each show the other app option.

    (And ideally over time add all the nicer touch mode features of the UWP version to the full desktop version, too).

    If MS wants to have good stuff in their store it seems weird they are not the first to have all their desktop applications on there asap and/or are doodling forth and back semi undecided seeming whether uwp, desktop, both, none, mix version or whatever.

    • YouWereWarned

      In reply to Ugur:

      The quick answer to "why don't they...?" is that every Friday, the plan changes. Meaning you may get your wish, tomorrow. Apparently somebody there does, every week. And I'll hazard a guess that, as a result, being a Windows developer is a thankless ordeal.

  12. pachi

    I had reformatted my laptop a few months ago, and had not re-installed my Office suite... Someone emailed me to make a few quick changes to a word DOC, so I just used my Office365 sub and quickly Installed the UWP Word...

    I was absolutely shocked at how poor it was. I could not do an even basic DOC with it - maybe some text only thing would be okay.

    This would be welcome news if they don't want to actually improve the UWP apps - I wish they would, they are speedy and much more lean and lightweight.

  13. allanwith

    First of all: thank you for being the first writer I have seen to realize that the problem with Windows Store apps is not only a lack of effort or will on Microsoft's part to make those apps great, it is also a matter of how good the UWP really is as a platform.

    To me, what I would have preferred for Microsoft to do is keep the Mobile apps in Windows. Why? For one thing because it would challenge them to keep working on how to produce complex productivity apps on UWP and what is necessary to improve in the UWP in order to support such apps. Also, this doesn't mean that mobile apps go away completely. I mean, they still exist on iOS and Android, so what about tablet/touch mode on Windows? Keep the UWP version on the desktop. Take feedback from users. Have the dev teams on different platforms learn from and work with each other... Keep working on tools that will make it easier to make complex cross platform mobile apps.

    Then there is the communications aspect of this decision, what this signals and more importantly what people conclude from this decision. Just read the comment thread on this post to see some of what people will think. Finally the decision is weird from an Office 365 perspective, because you will still have the other UWP apps for Office 365, such as PowerApps, Power BI, OneDrive UWP, Microsoft ToDo, etc. I know Teams is not UWP, but it should be...

    What I think Microsoft SHOULD have done, is keep Office Mobile available on desktop/tablet and then offer an option to upgrade to Office Professional, which would mean uninstalling Office Mobile and instead installing the Office suite we all know and love/hate. Over time, keep improving both and perhaps one day, the need for the old Office Pro goes away.

    This isn't the end of the World. It doesn't mean that they can't keep improving UWP as a platform or even the UWP versions of Office Mobile. It also doesn't mean they can't reintroduce those apps at a later point and in the way that I describe, for instance. Right now the benefit to this approach is that they remove some of the confusion about what is what... but honestly, by that logic they should also remove OneDrive UWP and Skype UWP, which I hope they won't...

  14. SvenJ

    Just listened to Windows Weekly, and discussion surrounding this got me to thinking. If indeed they are making Office Mobile hard to find, and the Store Office 2016 won't be generally available until fall(?) you won't have any office on the Surface laptop for quite some time. You will have access to the web version, in Edge. I can't open a local file with Office Online, so how do I work on stuff if I don't have connectivity. Oh yea, in Redmond such a place doesn't exist. It does exist outside Redmond surprisingly. So, what do I do? I upgrade to Win 10 Pro. Why not, it is free. So the instances of dismissing Win 10 S may be driven by a lack of Office, (and other apps) more so than a dissatisfaction with Win 10 S. Hiding the Mobile/Store versions of Office seems like a bad idea. Even if some don't think they are all that great, when I stick a thumb drive in my new Win 10 S laptop and double click a .docx, something better happen.

  15. Waethorn

    Does anybody really believe that Windows 10 Mobile has any future now?

    Likewise, killing off Office Mobile means that Microsoft isn't serious about supporting Windows tablets. Touch Mode on Office is a joke.

    • sharpsone

      In reply to Waethorn: More like touch mode for productivity is a joke!

      • gjsmyth

        In reply to sharpsone:

        I used to think the same but recently I found myself having to update a word doc and excel spreadsheet on an 8" tablet. I was amazed as to how easy and well implemented touch was in the modern versions of the apps and how much I could do - easily and intuitively - with touch alone.

        I have also tried the same on my SP4 with std office apps (I dont have O365 to use the mobile apps on Surface). The 'touch mode' in these programs is nowhere near as capable.

