Microsoft backs off on Office for iPad. Is this the revenge of the company's old guard?

Even though former CEO Steve Ballmer promised last fall that Microsoft would be bringing Office to the iPad, there's a new sheriff in town, and that promise no longer holds. The company is now strongly hinting that Office for the iPad may be a non-starter. Is this a return to the bad old days of Microsoft?

Gregg Keizer reports in Computerworld that Tami Reller, Microsoft's chief of marketing, has backed off on Ballmer's promise to bring Office to the iPad. When asked about the status of a decision to bring Office to the iPad, she said:

"As we step back and say, these core applications, these core brands that are so important to enterprise customers and consumers, how do we make sure that we're thoughtful about what we're doing on the Windows platform, as well as cognizant of the fact that there's other devices in their lives."

There's a lot of hazy wording to sift through there, so she made herself clearer in an answer to another question:

"With Windows, we're obviously spending a lot of time thinking about how we continue to differentiate the full Windows experience, particularly as we think about our partners and how we differentiate for them to pick Windows over Android."

In other words, Office will be used as a way to convince people to buy Windows tablets rather than tablets from competing operating systems.

All this contradicts what Ballmer said last October, when he said that a touch-based version of Office would be released for iPad and Android at some point after it was released for Windows.

Microsoft's new stance is a step backwards for the company. In a note to clients last week, research firm IDC had this to say about Microsoft using Office as a way to lure customers to Windows tablets:

"It's a strategy that has simultaneously failed to drive adoption of these [Windows] devices and put at risk Office's dominance in the business productivity market. The company is not only leaving a great deal of money on the table, but it's also forcing tablet users to find alternatives to Office."

There's certainly plenty of money being left on the table. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Holt has said that Microsoft could get $2.5 billion in new Office revenue by releasing Office for the iPad. Gerry Purdy, principal of MobileTrax, is even more aggressive about how much money Microsoft could get by releasing Office for the iPad and Android, saying that the company could could gain an additional $1.25 billion in revenue in the first year of such a release, and $6 billion in annual revenue by 2017.

Just as disturbing about all this is that in recent months, Microsoft seems to finally have realized that its future isn't Windows, and that an over-reliance on Windows will only hurt the company. Back in July, Ballmer reorganized Microsoft and laid out his vision of the company's core strategy:

"Going forward, our strategy will focus on creating a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most."

Notice that Windows isn't mentioned there. Since then, Microsoft has in small ways let it be known that it's willing to consider new ways of doing business. It is allowing Nokia to release an Android phone, because Window Phone can't compete in Nokia's old strongholds in the developing world because of Windows Phone's hardware requirements. Microsoft is also considering allowing Windows Phone devices and Windows devices, notably tablets, to run Android apps.

This never would have happened in the old days of Microsoft. Neither would a release of Windows for iPad and Android. So Microsoft seems to be taking step backwards. Of course, Microsoft hasn't absolutely ruled out such a release, but Reller's comments certainly make it seem it's a longshot for now.

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