Why Microsoft's anti-iPad strategy will backfire

Redmond's isolationist tack toward Apple's tablet will only make Windows, Office, and SharePoint less relevant to users

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Having the dominant office suite and collaboration platform would give Microsoft both strong revenues and a strong role in shaping the evolution of computing beyond its own OS platform. Instead, Microsoft risks retreating into itself, with Office and SharePoint as Windows-only products in a scenario where Windows doesn't dominate.

Right now, there's no serious competition to Office, which gives Microsoft an incredible opportunity: Apple's iWork suite is decent but has too many deficiencies to take on Office broadly. Quickoffice is in a similar position. And those SharePoint apps are mere fleas on the Microsoft elephant.

But given time, Apple iWork and Quickoffice could become serious Office competitors. Or perhaps the open source LibreOffice project, which has mobile ambitions, could outflank a Windows-bound Microsoft Office.

Microsoft's retreat into Windows is also iffy because Windows 8 shows several signs of mediocrity. There's a strong possibility that Windows 8 will get little traction in the marketplace, given both the loud complaints about it and low developer uptake. From what we've seen so far, Windows 8 systems will be a weird mix of touch and nontouch interfaces as users switch between the Windows 7 and Metro modes, for example.

Windows RT tablets look especially dubious as they will run only the Metro part of Windows 8 and have little serious software available. They will come with a special version of Office that Microsoft has yet to show publicly, but people I know who've seen it in tightly controlled private demos are not happy with it. If the pathetic version of Office that Microsoft has offered for years for first Windows Mobile and now Windows Phone is any indication of the Windows RT version, Microsoft will be out of the Office game on its own tablets, with a Metro version that people dislike and a Windows 7 version that requires a traditional PC environment for use.

Plus, to be managed by IT, Windows RT tablets will -- initially, at least -- require the use of Microsoft System Center 2012, rather than the Exchange ActiveSync policies commonly implemented to manage iOS and Android devices already in the enterprise. This will add to the complexity of managing tablets that IT isn't so certain about in the first place, whereas the iPad is now accepted when it comes to business demand and manageability. IT may like Microsoft, but it dislikes vendor-generated complexity even more.

It's time for Microsoft to embrace and extend the iPad
When you put all this together, you can see that Microsoft's strategy to isolate the iPad from its Office and SharePoint technologies could easily backfire and instead sequester Office and SharePoint from the greater mobile market, where the growth actually is. Simply put, Windows 8 could be the ball and chain that drags down Office and SharePoint, as iPad and Android users discover there's life without Office and SharePoint.

To prevent that fate, Microsoft should untie Office and SharePoint from Windows. Doing so -- coupled with effective, enticing ports of those products to iOS, OS X, and Android -- would give Microsoft productivity platform dominance across most of the computing market. In other words, the iPad could be a great benefit to Microsoft's software business -- a new platform for Microsoft's historic strategy of "embrace and extend" to win in markets where it had little presence, as it did in the Internet and in the server realm.

If Windows 8 and RT turn out to be successes, that would be icing on a very large cake.

The key is for Microsoft to rethink itself as a productivity company rather than an OS company. If it wants encouragement, it should look to Apple. Some years ago, Apple dropped the word "Computer" from its name and reinvented itself as an entertainment and apps platform company that also makes and sells computers. It's now the most valuable company in the world, far from the basket case that Microsoft helped rescue in 1997.

Microsoft needs a similar reinvention for its user-facing business, as its circle-the-wagons strategy will certainly backfire. The iPad is just the ticket as its new vehicle.

This article, "Why Microsoft's anti-iPad strategy will backfire," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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