Really, Microsoft — really? The latest in Steve Ballmer’s Big Fun Aventures in Failure is that Office won’t be going anywhere mobile (other than Microsoft’s own unloved Surface tablets) until 2014 at the earliest:
An alleged road map for Microsoft’s coming Gemini wave of Office updates, if accurate, indicates Microsoft’s Office for iOS and Android — as well as Outlook for Windows RT — might not happen as soon as many had hoped for and expected.
Making things worse, Outlook — the one Office suite I might want to use — will wait an additional six months after Word, Excel, etc. are released.
This is crazy. Microsoft is a software company. There are two mobile platforms with over One. Billion. Users. to whom Microsoft refuses to cater in a timely manner. iPhone came out in 2007, with the App Store the very next year. The iPad will be four years old (and possibly on its sixth or seventh generation) before there’s a version of Outlook for it. So what if Ballmer could charge all those users only $10 or $20 bucks an app? That’s $10 or $20 more than his company is making now — and in the meantime, users are learning they don’t actually need Office after all.
That last bit, by the way, is the real danger to Redmond. Mobile has broken Microsoft’s ecosystem, and Ballmer is rushing to fix it like molasses rolls uphill under stiff headwinds in winter.
But the craziness doesn’t stop there. Oh, no. Because what Windows 8 did to Windows, the new Office will do to Office:
Central to the [Windows 8.1] Blue efforts is the idea that divisions should work more closely together, sharing product plans and further integrating how the apps, software, and services work. The telling case will be Microsoft’s Office software, which is a key part of Windows RT, but has not yet moved this across to the new Windows 8-style environment. In the Blue world, that disconnect would’ve never happened. In fact, Microsoft will deliver Windows 8-style “Metro” versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint later this year that include editing functionality that’s similar to the company’s Office Web Apps. Recent comments by Microsoft’s Office president, Kurt DelBene, suggest that the company’s “Metro” versions of Office will include a subset of features that revert to the full desktop applications for greater editing control.
Windows 8 was the new OS that was just touch-enabled enough to run badly on tablets, and so touch-friendly that it annoyed and confused desktop and laptop users. Microsoft’s solution, apparently, is to bundle two versions of each part of the Office suite into each binary — one for your traditional computer and one for your tablet. (Where are Windows Phones in all this? The article doesn’t say.) This is going to be a terrible thing for tablets, where storage is comparatively dear. Whether you ever use your Surface as a laptop replacement (a dubious activity), you’ll still have full desktop versions of Outlook, Excel, and Word all hogging your memory.
This is insane. Nuts. The only sane reason to have two binaries of the same program is if your ecosystem is in the middle of moving from one CPU instruction set to another. That’s how Apple bridged the gap between Power PC CPUs and Intel chips — with what they called “universal binaries.” You bought one program, but you really got two versions of the same thing, depending on the chipset of your computer.
But two binaries for one OS running on two form factors, one of which doesn’t have a whole lot of onboard storage? This insanity is the natural result of Redmond’s “Windows Everywhere” philosophy. One OS, one app, multiple devices, is Ballmer’s plan. Apple’s plan is to make a single compromise right up front: a mobile OS and a traditional OS, each with its own apps, and let people choose what’s right for them in each instance.
Ballmer’s false “no compromises” approach is to force everything to fit everywhere, like a spider monkey hopped up on Red Bull and Viagra.
But consumers aren’t buying it. And if the next Office is as wrongheaded as it sounds, even IT managers might finally give up as well.