Microsoft inches toward Office on iPad, Android tablets

Windows-first strategy remains sacrosanct, but 'We don't have our heads in the sand,' says Ballmer

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"They want to test the success around Windows 8.1 and accelerating PC sales," said Moorhead of the update slated to ship Oct. 18 and Microsoft's hope that PC sales pick up -- as they historically do -- in the last three months of the year. "They want to see how [Windows 8.1] does on 10-in. and 8-in. tablets."

If Windows 8.1 and a slew of new Windows hardware from Microsoft itself -- more touch-enabled notebooks and a broader array of tablets that includes refreshed Surface devices -- sell better than they have, Microsoft may hesitate to offer Office on iOS and Android, figuring it should keep Office exclusive to Windows a bit longer.

But if sales don't match the projections Microsoft has settled on internally, it would pull the trigger on Office for the iPad, Moorhead said. "Does having Office on Windows 8.1 incent buyers to buy a Windows machine over an iPad or Android tablet?" asked Moorhead rhetorically. "If not, I would expect them to rapidly move to put a more robust Office on iPads and Android tablets, because they wouldn't be losing anything at that point."

Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner, also said Microsoft may want another win-one-for-the-Gipper shot with the Office and Windows tag team. "It's all about Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 and tablets to them," said Silver of Microsoft's strategic decision to allow Office only on Windows tablets. "The right time may have been a couple of years ago [to change that thinking], but I can see them thinking 'Let's give Windows tablets one more chance.'"

Microsoft certainly won't put Windows and non-Windows devices on a level playing field, Office-wise. Ballmer made that very clear.

"The truth of the matter is, our devices carry our services, and our services will be available on a number of people's devices. And I think the order is important," said Baller [emphasis added]. In other words, Microsoft's devices will always offer the company's services before they're on rivals' hardware.

In that way, for all the talk of expanding service footprints -- Office's, for instance -- to Android and iOS, Microsoft will not deviate from a strategy that puts Windows first.

Some analysts have long criticized that attitude as short-sighted and playing to the company's weaknesses. They continued to do so after the talk last week of other platforms.

"The real question is still whether the Office division, which doesn't really exist anymore, is in business to sell Office or in business to sell Windows," said Silver. At times, he said, it seems neither, and pointed to the after-the-fact promise to produce a touch-ready Office for Windows 8.1 tablets and touch-enabled notebooks.

"[Touch Office] is coming much later than they should have done to make Metro a success last year," said Silver, referring to the "Modern" user interface within Windows, called "Metro" until mid-2012 when Microsoft dropped it under pressure from a German retailer who holds that trademark. "And there's been a pretty attractive market [for a touch-enabled Office] for a long time. Had they done this well before now, [Office] might have been able to get through."

Most outsiders have pointed out that the longer Microsoft waits to port Office to the two most popular mobile platforms, Android and iOS, the more it risks losing that market to alternatives, ranging from Google's Quickoffice to Apple's iWork.

Recently, however, there's been pushback by other analysts, who see Microsoft's hold on the enterprise productivity market as, if not invincible then at the very least much less vulnerable than its less lucrative consumer and small business sales of Office.

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