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Microsoft Word mobile app shoots to top of Apple's charts

The new Word for iOS, which offers basic editing functions for free, makes it to the No. 2 spot among free apps in Apple's App Store in less than a day.

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Microsoft Word for the iPhone.Photo by Microsoft

In case you ever question the power of "free" among consumers, just look at Microsoft Word.

On Friday, the mobile version of Word surged to No. 2 among free apps in Apple's App Store. This comes just one day after Microsoft dropped the requirement of buying an Office 365 subscription to edit documents in the Word app for the Apple iPhone.

That puts the Microsoft Word app just behind Facebook Messenger and just ahead of Facebook itself among the free apps for Apple's iOS mobile operating system.

Word is not alone. Microsoft made Excel and PowerPoint, available as free, individual apps for the iPhone on Thursday -- just as they had been for the iPad.

The three apps no longer require a Office 365 subscription to edit files. Previously you could only view files without such a subscription. Basic editing functionality and other features are now free. More advanced options, such as formatting changes, are still available only for Office 365 subscribers.

In the Word app, for example, you can view, create, and edit documents for free by signing in with a Microsoft account. You can also work with documents from Dropbox, courtesy of a new partnership between Microsoft and the cloud storage site.

You can receive a document originally created in landscape mode and make basic edits, but you can't switch the document to portrait mode without the Office 365 subscription. Also, you can receive a document formatted with columns and edit the text, but you can't alter the column formatting without the paid subscription.

Still, the ability to at least perform basic text editing in the mobile version of Word is a big step. The same approach also applies to Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint. Excel users seem jazzed about the switch as well. The mobile version of Microsoft's spreadsheet program is currently in seventh place among the top free apps in the App Store.

The new approach to Microsoft's mobile suite speaks to a change in strategy since CEO Satya Nadella took the reins in February.

In the past, Microsoft offered its Office suite to Windows Phone users but shied away from the iOS and Android arenas until 2013.

But with Windows Phone on just 2.5 percent of the mobile devices worldwide and with iOS and Android collectively on nearly 93 percent of devices, it seems like a savvy move to get Office into those realms -- especially with freemium software that could eventually lead users to pay for Office 365 subscriptions.

And what of Office for Android? Microsoft said that beta testing has already started for Android tablets and that the apps will become available in 2015. It also said that a version for Android phones (with similar features to what exists for iOS) will be available shortly afterward.

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