Office to be released for the iPad before Windows tablets? What gives, Microsoft?

The on-again, off-again love affair between Office and the iPad continues: The latest rumors say that Office will arrive on the iPad even before it comes to Windows tablets. No matter the truth of things, Microsoft needs to make clear its Office strategy, or else it will give up ground to competitors.

Mary Jo Foley reports that Office for the iPad is alive and well, and possibly arriving soon. She says that:

"Office for iPad -- which I've recently heard is codenamed 'Miramar' -- isn't dead. In fact, it's likely to make it to market ahead of Microsoft's touch-first version of Office (codenamed "Gemini") according to a couple of my sources.

This contradicts the hints that Tami Reller, Microsoft's chief of marketing, said about Office, that it might never be coming to the iPad. Gregg Keizer reports in Computerworld that she hinted that Microsoft might want to keep away Office from the iPad as a way to convince people to buy Windows tablets. Here's what she said when asked about the status of releasing Office for the iPad,

"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."

...

"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."

All this is just the latest in a long line of rumors and speculation, fed by Microsoft's indecision about what to do about Office and the iPad, and the company's constantly changing comments about it, both on and off the record. Last October, Ballmer tried to clarify things when he said that Microsoft would release a touch-based version of Office for the iPad and Android, but only after it was released for Windows.

Then last week Reller hinted that there would be no Office for the iPad. And now Mary Jo Foley reports that not only will there be one, but that it will be out even before Office for Windows tablets.

All this reflects Microsoft's confusion and internal division about what to do. The Windows die-hards continue to think that Windows is the center of the computing universe, and the Microsoft needs to protect it no matter the consequences. Others believe that harming Office in order to try and save Windows is a losing proposition.

There's certainly money to be made in Office for the iPad and Android tablets. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Holt estimates that Microsoft could gain $2.5 billion in new Office revenue with it. Gerry Purdy, principal of MobileTrax, ups that, and believes Microsoft could gain an additional $1.25 billion in revenue in the first year of the a release, and $6 billion in annual revenue by 2017.

Those are likely over-estimates. If Microsoft does release Office for the iPad and Android, it will likely be part of an Office 365 subscription, not sold separately. Still the future of technology is mobile and cross-platform. If Office won't be available for the iPad and Android tablets, competitors such as Google Docs will start to make serious headway against it. If Office is released for the iPad and Android tablets, no one will be able to compete against it.

That's why Microsoft needs to publicly clarify things now. The longer it lets confusion reign, the more chance that people and enterprises will begin opting to use Office alternatives, not wanting to wait to see what Microsoft decides.

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