If new leaked roadmaps are accurate, the long-rumored Microsoft Office for iOS won't see the light of day before mid-2014. A new set of Office updates are supposed to drop with Windows Blue later this year, and Metro versions of more Office applications are in development. There's an Office RT update package for Windows RT aimed at early 2014. But support for iOS and Android devices? That's more than a year away. And Outlook RT, easily the largest hole in the Windows RT Office suite, may not ship for another year.
By then, no one may care.
Consider history: Microsoft's office suite rose to prominence thanks to the advent of Windows itself. Before Windows 3.0, WordPerfect dominated the word processing market. Once Windows 95 launched, however, Microsoft used bundling requirements and standards miscommunication (allegedly) to sabotage WordPerfect's efforts. In doing so, Redmond established itself as the de facto
Office suite designer -- a position it has held, unchallenged, for the past twenty years.
(Hang on 3vi1, don't kill me yet)
When I say Microsoft's position is unchallenged, I don't mean that the company has 100% of the Office market. My point is that Microsoft controls office suite design.
Open source office suites with Windows-using customer bases have deliberately echoed Microsoft's button layouts and design queues to make switching as easy and painless as possible. Many Linux distros offer GUIs that are similar to Windows XP or Windows 7, not because Microsoft's operating systems embody some quintessential level of greatness, but because users get frustrated very quickly when things don't work the way they expect.
Libre Calc and Libre Writer look like Microsoft products. That's not intrinsically a good thing or a bad thing, but it demonstrates how much power Redmond has wielded in this space. Microsoft has fought this battle on a deeper layer as well, as evidenced by the standardization struggle between supporters of Office Open XML (Microsoft) and OpenDocument Format (everyone else). Standard dominance is a way to ensure that your competitors have to spend time bug-checking their
code to run on your
platform, rather than the other way around. Every hour the Libre Office team spends checking edge cases to ensure total MS Office compatibility is another hour they don't spend building their own unique features.
In Which Microsoft Jettisons Everything it Ever Knew
Compare such aggressive, out-in-front hardball with the current situation. Outlook -- one of the signature applications of the Office suite -- isn't available on Windows RT. Only two applications have Metro versions. And the iOS version of Office is stuck in limbo because Microsoft doesn't want to share 30% of its revenue with Apple. From a short-term perspective, the latter makes perfect sense. But long-term, Redmond is making a colossal mistake. Even Steve Jobs, a man not known for his humility and self-effacing manner, took a major cash infusion from Bill Gates when he needed it to save Apple. Microsoft wants to be the big dog, but it lacks the leverage that established the Windows monopoly nearly 20 years ago.
Consumers are spending huge amounts of money on tablets and smartphones. They aren't buying PCs. Those tablets and smartphones are being used in offices, which means customers require products that allow them to open and create documents across multiple devices. There are multiple products that can fill this need, and none
of them have "Microsoft" in the title. The market isn't waiting for Microsoft to create a mobile Office solution, any more than it waited for Microsoft to create a tablet OS.
This isn't necessary a great blow for freedom, mind you. If you're leery of Google's data mining policies or Apple's garden walls, there's no benefit to user freedom here. But it's potentially devastating for Microsoft's bottom line. Microsoft needs a cross-platform Office product that doesn't care if you're on BlackBerry, iOS, or Android. It needs an Office that gives users features they can't get from $4.99 word processors. It needs a program that makes users view maintaining backwards compatibility with the desktop as a good thing rather than a boat anchor.
It needs those things, and apparently doesn't have them.