Will Microsoft Have to Choose Between Office and Windows?

As Office 2013 begins rolling out, Microsoft will have to decide whether the increased revenue from having Office available on iOS and Android is worth the damage it could do to struggling Windows RT devices.

Office 2013 will be available to the masses starting tomorrow (Jan. 29), but one question that won't go away is this: Will it be available on non-Windows tablets running iOS and Android?

In November, tech news site The Verge, citing sources close to Microsoft's plans, reported that Microsoft would release iOS apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint in early March 2013, followed in May by software for Android.

The apps, according to the Verge report, would be free in the iOS app store and Google Play store, but will only let users view documents; to edit them, customers would need to have an Office 365 subscription.

I wrote in a blog post last month that Microsoft could seriously diminish the value of Windows 8 and Windows RT by allowing Office to run on iOS and Android.

After all, Office 2013 could be the one feature that gives Windows 8 and Windows RT an advantage over other platforms. The Windows 8 UI still befuddles the general user and sales have been sluggish, but at least Windows 8 tablets run the full-featured version of Office. If you also make Office available on the iPad, the choice for someone considering an iPad -- who may also want to use it for work -- gets a lot easier.

Office on an iPad

Yet the revenue generated by releasing Office to the broad swath of iOS and Android tablets -- which are both beloved by consumers and entering businesses through BYOD programs – could be too tempting to pass up. Like they say, you need to go where the people are. And more and more, the people are on non-Windows devices.

In a story on Computerworld this week, analyst Bob O'Donnell of IDC says the decision to make Office available on iOS and Android will allow Microsoft to "start printing money" because it will expose Office to the biggest possible base of tablet users. It would also be a good hedge bet against Windows 8 and Windows RT just flat-out failing to sell.

Yet O'Donnell adds that the clock is ticking on such a decision as the popularity of 10-inch tablets -- the size of the original iPad and the most usable tablet size for Office apps – gives way to 7-inch and 8-inch tablets, which are too small to make the best use of Office. I agree. An Excel spreadsheet on Google Nexus 7 tablet? No thanks.

This is an extremely difficult decision for Microsoft. Making Office available on iOS and Android would kill the appeal of Windows RT tablets (the consumery, tabletized version of Windows 8) which include a watery but functional version of Office called Office Home & Student RT.

Also, by pushing Office out onto other platforms to make money, the implication is that Microsoft has lost faith in Windows as a reliable money-maker.

What do you think? Is it time for Microsoft to play to its productivity suite monopoly strengths and expand Office?

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