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Does Apple’s free software giveaway show the company is panicking about Microsoft’s dominance?

There is a definite trend towards the “more affordable” computer these days. A reasonably powerful laptop or desktop can be purchased for just a few hundred dollars, even if the netbook phenomenon has died out. But the same cannot be said of Apple hardware, and this was something that was made abundantly clear at today’s special event.

The high price tags — an eye-watering $2999 for the Mac Pro and a minimum of $1299 for a new MacBook Pro — were almost skirted over. Much was made of the fact that Mavericks is being made available as a free update, although this is hardly a revolutionary move. But Apple was keen to make a lot of noise about a lot of other free software — perhaps as a distraction technique.

“Apple knows that Microsoft dominates a lot of areas in the software market, and this is certainly true of office software.”

Apple hardware has long been seen as aspirational, and this has been used as a justification for the higher than average price tags.  But by making its office suite, iWork, available free of charge — not just on desktop platforms, but also mobile — Apple looks like a company that is desperately trying to get back into the software race.

Microsoft is the undisputed leader when it comes to office software, and the new subscription model introduced with Office 365 seems to be going down well. During Apple’s keynote speech yesterday it was pointed out that Office costs $99.99 per year. This is true — although there are plenty of discounted and free version available for certain people — but one thing was neatly avoided. Yes, Office has a cost associated with it, but you do get quite a lot for your money.

You are not buying a single license; far from it. Your $99.99 lets you install Office on up to five computers. But it doesn’t end there — you can also install the mobile version on up to five more devices. So in effect you are paying $99.99 for 10 licenses. $9.99 really doesn’t sound like a bad deal.

It’s not all that long ago that Apple was selling the iOS versions of Pages, Number and Keynote for $9.99 each — just for the mobile version. iWork is a capable suite of tools, but it would be difficult to suggest it was on a par with Office whilst keeping a straight face. Apple knows that Microsoft dominates a lot of areas in the software market, and this is certainly true of office software.

Heather Knox, Senior Director of Microsoft Office told WinBeta: “Office Web Apps are the best, free alternative to Office. They extend the Office experience you know and love with anytime, anywhere online editing and collaboration. Additionally, we’re seeing great adoption of Office 365 – with a single subscription to Office 365, people can install Office apps across their devices including PCs, Macs, Windows Phones, iPhones and Android Phones – with all the familiarity and compatibility people appreciate about Office.”

Apple may have shown off some interesting hardware during its keynote yesterday, but its software giveaway smacks of a company scrabbling to get back in the game. It’s unlikely to make much of a dent in Microsoft’s market, but it does succeed in making Apple look strangely desperate.

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