Of course Microsoft will port Office to the iPad

Everyone has been speculating whether Microsoft will release an iPad version of Office. The real question is: Which Office will Microsoft offer?

Office on the iPad is a foregone conclusion. It's been that way since Microsoft dipped its toe in the water with OneNote on iPhone a year ago, then crossed the Rubicon with OneNote, SkyDrive, and Lync on the iPad last December. It's never been a question of if, only when -- and what mating dance Apple and Microsoft undertake in the process.

Rumors have flown for almost as long as there have been iPads. The pundits started roaring again on Tuesday when Rupert Murdoch's TheDaily.com published a photo and commentary about "a brief hands-on with a working prototype of the software." The photo shows an iPad with what appears to be a full-screen app that includes a large Office logo that looks much like the Office 2010 logo, four Metro-style tiles, and a decidedly un-Metro, un-iPad text link marked "new document."

Microsoft shot back a denial that isn't really a denial. "The Daily story is based on inaccurate rumors and speculation," the spokesperson said, with a note sent to ZDnet's Mary Jo Foley insisting, "The screen shot accompanying The Daily's story is not a real picture of a Microsoft software product."

In Microsoft PR speak, that isn't a denial. It's an invitation to speculate.

The blogosphere has complied and gone wild. The stories that have me rolling in the aisle are the ones that pit Kurt DelBene, president of the Office division, fighting for Office on the iPad, versus Steve Ballmer and Steven Sinofsky, who supposedly want to keep Office available on Windows alone. Crazy.

Of course Microsoft's going to sell Office on the iPad. All of the top execs are behind the effort and have been for years. Why? Because there's a lot of money to be made.

Microsoft has been experimenting with Office on iPad-like hardware for more than a year. Remember that Ballmer and Anguilo went through a demo of Office running on a TI ARM chip, back in January 2011, showing how Word could print on an Epson printer. Granted, the iPad operating environment is considerably more complex than the stripped-down TI board used in the demo. But they're not all that far apart.

The big question right now is what kind of Office.

There's speculation that the description of Office on iPad (minuscule as it is) sounds a lot like Office 15 running on WOA -- Windows 8 on ARM chips. I don't put much stock in it. Although iPad Office may end up looking like WOA Office 15, I'd be willing to bet the similarities won't be much more than skin deep. Just for starters, iPad Office has to play nicely in the iPad world, with its very restrictive handling of files and full-screen-all-the-time predilections. WOA Office will run on WOA's desktop side of the fence and will thus have to co-exist with IE10 and Windows Explorer.

Microsoft's grand strategy, of course, is to sell more applications. iPad Office will no doubt have hooks into Office 365, SkyDrive (which is already on the iPad), SharePoint, and Lync (also on the iPad). Microsoft is gunning for the corporate market that has already defected, at least in its heart, to the iPad. The consumer market is just gravy.

iPad Office will have to retail at a miserly rate. Apple's iWork suite for iOS runs $30 on the App Store, so iPad Office can't go much higher. (The iWork apps are available individually for $10 each.). It remains to be seen if Microsoft will split out iPad Word, Excel, and PowerPoint into separate apps -- or if it will bundle iPad OneNote into the bargain. The real money's to be made in corporate licenses, keeping iPad shops in the Microsoft fold.

When will it launch? My guess -- and it's only a guess, based on years of watching both companies -- is that we'll see at least a tease for iPad Office at the iPad 3 launch, widely anticipated March 7. It's entirely possible that iPad Office has already been accepted by Apple and that TheDaily.com is watching late reruns of a done deal.

Can you imagine a better "oh, and just one more thing" for Tim Cook?

This story, "Of course Microsoft will port Office to the iPad," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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