Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer insinuated that the company is working on a version of Office for the iPad and for Android tablets when he addressed Wall Street analysts on Thursday.
Speaking about "upside opportunities" that exist for Microsoft, Ballmer talked about porting products to non-Windows platforms. "We don't have our heads in the sand," he said during the company's meeting with financial analysts, which was held in a Bellevue, Washington convention center and webcast live.
In this context Microsoft is "working on everything that you think we should be working on," Ballmer said.
Windows is the preferred platform for Microsoft applications and remains supremely important, but executives have less "religion" than people think and keep their "eyes wide open" with regards to the opportunities for generating additional revenue by porting products like Office to other platforms, he said.
To be sure, Ballmer didn't refer specifically to Office for iOS and Android, but it seemed clear that this is what he had in mind, since this issue has been a constant source of criticism for the company, which is leaving a lot of money on the table by not offering full, native versions of Office for the Apple and Google mobile OSes.
Earlier, during a panel discussion, Qi Lu, executive vice president of Microsoft's Applications and Services Group, had danced around a question about this issue, giving a quasi-professorial explanation for how Microsoft decides when and where to port software, but ultimately refraining from giving any concrete answer.
Many believe Microsoft has been reticent to offer Office for iPad in particular out of fear that doing so will hurt the value of Windows 8, which is optimized for tablets, and of the new Surface RT tablets, and instead help iOS and Apple. Neither the new Microsoft OS nor its new tablets have fared as well as expected.
Ballmer's comments were the most surprising in the four-hour meeting, in which he and his lieutenants spent most of the time making a case for why Microsoft, despite its challenges, is in good shape to recover from past mistakes and take advantage of market opportunities in the coming years.
Yes, they acknowledged, Microsoft is in a weak position in the smartphone and tablet OS markets, and Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and the Surface tablets haven't fixed that problem. But, they said, the company will try again with Windows 8.1, due in mid-October, with the still-pending acquisition of the Nokia smartphone business and with an upcoming second generation of the Surface devices.
They went over the company's strategy to transform itself from a provider of packaged, on-premises software to a provider of devices and cloud services. They said this process is underway and will be helped by the recently announced reorganization designed to make the company work in a more cohesive way, a restructuring that is being implemented.
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