VENTURES AFRICA – The world largest software maker, Microsoft has stepped up efforts to annex the African frontier in the $303.8 billion worldwide software industry as it officially launched Office 365 in Nigeria and announced plans to roll out Windows 8 and the Windows Phone 8 across the continent from October; making the Windows Phone accessible in some African countries for the first time ever.
In an official launch in Lagos, Nigeria, Microsoft finally opened its Office 365 cloud computing software to the Nigerian market, following an extended launch period since June which saw the software become available for 30-day free trial by businesses in the Africa’s second-biggest economy.
The cloud productivity software – already available in over 90 countries worldwide- provides an innovative new tool set to transform business-communications, merging updated versions of programmes such as Microsoft Office, Microsoft SharePoint Online, Microsoft Exchange Online and Microsoft Lync Online to provide pioneering communications, instant messaging, conferencing, file-sharing, and security services to users, alongside many Microsoft web apps and upgrades on popular programs such as Microsoft Office.
At the official launch event on Friday, Microsoft partners and clients were invited to test the product hands-on for improved functionality and dynamism, being given practical demonstrations of features by Information Worker Business Group Lead for Microsoft Africa Marc Israel. Israel assured potential clients that: “Office 365 provides the productivity backbone for modern businesses in Africa”. He went on to speak of 365’s role to play in the development of strong economies in Africa through the support the software provides in the efficient running of businesses-whether small or large-, saying: “The introduction of Office 365 to Nigeria has the potential to fuel business and economic transformation across the region by delivering cost-effective, flexible access to enterprise-class IT”.
The response from partners appears to be positive, with certain companies already offering the new software and Microsoft boasting that a significant partner network is rapidly being established. One such partner company is AlliedSoft, whose CEO Chuma Chukwujama spoke up in support of the product, saying: “When AlliedSoft learned about Office 365, we knew this was the way businesses would work in the future”.
The uptake from consumers in Nigeria has also been positive, with companies choosing to implement the new Office system immediately. Managing director and chief technology officer of ATB TechSoft Solutions Abiodun Atobatele, told interviewers: “We thoroughly evaluated other cloud productivity offerings in the market before choosing Microsoft…Office 365 is the right choice to help our company support the way people work today and encourage a more mobile work environment. With the service, we have the added benefit of working together with familiar tools on almost any device and can make quicker decisions when needed.”
With one success under its belt, Microsoft is set to unveil its next project to the African continent in October: the Windows 8 operating system. Microsoft South Africa business group lead for Windows, Colin Erasmus assured crowds in June that the new operating system will present in South Africa on October 26th – the date when Windows 8 is expected to be rolled out globally; although there have since been suggestions that the company will not be able to keep to this global launch date.
Alongside the Windows 8 launch, the Windows phone 8 is also eagerly awaited in Africa this October. While previous Windows Phones have not been widely available in Africa – indeed, Nigeria, Africa’s second largest economy, has never seen a Windows Phone come to the country’s market – Microsoft has promised that plans are being implemented to ensure that the Windows Phone 8 will be rolled out across the continent, and has given specific assurances that the Windows Phone 8 will be making a first-time appearance on the Nigerian market in the coming months.
The new model Windows Phone shares much of its coding with the new Windows 8 operating system; the phone will also boast a number of new screen resolutions -including 1280×768 and 1280×720 -removable MicroSD, multi-core chipsets, and Internet Explorer 10 to name but a few fresh features.
Companies HTC, Acer, Huawei and Samsung have confirmed that they are working on Windows 8 handsets to be ready at the launches, although speculation is rife as to whether Nokia might be granted special teasers in the run up to the October-scheduled launch.
The real question in terms of both the Windows 8 operating system and the phone lies in whether these products will be retail-available in Africa, or whether the companies intend the African market to start with upgrades until sufficient infrastructure is put in place to handle all the new features. There has been much speculation that the payment options in African countries may hinder the ability to purchase and utilise many of the Windows 8 apps, and that SIM capacities of many African providers may not be able to handle the innovative and high-end functions of the new Windows phone.