        If they are deprecated I can only hope that it is because MS are going to roll all features - including touch centric control - into a single version of the app.

        • Waethorn

          In reply to gjsmyth:

          I get the feeling that touch interfaces will see a marked decline around Microsoft circles. I think this "Creators Update" is the start of a bigger push AWAY from consumer-centric updates. Just like Windows 10 Mobile and the Lumia 950 was for Windows Phone "enthusiasts", this is going to be one of the last big consumer-facing updates for Windows 10. Moving to productivity releases, you'll see that Microsoft won't put much into touch controls because they're making Windows 10 just for everyday desktops and laptops - it'll be an after-thought. I bet the next Surface lineup is going to match more closely with the Surface Laptop instead of the tablet + book concepts that they have now.

      • Waethorn

        In reply to sharpsone:

        I'd love it if there was a system administration dashboard made from a touch interface. But no. Microsoft is throwing away all of their GUI expertise for the sake of Unix code-junkies in favour of automation and scripting.

  16. wright_is

    On my systems, OneNote is just called OneNote, not OneNote Mobile, whilst Word, Excel and Powerpoint all have the "Mobile" suffix for the store apps.

    Edit: If you have previously installed Word, Excel or Powerpoint Mobile on a Windows device, you still find them listed under "My Library" (translated from German) in the Windows Store. I found them there on a new PC today and it let me install them.

  17. harmjr

    To me this should have happen back in the Windows 8 days. All of Microsoft Applications we use to get by going to some web page should be in the store.

  18. Shel Dyck

    those mobile apps are the right answer for machines with limited space such as an HP Stream11.

  19. will

    Two questions I have:

    1) Why call it Office 2016 anything? Just call it Office and drop the dates.

    2) If the apps are wrapped in this UWP wrapper will this fix the scaling issues of 32bit apps? UWP apps did not have any scaling issues so just curious.

  20. michaelpatricehuber

    I find it surprising that the "full" version of Office is not available on the Windows Store earlier. The schedule means that if you buy the Surface Laptop on June 15, you won't be able to run the full versions of Office unless (1) you are in education or (2) you do the free upgrade from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro.

  21. chump2010

    I think part of the reason that there are not many professional apps in the store, is because of Microsoft's 30% cut of the sale. I mean if Adobe were to release their creative cloud on their, can you imagine out of the $50 you pay per month, microsoft would take $15. Now why on Earth, would any developer do that to themselves? The professional applications don't need the extra sales from the Windows Store - at least not enough to give out 30% of their sale price. The people who might be willing to trade that, are the small time developers who want to get exposure.

    It has already been established that this garden wall of protection that the store was supposed to bring, is not in fact a safe space. Many applications are able to download their malware payload if they want to. Microsoft is not reviewing every single application. So there is really no advantage to it.

    The security boundary provided by Microsoft in the form of Windows UAC is more than enough to shut down most malware. Study after study, has shown running as a limited user will stop most malware. The problem with the UAC is the same problem the store has. If users click on something and just say accept without reading, they will get malware.

    • skane2600

      In reply to chump2010:

      And it's not even clear if small time developers will get more exposure. Potential users might find an app faster with Google than searching in the store. It's not as if an obscure app is going to be on the "front page" in the Store.

  22. Waethorn

    "They are also free, though you must have an Office 365 subscription to access some functionality."

    You ABSOLUTELY need an Office 365 subscription if your screen is 10.1" or higher - you can only use the apps to open and print files otherwise. If it's not, you can use the software for free, but the subscription unlocks minor additional functionality.

  23. dhallman

    I have to think that the evidence is piling up that Windows 10 on ARM is replacing Windows 10 on phones and that this move is to streamline previews that I hope we will see at build and the following months.

    Just looking at the lack of features on Windows 10 phone Creator's Update; no night light or promised continuum updates for instance. And then the complete drop in development (other than a few bug fixes) since Creator's release despite Windows 10 moving forward with RS3 previews.

    Now apps that are duplicate on full Windows 10 are being retired.

    I do hope Windows 10 on Arm is coming and is going to be the mobile device operating system. And I hope the new hardware proves powerful enough to deliver a great computing experience (ie superior to Atom) including win32/64 emulation for store 'bridged' apps.

    Maybe the briefly rumored Samsung GS8 with Windows 10 is a Windows 10 on Arm developers preview device being handed out next week? One can dream...