Office for iPad and Android: Microsoft's Azure Cloud and Thin Client the key?

Office for iPad and Android: Microsoft's Azure Cloud and Thin Client the key?

Summary: Microsoft's Azure and RemoteFX technologies in Windows Server 2012 could be the key to deploying Office on tablet computers.

TOPICS: Microsoft

My colleague, Zack Whittaker reported yesterday on our main editorial blog, Between the Lines, that Microsoft has denied claims by three media sources that an Office for iPad exists and will be rolled out in time for an upcoming Sharepoint conference in November.

Microsoft says an Office app for iPad doesn't exist, and yet the media says it does? Who's right? Well, both, probably.

How can this be? It depends on how you define "App."

You see, I don't actually think Microsoft has wasted valuable development cycles on writing a native Office application for the iPad, particularly since it is about to deal with its own tablet OS rollout in Windows RT.

While Microsoft does have developers that know how to develop applications in XCode (they have a business unit that produces Office for Mac) and that a lot of the Office code for Mac which currently exists could be ported to iOS using the same development framework, it is very unlikely the company will go this route.

The level of effort required to achieve it would be difficult and substantial for a number of reasons, but the primary obstacle is memory.

The bottom line is that Office is a very memory intensive application suite and the iPad just doesn't have enough free RAM to run it well, even if you strip it down to the bare essentials, in which case it really isn't Office at all anymore.

The 3rd-Generation model may have enough to scrape by with 1GB of RAM, but the iPad 2 only has 512MB and the iPad 1 a mere 256MB, and that is before iOS itself chews up a good portion of it after it boots.

You can't effectively work on complex documents such as huge PowerPoints with these type of memory restrictions, never mind the localized storage needed to store the apps and the data files as well. And paging virtual memory on an embedded system is extremely painful to say the least.

Yes, I'm aware Apple has its own productivity suite and there are others for iPad which work fairly well for casual document editing and viewing, but they all have significant limitations.

While the iPad isn't robust enough in terms of on-board memory to run Office natively, it is perfectly suited for doing something else -- acting as a Thin Client.

Office has already been deployed on the iPad and Android tablets by the 3rd-party Onlive Desktop service and has been proven to be an effective way of deploying an office suite using virtual desktops. So we know that it works, at least with Onlive's own proprietary VDI protocol and broker technology.

I think that instead of porting a native app to the iPad using XCode, Microsoft has spent its development cycles instead deploying VDI infrastructure and Office into its own Azure public cloud.

Why would they do this? Well, I think it has to do with a larger push towards subscription-based services (such as Office 365) and the need to get Office working on as many types of systems as possible.

Using their own Remote Desktop and RemoteFX technology in Hyper-V and Windows Server 2012, and by writing native RDP/RemoteFX wrapper client apps for several OSes, including iOS, Android, Windows RT and even desktop operating systems such as Windows 7/8 and Mac OS, Microsoft Office could be deployed to any type of client computing device.

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And while 3rd-parties such as Onlive have proven they can already do this with their own service offerings on iPad and Android, Microsoft has a number of distinct and obvious advantages.

First, Microsoft owns and develops the product in question, so there's no issue with them having to license it or to tweak the user interface to present itself well on tablet OSes like iOS and Android.

They can also price what I am tentatively calling "Office 365 for Tablets" very affordably and can package up any number of services along with it, including SkyDrive storage and hosted Exchange and Sharepoint for medium and small businesses to make it extremely attractive to the prospective subscriber.

Second, because they own Office, they can write clients that are much more tightly integrated into the target OSes. For example, Windows RT and Windows 8 can have remote Office apps which run in a "seamless" mode on the Desktop.

And while Microsoft and Apple are competitors, the companies have come to a number of mutually beneficial agreements in the past which give the Redmond giant's software privileged status on Apple platforms. There is no reason to think they cannot come to a new agreement for Office to run remotely on the iPad.

Despite the presence of Apple's own office suite, I think Cupertino wants an Office 365 client for the iPad, and may overlook or contractually agree to tolerate any number of the cloud competition and app pricing issues Zack wrote about in his piece yesterday. Let's face it, a titan like Microsoft isn't going to be treated like just any app developer off the street.

Will Microsoft's own Azure Cloud be the key to deploying Office 365 on tablet platforms? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topic: Microsoft


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Good way to reach a market

    Good for Microsoft. It is an effective way to deliver a feature-rich productivity suite to a platform without the need to spend development cycles on it.
    Your Non Advocate
  • This is good news for LibreOffice and proprietary competitors of Microsoft Office

    From the article:
    [i]The 3rd-Generation model may have enough to scrape by with 1GB of RAM, but the iPad 2 only has 512MB and the iPad 1 a mere 256MB[/i]
    The iPad 1 and 2 are water under the dam. Going forward, it's the iPad 3 and future releases that matter.

    Also, do you believe that Microsoft is subscribing (no pun intended) to Google's Chrome OS vision for apps? Meaning that one must have an internet, 3G, etc. connection to run apps? All I can say is that this is very good news for LibreOffice and proprietary competitors of Microsoft Office on mobile devices.

