Stock markets were mixed today on some conflicting economic data. The estimate of U.S. fourth quarter growth was bumped up to 2.6% from 2.4% but an index of pending home sales fell for an eighth straight month to 93.9 in February from 94.7 a month earlier, the lowest reading since October 2011.
The mixed data didn't give bears or bulls much traction and near the end of trading the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was down 0.17%. Until earnings season begins again, the market may be a little directionless, so I wouldn't expect a lot of volatility in the next few weeks.
Microsoft enters a new age
The big news on the Dow today was Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) new CEO Satya Nadella's first big product announcement. Today, he revealed that Microsoft Office is coming to Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad, the most popular tablet in the world.
Until now, Microsoft has kept Office on Windows devices and even watered down the software for the Mac. But it isn't as if Microsoft is going to give software away. Office for the iPad will require an Office 365 subscription if you want to create or modify documents, which isn't cheap at $99.99 per year.
Microsoft's move to the cloud is commendable, but its strategy is in contrast to Apple's, who gives away its productivity software on new devices. Cloud storage is also free from Apple.
That isn't to say that Apple will take a bite out of Microsoft Office's complete dominance of the work environment, but it highlights the different strategies and challenges the two companies face. Microsoft is a bit player in devices and has to make money on software like Office for iPad. Apple, on the other hand, makes its money on devices and offers software and services for free to its users.
Microsoft is almost forced to open up its software to other devices because the Surface and its smartphones only take a small market share. So, while Nadella's first announcement is probably the right move for the company, it shows the weak hand Microsoft is playing against rivals who offer software for free. That's the challenge Microsoft faces and it won't be an easy one to overcome.