Is Microsoft rethinking its decision to build Office for iPad?

Comments from the company's marketing chief suggest Microsoft may be having second thoughts

In appearances in September and October, Steve Ballmer said Microsoft would build native Office editions for iPads and Android tablets, but the company's marketing chief spoke with much less certainty when asked about this on Thursday.

At the Goldman Sachs Technology & Internet Conference, Marketing Executive Vice President Tami Reller was asked about Microsoft's willingness to "repurpose" Office for other platforms, even if this means hurting Windows' appeal.

Microsoft must make sure its most important brands are differentiated in the market, and Windows is no exception, Reller said .

"With Windows, we're obviously spending a lot of time thinking about how do we continue to differentiate the full Windows experience," she said.

A big asset for Windows continues to be Office, she said, adding that Office is also a major franchise in its own right.

Without directly answering the specific question posed by the moderator, Reller said those types of decisions will be made on a business-by-business and product-by-product basis.

The answer is a far cry from the unequivocal comments former CEO Ballmer made several months ago, when he went so far as to say that the Office version for iPads and Android tablets would come after Microsoft delivered a touch-first version for Windows 8.

Reller's answer begs the question whether Microsoft is having second thoughts about its plan to port Office to those rival tablet devices and is back to hand-wringing mode over the dilemma of protecting Windows at the expense of liberating Office.

Many critics fault Microsoft for having taken so long to deliver a full version of Office for iPads, in particular.

Regarding Windows 8, Reller disclosed that the OS recently topped the 200 million license mark, a milestone she described as "stunning" while cautioning that Microsoft isn't relaxing its efforts and focus on the OS.

"With Windows 8 we're being very thoughtful about what's going well and with what's not going well, how do we change that?" she said.

The OS has "a lot of traction" but there is "yet a lot more work to do," she added.

Expectations for Windows 8 were sky high when it shipped in October 2012, because Microsoft designed it with a touch-optimized interface intended to improve the OS' anemic position in the tablet market.

However, that tile-based interface got very mixed reviews, especially from consumers and businesses that planned to use it primarily with keyboards and mice. Windows 8.1, an update released almost a year later, addressed many of those complaints but also came with a new set of bugs, some of them widespread and disruptive.

Right now, Microsoft is focused on making sure Windows offers an outstanding user experience across a broad variety of existing and future devices, from small tablets and smartphones all the way up to high-performance desktop PCs, Reller said.

Asked about the future of Windows RT -- the Windows 8 version for devices running on ARM chips -- Reller said Microsoft is happy with the way it's working in its Surface 2 tablets. She also said Microsoft aims to have "a world-class mobile OS."

There have been rumors in recent months that Microsoft plans to merge Windows RT and the Windows Phone OS, which today are separate products.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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