On eve of expected Office for iPad, some remain skeptical

Next week's Build developers conference is a more appropriate venue, argues one doubting analyst

Although rumors have pegged today as the day when Microsoft will announce a long-awaited Office for iPad, some remain skeptical that the company will actually pull the trigger.

"I think it makes much more sense to discuss product development details at Build," Ross Rubin, an independent analyst at Reticle Research, said in an interview today. "Instead, I think we'll see a broad affirmation of the direction Microsoft is moving."

Build is Microsoft's annual developers conference, which will run next week, April 2-4, in San Francisco.

San Francisco is also the site of today's press event, where CEO Satya Nadella will provide opening remarks on what the company has only characterized as "focused on the intersection of cloud and mobile computing."

That event, which starts at 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET) will be webcast live from Microsoft's news home page, and available to the public.

Although some observers' attention will be focused on Nadella -- today will be his first public appearance since he assumed the chief executive role on Feb. 4 -- most are interested in a possible announcement of Office on the iPad.

Rubin wasn't buying it, even at this late date. "It just makes more sense to be announced at Build," Rubin said. "That product, in many ways, represents a return to Microsoft's roots as a software developer. That's been the heart of what the company does. Developers are a key constituency for the company and key partners for [Microsoft's] future endeavors."

Others were unconvinced by the barrage of Internet talk of Office on iPad's imminent unveiling, which began last week with reports by ZDNet and The Verge, and have echoed through the Web.

"I would be very surprised if Microsoft announces an iPad-enabled Office before one for Metro," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in an interview a week ago, but after the original reports surfaced. "I don't think they'll do it. It would wreak havoc on the development community as far as Microsoft's commitment to the Windows platform."

Moorhead's thinking on the timing of an Office for the iPad synced with what ex-CEO Steve Ballmer said last year, when he acknowledged that Microsoft was working on the edition. But Ballmer said it would only be released after one for Windows 8's and Windows 8.1's "Metro" user interface (UI), the tile-based, touch-first part of the operating system's radical dual-UI approach.

"Will they? No. Could they? Yes," Moorhead said, acknowledging that there is no technical reason keeping Microsoft from reversing the order of release it had promised previously.

"I just don't think Microsoft is in a hurry," said Moorhead, referring to Office on iPad. "Actually, I think momentum has been on Microsoft's side the last two months, especially on the enterprise side."

And while there are consumers who will buy Office on iPad -- which, whenever it's trotted on stage, is expected to be offered only to those who subscribe to one of the company's rent-not-buy Office 365 plans -- Microsoft's target for Office on Apple's tablet is definitely business.

"Office is the gold standard in business," said Moorhead.

Microsoft's selection of San Francisco for the event and its timing do hint at something Apple related, however: The Macworld/iWorld conference and trade show also opens today in the city, kicking off at 10 a.m. PT.

Paul Kent, the general manager of Macworld/iWorld, noticed that, too.

"Microsoft couldn't have picked a better time to make this announcement as tens of thousands of Apple enthusiasts, developers, enterprise customers and ecosystem stakeholders converge on the city," Kent said in an email today. "We're sure the conference will be buzzing about one of the world's premier technology brands making such a big bet on the Apple community."

Macworld/iWorld is hosted by IDG World Expo, an arm of IDG, the parent company of both Computerworld and Macworld.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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