Many people want to believe that Microsoft is giving up on the idea that Only Windows Matters, at least when it comes to the Office suite. Instead of using Office as a way to get more people into Windows computers, tablets, and Windows Phone devices, Microsoft could, it is supposed, offer Office on iPads, iPhones, and Android devices, giving in to the idea that not everybody is going to use Windows, but maybe (almost) everyone needs Office at some point or another. So a seeming leak of iOS/Android plans from a Microsoft office in the Czech Republic seems like confirmation. But it’s really just confusion.
Those leaks come courtesy of Czech site IHNED, covering a press conference, and The Verge, which claims to have seen a press release stating “Office will be available on other operating systems.”. But let’s all step back and take a few things into consideration before we check the App Store:
Translation is always more of an art than a perfect science. “Available” is a tricky word, in particular. “Available” could mean, in this instance, “slightly optimized for mobile browsers,” or “as a dedicated app,” or “as a subscription service for enterprise customers.”
Back in February 2012, Office for iPad was “expected in coming weeks,” according to The Daily. Being wrong then doesn’t mean someone else is wrong now, but it also lends an Apple-like feeling of someone working backwards from their own hopes and guesses, rather than getting sources to trust them.
It’s timed against a different update in the Office ecosystem: a SharePoint/Office Web Apps update due out later this month. Office Web Apps, in some cases, work on good browsers on iPads and Android tablets (and iPhones, and some Android phones). Might a rogue, far-off Microsoft regional manager have been speaking of future mobile-friendly updates to said web-based apps?
Mary Jo Foley, who watches Microsoft like moths watch light bulbs, has nothing to confirm on any schedule for dedicated mobile Office apps. Foley sees it as “only a matter of time” until Office arrives on non-Microsoft devices, but Office could be “Web-based, subscription-only and/or local.”
Microsoft has also said (tweeted) that ”the information shared by our Czech subsidiary is not accurate,”, and that Microsoft “(does) not have anything further to share at this time. But “not accurate” is a big gesture that doesn’t quite mean “no.” (Wouldn’t it be remarkable if tech companies started responding to tech rumors with just “No”?)
There is a substantial kicker. This afternoon, Microsoft released its annual letter to shareholders. In it, CEO Steve Ballmer went out of his way to argue that Microsoft is in a “new era,” and is now “a devices and services” company. In other words, Ballmer wants you to know that Microsoft is not just a software company. But note that Ballmer did not decouple “devices” and “services.” Microsoft intends to provide the device, or at least real guidance on the device, that its corporate and retail customers use with Office. And “services” does not imply a company looking to make millions through one-shot app store sales.
I don’t think Office is coming to Android and iOS in March 2013. At least not the way the headlines want you to think it will be “on” those platforms.