Ever since Steve Jobs first unveiled the original iPad back in 2010, there’s been speculation about
whether or not Microsoft would ever develop a native version of Microsoft
Office for the iOS tablet. After years of heavy debate among industry pundits,
and a few signs that Microsoft is at least grudgingly willing to embrace the
rival platform, rumors are once again focused on Office for iPad. If it’s true,
it’s about time.

Various analysts and industry experts have insisted that it
will be suicide for Microsoft to offer Office on competing platforms. They
believe that Office is one of the only carrots that Microsoft has to lure people to traditional PCs and the struggling Windows OS. I maintained
then, and have argued repeatedly since, that it is absolutely in Microsoft’s
best interests to develop Microsoft Office for iPad — and on a broader level for
Android as well.

Despite the challenges Microsoft has faced with Windows 8,
Windows as a whole still enjoys a virtual monopoly of the desktop OS market with over 90% of the pie. The
problem is that, as the total number of connected computing devices grows,
traditional desktop and laptop PC market share is shrinking — so, Microsoft is
dominating a rapidly shrinking piece of the overall market. Gartner predicts
that smartphone and tablet sales combined will outnumber traditional PCs nearly eight-to-one in 2014.

Again, there are those who believe that Office is the Holy
Grail that can save the waning PC market and boost interest in Microsoft’s own
mobile devices like the Surface Pro 2 tablet. Although there are many competing
productivity tools available, Microsoft Office is still favored by the majority of enterprise customers. The ubiquity of Microsoft
Office as the de facto standard for documents ostensibly means that businesses
and individuals will go out of their way to make sure they purchase a computer
that can run the Microsoft suite.

The problem with that logic is that it has failed. The
reality is — whether coincidence or an intentional strategy — Microsoft Office has
already been available almost exclusively on Microsoft Windows PCs and
Microsoft mobile devices, yet both are struggling. Clearly, that carrot
isn’t working.

Windows is not Microsoft’s only player in the game, though.
Microsoft makes a significant amount of money from Office itself, as well as
the backend server platforms like Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync, which provide
a foundation for Office to work from. Regardless of what happens to Windows or
Microsoft’s mobile devices, Microsoft needs to make sure businesses and
consumers continue to rely on Microsoft software. The easiest way to do that is
to make Office available on the devices that people use most — and
increasingly, that means iPads and Android tablets.

I’m not suggesting that Microsoft shouldn’t also make a
Windows 8 Modern (Metro) version of the whole Office suite. It should. The
Windows 8 version of OneNote is one of my favorite apps and arguably the best
version of OneNote Microsoft makes. I’d love to see the rest of the Office
suite get a similar makeover.

Microsoft should also not throw in the towel on Windows or
give up on the traditional desktop and laptop PC market. A recent Tech Pro Research study found that, in spite of indications that traditional
PCs are no longer in vogue and mobile devices are the future, a majority of
survey respondents who plan to acquire new hardware still plan to purchase
desktop and laptop PCs over tablets or other alternative platforms.

However, it would be unwise of Microsoft to ignore the
reality unfolding before its eyes. It would be silly to continue withholding
Office from other platforms as an “incentive” to pull customers to Windows PCs.
Microsoft can continue to champion its own devices and the Windows operating
system, while capitalizing on the demand for Office on other platforms and
maximizing its revenue along the way.

Do you think Microsoft should offer Office on competing platforms? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.