Can Microsoft really pull off Office for iPad?

Apple's iWork suite has shown the way, but it's not good enough for many businesses

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But I wish it would. Apple's iWork suite shows the potential of an iPad for productivity apps. Keynote in particular is both very capable and very well designed; it could replace your desktop presentation software in many cases. But Pages is not as intuitively designed or as capable as it could be. For example, it lacks revisions tracking and support for style sheets, which are business must-haves. Numbers is less capable than Excel and oriented more to tables than business spreadsheets, even though its interface for working on formulas and the like is quite good. (These are the same issues that desktop users have with Numbers and could reflect the long-standing fact that Excel is an amazingly good product that may be impossible to match.)

The competing iPad office suites -- Quickoffice Pro and Documents to Go Premium -- are less capable overall than iWork and not nearly as well designed. There's a gaping hole to be filled when it comes to iPad office productivity. Apple shows little interest in filling it; the iWork suite is now three years old on the desktop, and the mobile version is based on it. All that Apple has added is iCloud support -- and only to the mobile version.

The logical app to fill that hole is Microsoft Office -- until you remember that Microsoft would have to do the work, and it's hard to believe it could pull it off. Still, Microsoft has the opportunity to gain a strong presence on the device that steadily is replacing the laptop for many people. In creating a post-PC Office version, Microsoft would give Office new life beyond the iPad: on Windows 8 Metro, in the cloud, maybe on Android, and certainly on Windows Phone. Apple was smart to have an iPhone version of its suite so that people can at least do touch-up work when their iPad isn't handy, part of the "constellation of devices" strategy that Microsoft is now adopting for Windows 8. A Windows Phone version would only make sense.

If there's hope that Microsoft could pull off an effective Office for iPad despite its history with other versions of the suite, that glimmer comes from two sources. One is that Microsoft is not a monolith but a collection of divisions, and occasionally one division does something really great, as we saw with the Kinect gaming console and in the basic UI for Windows Phone. The other is that Microsoft now seems to understand the post-PC era is emerging, and through efforts such as Windows 8 Metro, the company intends to adapt to it soon.

This article, "Can Microsoft really pull off Office for iPad?," 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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