Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer insinuated that the company is working on a version of Office for the iPad and for Android tablets when he addressed Wall Street analysts on Thursday.
Speaking about "upside opportunities" that exist for Microsoft, Ballmer talked about porting products to non-Windows platforms. "We don't have our heads in the sand," he said during the company's meeting with financial analysts, which was held in a Bellevue, Washington convention center and webcast live.
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In this context Microsoft is "working on everything that you think we should be working on," Ballmer said.
Windows is the preferred platform for Microsoft applications and remains supremely important, but executives have less "religion" than people think and keep their "eyes wide open" with regards to the opportunities for generating additional revenue by porting products like Office to other platforms, he said.
To be sure, Ballmer didn't refer specifically to Office for iOS and Android, but it seemed clear that this is what he had in mind, since this issue has been a constant source of criticism for the company, which is leaving a lot of money on the table by not offering full, native versions of Office for the Apple and Google mobile OSes.
In a question-and-answer session after his prepared remarks, he once again took up this theme, saying "our devices carry our services, and our services will be available on a number of people's devices."
He mentioned SkyDrive, Skype and OneNote, which are available in iOS and Android versions, as examples of the direction Microsoft is going. However, he also said that part of the difficulty lies with Apple and Google in how they run their respective app stores.
Skype, for example, is as "cross platform as could be, and we probably should use it to capture more functionality" but Apple frowns on allowing suites on its app store, he said.
"They know they have to avoid [competitors] getting too much traction with their services on their devices, but we're working away on it and it's very, very important to us," Ballmer said.
"Devices come with services, services have to find their way onto non-Microsoft devices and we certainly have to support that without religious bias, if you will," he added.
Earlier, during a panel discussion, Qi Lu, executive vice president of Microsoft's Applications and Services Group, had danced around a question about this issue, giving a quasi-professorial explanation for how Microsoft decides when and where to port software, but ultimately refraining from giving any concrete answer.
Many believe Microsoft has been reticent to offer Office for iPad in particular out of fear that doing so will hurt the value of Windows 8, which is optimized for tablets, and of the new Surface RT tablets, and instead help iOS and Apple. Neither the new Microsoft OS nor its new tablets have fared as well as expected.
Ballmer's comments were the most surprising in the four-hour meeting, in which he and his lieutenants spent most of the time making a case for why Microsoft, despite its challenges, is in good shape to recover from past mistakes and take advantage of market opportunities in the coming years.