Where's the touch-first Office for Windows?

Analysts expect more info about a Windows 8.1 version this week at Build; CEO Satya Nadella confirms as much

When Microsoft unveiled Office for iPad last week, neither CEO Satya Nadella nor the company said much of anything about a similar touch version for Windows 8.1.

But analysts expect that to change this week at Microsoft's Build conference.

"Today was a day for heterogeneity, Microsoft in a non-Microsoft world," said Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft in an interview on Thursday, the day Microsoft launched Office for iPad. "How do I manage that? How will I deal with a BYOD world? But I think next week is more about Windows. I'm fully expecting Windows news [about Office] not too far in the future."

That near-future will be as soon as this week, when Microsoft hosts the Build developers conference in San Francisco April 2-4, said Ross Rubin, an independent analyst at Reticle Research.

"Clearly, Nadella gave just a piece of the overall strategy today," Rubin said on Thursday. "The balance is between supporting customers not on Microsoft's platforms, supporting customers on Windows on other OEMs' devices, and supporting customers on Microsoft's own devices. Today we got a taste of how Microsoft is embracing the first. We'll get how they address the latter groups at Build."

After last week's news conference, which was webcast -- both Miller and Rubin watched that webcast -- and off-camera, Nadella confirmed that Microsoft would expand on Office on Windows at the developers conference, according to Geekwire.

Not surprisingly, Nadella did not promise that Microsoft would launch a Windows 8.1-specific version of Office then, one that would also be a touch-first suite and run on that operating system's "Modern," née "Metro" user interface (UI). "You'll see us talk even more about it next week, in terms of what innovation we are doing on that platform," Nadella told Geekwire.

Nadella hinted at the same in a blog he authored last week. "We're a few days away from Build, our developer conference, where next week we'll share where we're going with key platforms like Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox and Azure," he wrote.

The unveiling order of a touch-enabled Office -- first for iPad, Microsoft's tablet rival -- was a departure from previous company statements. Last October, then-CEO Steve Ballmer told an audience at a Gartner-hosted symposium that Office for iPad would ship, but only after something similar had launched for Windows 8.1.

As recently as a week before Microsoft trotted out Office for iPad, some experts were skeptical, rumors notwithstanding, that the company would launch on a competitor's platform before it did on its own. And for good reason.

"You'd better bet that if they [do unveil] Office for the iPad, they give a lot of details on Office for Metro," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in a March 19 interview. "It would be absolutely horrible if they didn't. Microsoft has drilled in developers' heads that anything other than Windows is bad."

To Moorhead and others, Microsoft risked fracturing already-strained relationships with developers by promoting apps on a non-Windows OS.

But by Thursday, Moorhead and other analysts were singing a different tune, applauding Microsoft for demonstrating that it was serious about its devices and services strategy, or as Nadella has put it, a "mobile-first, cloud-first" strategy -- even if that meant discarding the "Windows-first" philosophy it's adhered to for decades.

"This was the proof point of delivering on the devices and services strategy," Moorhead said last week.

Microsoft will kick off Build April 2 with a keynote address scheduled to run from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. PT (11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET). As at past Build conferences, Microsoft will live stream the keynote from its Channel 9 website and the conference's own page. Nadella is expected to participate in the keynote, just as Ballmer did in the years prior.

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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