The anointment of new CEO Satya Nadella has renewed calls by analysts that Microsoft free its profitable Office franchise from Windows and release full-featured versions for Google's Android and Apple's iOS tablets.
"Nadella should focus on setting products free, making them available everywhere, such as making Office available not just on Windows but also the iPad," said Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research, in an interview earlier this week. "Set this business free, Satya."
Microsoft has said it will eventually ship some kind of Office apps for Apple's iPad, but has also pledged to do that only after it ships a touch-enabled edition for Windows.
Former CEO Steve Ballmer made that promise last October at a conference hosted by researcher Gartner. At the time he said, "iPad will be picked up when we do what I would call not just a touch-enabled, but a touch-first user interface [for Office]."
No release date yet
Neither Ballmer then, nor Microsoft since, has revealed a release date for the revamped touch-first Office on Windows, much less a timetable for offering something similar for the iPad and Android-powered tablets.
In 2013, long-time Microsoft watcher and ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley, citing an unnamed source, said the long-rumored, long-expected Office for the iPad would appear in 2014.
Even the composition of the touch-first Office for Windows — presumably limited to Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and Windows RT — hasn't been a topic Microsoft has bothered to discuss.
Some analysts' expectations are quite low, and anticipate little more than what Microsoft already offers in its browser-based Office Web Apps. Others hope to see considerably more features than the online editions, more like the desktop version. But few, if any, expect that Microsoft will try to duplicate the massive desktop applications on tablets.
Nadella has said nothing publicly about the future of Office since his promotion Tuesday, although during a staged interview on Microsoft's campus that day, he did promise that the company would broaden its IT management portfolio to include tools for handling non-Windows devices. He did not call out Apple or Google by name — Microsoft, like most firms, rarely acknowledges specific rivals — but he was clearly talking about Android and iOS.
"When we talk about our mobile strategy, it of course includes our own mobile devices, Surface and Windows Phone devices, from us and third-parties, as well as it's the identity and device management, and security, that we want to bring to every enterprise across all of their platforms," Nadella said, adding that that, at least, was non-negotiable.
But just as when Ballmer abruptly announced his retirement in August — when calls for Office on iPad kicked back into gear — Nadella's promotion again put the move at the top of some analysts' CEO to-do lists.
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