Office for Tablets: Delay Could Be Death

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The usually very well-informed Mary Jo Foley reports at ZDNet that we won’t see major improvement in Microsoft Office for tablets until next year, spring of 2014 for Windows RT and fall for the long-awaited iOS and Android versions. If true, this is big trouble for Microsoft’s cash-cow Office franchise.

The huge threat is that this long wait gives everyone a year to 18 months to continue to learn to live without Office. In tech time, that is more-or-less forever. The longer people go without Office on their tablets and the more that tablets become the dominate computing tools, the less people will want or need the Microsoft software. It will hold on in the enterprise in those roles where Office is indispensable, but that will be a steadily shrinking market.

The bizarre thing is that Microsoft foresaw the future of tablets with the development of the Tablet PC in 2001, but utterly failed to recognize their importance once Apple released the iPad in 2010. The brand-new version of Office relies on Windows’ classic Desktop user interface and its applications are unsuited for use even on Microsoft’s own tablets unless they are effectively configured as laptops with keyboards and a stylus or mouse. Outlook, a key component of the Office suite, is not available at all for RT, the tablet version of Windows (Foley says Outlook RT is fall 0f next year.)

As the latest sales figures suggest, the world is moving decisively to tablets. To the extent that people need Office-like apps, companies more nimble (and less riven by internal politics) than Microsoft will provide them. If Microsoft doesn’t get around to releasing tablet versions of the applications until the fall of 2014, it is likely that very few people by then will care.

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Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

16 thoughts on “Office for Tablets: Delay Could Be Death”

  1. “The huge threat is that this long wait gives everyone a year to 18 months to continue to learn to live without Office.”

    I agree with this article except that I think it is ALREADY too late for Windows Office to survive the transition to tablets. The 18 month delay simply “seals the deal”.

  2. This whole Windows 8 fiasco has me thinking that soon enough “office” will only be found in the office…

  3. Microsoft missed the market in mobile, they made a screwy product in Windows 8, and now they’ll miss BYOD in the enterprise. S.B. might want to update his resume or think about retiring.

  4. Yes. Microsoft is so arrogant (from what I see from Xbox 720 saga) that in a few years she will be competing with Bank of America and Electronic Arts for worst company ever.

  5. I love to find irony. What is ironic here is that Apple is the one who is derided and called out for being arrogant, but what kind of arrogance has MS and Ballmer shown over the last few years to ignore mp3 players, smartphones, and now tablets, the whole post-pc thing, all at the cost of insisting Windows, Office, and PCs are really the drivers. Even Gates before him missing the “internet”.

    I used to love the healthy paranoia Gates seemed to display as a business leader. Now I can’t tell if this is actually arrogance, denial, or just plain stupidity.


    1. I have known Mary Jo for years and that is unfair. She is on the beat and she likes Microsoft products in the same way that most folks who write entirely about Apple like Apple products. But to call her a shill implies unethical conduct on her part. And besides, I don’t think her stuff on the endless delays in tablet versions of Office is a story Microsoft is particularly happy about.

  6. As someone who uses Microsoft Word (Mac) every day, this article omits an important point.

    I use Word because of one feature — track changes. We collaborate with our clients, all of whom use Word. I assure you that we’re not the only people in the business world who need track changes.

    Apple recently added track changes to the iOS version of Pages but it’s not professional grade. And even if it were it would have to convert perfectly back into DOC or DOCX format so that our clients could open the documents in Word. Other iOS word processing apps don’t measure up either. And I have found remote desktop apps too cumbersome because touch doesn’t translate well to a mouse.

    iWork in general is getting long in the tooth. Released in 2009, it’s one year older than the current version of Microsoft Office for the Mac. Even the iOS version dates back to 2010 with only modest updates since then.

    DOCX as an open standard with support for track changes is close to becoming a reality. If Apple ships a new version of Pages with first-rate track changes functionality and adopts the DOCX format, then Microsoft would bemoan waiting too long. But unless that happens, which seems doubtful given Apple’s historical lack of interest in the enterprise, it’s not too late for Microsoft Office on iOS.

    PS: For my writing, I use a variety of iOS text editors with WriteRoom my current favorite (I’m writing this comment in WriteRoom). Many technology journalists also favor text editors, albeit on the Mac. The difference between me and them is that they don’t collaborate with people at other companies so they don’t use Microsoft Office. This explains why so many of them have mistakenly pronounced Office irrelevant. Too much navel gazing from this bunch as usual.

    1. I am always surprised by how tech writers fail to understand the importance of track changes in many settings. These folks have probably never used word the way it is used in enterprises or large organizations in general.

      In all my years in journalism, we rarely used the “edit track” feature that was built into our systems. since getting into consulting and enterprise technical writing, I couldn’t work without it.

      1. Steve, not just “enterprises,” which people often equate with “large.” I should have made it more clear that tons of small businesses (even solo freelancers) use track changes. It’s not a niche feature.

        In fact, large companies consider track changes in Microsoft Word a toy because it doesn’t handle changes from multiple people well and cannot track complex changes like moving a paragraph and then making changes in that paragraph. Instead, they buy products like Workshare Professional. It’s the small businesses that use track changes since it’s “free” with Office and good enough for “light” collaboration.

    2. The way change tracking is implemented in Word is extremely primitive compared to some of the collaboration tools we have today, such as git. Once you understand how version control systems work, there’s simply no going back.

      Among the problem that the version control systems address very well are maintaining a complete history of all changes that have been made to the document, who did what and when (and why), and the ability to maintain separate branches (where different people make changes to the document independently) which eventually get merged together. Word has none of this.

      Personally I’m glad of the emergence of the iPad has and Microsoft’s failure to adapt, because it opens up opportunities for developers of word processing apps (disclaimer: I am one) to actually get innovation into the word processing space for the first time in about 20 years. Version control, which has been used by software developers for many years, is IMHO potentially a killer feature and is something I’m currently working on bringing to the iPad.

      Many people fall into the trap of thinking that Microsoft Word is the be-all and end-all of word processing. It’s not. Take a look at tools like Git and LaTeX some time, and while they’re considerably more complex to use (though this can be fixed), they leave word’s change tracking capabilities for dead.

      1. Word’s change tracking serves a very different purpose than git’s version tracking. One is designed to track editing changes through a document creation and editing workflow (in which version control is typically provided by SharePoint.) Git is version control for development. Different tools, different needs.

        It also makes very little sense to compare Word to LaTeX. I love LaTeX, but it is a markup language intended primarily for mathematical, scientific, and technical use, though it can also provide very fine-grained typographical control. But it has a very steep earning curve and if you somehow automated all its functions, you would probably end up with something that looked a lot like Word.

  7. By the way, I also feel like I see more articles about Microsoft not releasing a product for the iPad than about companies that are actually releasing good-quality productivity software for the iPad who have real products out there that are available now. Surely covering those apps would be of much more value to people who are looking for productivity tools they can use on their iPads?

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