Of course, you can also use Office Web Apps on your iPad via the Safari browser, but it's not very pretty either. So when IDC's O'Donnell talks about alternatives, he probably isn't referring to Microsoft's Web-based Office tools. Other choices are better. Google Docs, especially with GoDocs for Google Docs works just fine. And the superior on-board office suites out there are Office2HD, Quickoffice Pro HD and even Apple's new updated iWork suite.
But while these are all very good alternatives, a lot of iPad and Android tablet users would welcome an Office suite with open arms. The various components of Office remain the default for many users. And that fact is at the heart of Microsoft's dilemma, because that preference for Office could be leveraged to the advantage of Microsoft's own tablets. The company could probably sell a lot more of them if Surface constituted the only route to a full-featured Office suite on a tablet.
If, however, Microsoft makes Office available for those more popular tablets as well, Surface will never catch up. Microsoft must know that it's looking at the possibility of Surface joining the ranks of Zune.
So that's the billion-dollar question Microsoft is facing. Does it put all its eggs in the software basket, as it has done for the most part during all its existence, or does it continue to seek a foothold as a hardware vendor? If Office for iOS and Android does come along, it has decided to forgo its dreams of hardware riches.
As Hamlet might sum it all up: Thus sales do make cowards of us all; and enterprises of great pith and moment, with this regard their marketing turns awry, and lose the name of action.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was cutting-edge and 300bit/sec. was a fast Internet connection -- and we liked it! He can be reached at email@example.com.
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