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

When Steve Jobs came back to run Apple in summer 1997, he famously told Apple's Mac fans "we need to get away from this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose." He then announced a $150 million investment in the then-struggling Apple by Microsoft -- with Bill Gates joining the Macworld Expo announcement via satellite -- and a commitment by Microsoft to keep Office for Mac on the market and at parity with the Windows version. That investment went a long way toward calming investor fears and set the stage for Jobs and team to reinvent and reinvigorate the Mac, then create the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad over the next decade.

Fifteen years later, it appears that Microsoft has concluded that for Windows to survive, the iPad has to lose.

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For more than a decade, Microsoft has failed in its tablet ambitions, with the various Pen and Tablet editions of Windows XP, Vista, and 7 falling flat, and the heavy tablets that used them saw, at best, minuscule sales to a handful of hospitals and government agencies that had no other options. No one knows the number actually sold, but it has to be less than 2 million over those dozen years. By contrast, Apple has sold about 70 million iPads in just over two years of that tablet's existence.

Office and SharePoint on the iPad nowhere in sight
Microsoft is of course hoping to change that record with the release of Windows 8 for Intel-based tablets and Windows RT for ARM-based tablets this fall. But perhaps to hedge its bets, Microsoft is also trying to isolate the iPad by discouraging access to a key Microsoft technology -- its Office suite -- through iPad-targeted hikes in desktop virtualization fees.

Apple released an iPad version of its iWork office productivity suite for the iPad shortly after the iPad's release, and a small company called Quickoffice followed suit, creating what has become the standard-bearer for a cross-mobile office suite. Microsoft Office for iPad is nowhere to be found. (There's also no Android version, but with the iPad accounting for more than 90 percent of actual tablet sales, Android doesn't matter.) Microsoft also has no SharePoint client for the iPad, and its Office 365 cloud service's versions of SharePoint and Office do not work on the iPad in any meaningful degree.

Microsoft's strategy is clear: Do not encourage iPad purchases by making Office or SharePoint available for that rival tablet. In the PC space, where Apple's Mac line continues to grow in market share while Windows PCs have been on decline, Microsoft has continued to make its so-so Office available, but not a SharePoint client or Office 365 integration -- Gates' 1997 commitment to Office on the Mac clearly stopped there.

Given Microsoft's circling of the wagons around Office and SharePoint, enterprising companies such as CloudOn developed cloud-based Windows and Office environments that iPad users could access to get the full Office suite. Entrepreneurs such as Daniel Gomez and Harmon.ie have also developed SharePoint clients for the iPad: SharePlus and SharePoint Mobile Client, respectively. But let's face it: If Microsoft had quality versions of Office and SharePoint for the iPad, it would own the tablet productivity market in a flash.

Microsoft's risky bet on Windows 8
Microsoft has decided it doesn't want to be an office productivity company first and foremost. Instead, it wants to keep the Windows hegemony it has long enjoyed by throwing up roadblocks to slow iPad adoption. That's understandable, but not realistic. At best, Windows will be a major OS on PCs and mobile devices, competing with a merged OS X and iOS, and perhaps with Android. Still, owning 30 to 50 percent of the overall computing OS market is no small thing, if only Microsoft could see that.

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