    P.S. I believe that Intel's primary reason for joining The Document Foundation was to assist with porting LibreOffice to the Android platform (especially, tablets).
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Internet Connection Required?

      Hell No!

      When I first started the tablet route I analyzed what myself and my peers (work) do with MSO and found that the majority of the work is done off-line.
      No connection required.

      Now add to that the caps, throttling, cost to wireless internet and you have a recipe you don't need nor want.

      and don't give me that "wifi" stuff either. To ensure you have secure connections public wifi is not a solution, it's a Band-Aid at best.

      I have OnLive and it works great WHEN I am connected. I do a lot of stuff off line and this is where it utterly fails.
      • Just how much bandwidth

        Do you really think you need to run a remote productivity app? It's way, way smaller than you think.
      • Ever heard of VPN?

        Did you know, that you can use public WiFi and still have very high grade security? Your OS just have to support various VPN technologies. iOS does.
        The VPN solution in iOS is very high quality and well integrated.

        The Internet, if you didn't know was designed as an military network. It is supposed to provide secure communication over insecure channels and be resistant to various (network) attacks.
  • The amount of people that really

    want Office on the iPad is so minimal. I think the iPad is a great device and it has cut way into to my computer time, but word processing is NOT one of them. I can already view any word document on the iPad and I have pages that could edit them to some degree.

    Also of all of the people I know with iPad's (lots and lots of them) none of them that I know of will use a Word Processor.
    • Why is Apple so stupid?

      Apple is clearly stupid for having wasted development efforts on creating productivity tools like Pages and Numbers for the iPad. JeveSobs, it's too bad you don't run Apple because you clearly have identified the iPad market so much better than they did.
    • Look again

      Then why are apps of these types top sellers?
    • I know one ...

      Then you don't know me.

      I use my iPad every day, and in a minute I will use Word with embedded Excel. And after that TexPad (LaTeX) for a cosmology document.

      Word, Excel and LaTeX on my 2.8 GHz 13.3" MacBook connected to an external keyboard and 27" thunderbolt display ...
  • tools

    U can always use ThinServer XP software and PocketCloud to remotely run MS Office in your own cloud
  • Will Cost Ballmer His Job (Finally)

    Whether a native "app" or an Office 365 cloud service, releasing any version of Office for iOS/Android/Linus/Anything will finally cost Ballmer his job. The only compelling reason for waiting for and buying a Win8/WinRT tablet is Office. Sure, it will also be nice to have true file management services (rather than Goodreader/Dropbox/Sugarsync work-arounds), but the holy grail is Office. Say what you want Jason, but there are MANY users waiting on Office for their tablet experience because they are tired of the meat-grinder that is Pages/Docs to Go/QuickOffice, etc. Just one round trip from desktop to tablet and back is as bad as 1995 tripping between Word and WordPerfect.

    If Microsoft pulls the switch on an iOS version that is "workable" then why buy an iPad wannabe? Even then, the "workable" part of the equation is a key factor. With AT&T and Verizon hell-bent on choking every last drop of broadband use, that TV commercial is already on top of us "Gee Dad, I guess understand WHY you just had to choose between my dance recital video and that financial analysis software you just HAD to download." Cloud computing is going to be worthless in the Randall Stephenson world...
    • Pipe dreams

      True file management won't be in Windows RT. This is the easiest way to make the thing less secure. Also, it is naive to believe that their will be "native" Office such as what is on the desktop Windows on Windows RT.

      Microsoft has done very bad service to themselves by naming this thing Windows. They could survive it, but will have to over-deliver a lot. And, that is not in the culture of an greedy company like Microsoft.
    • On the other hand...

      There is a saying about "cutting off one's nose to spite one's face". I have to imagine that Microsoft would not be too happy about leaving money on the table for the sake of the platform. In other words, if they figure that they could make a decent amount of money off the iPad, they would.

      I think Microsoft will eventually get past the idea that for them to win, everyone else has to lose. There's likely too much profit to be had in breaking bread with "the enemy" in this case for them to shun the iPad.
      Third of Five
  • Some inaccuracies

    There are few inaccuracies in this article.

    First is the memory requirement. According to Microsoft, the full suite on Windows have these memory requirements (for both OS and Office):

    Office 2003 128MB
    Office 2007 256MB
    Office 2010 256MB

    Windows arguably requires way more memory than iOS. So even the first iPad has enough memory to run the full MS Office suite.

    Second, is the "local storage". Any application can use local storage on iOS. Applications are not allowed to see other applications local storage though.

    There is no virtual memory paging in iOS. This is one area, where iOS is different from OS X.

    Of course, Microsoft can have cloud based Office for the iPad. That is ok. It is just not an Office app on the iPad and while it resolves the issue to access/edit/etc MS Office documents, it still does not eliminate the threat for Microsoft from other Office suites eating market share. But then.. there is no law that says Microsoft should be protected from competition. :)