Microsoft Office for iPad engineers talk history, hint about futures

Microsoft Office for iPad engineers talk history, hint about futures

Summary: In a Reddit AMA, Microsoft's Office for iPad engineers tackle some questions about the new suite Microsoft introduced a couple weeks ago.


Microsoft's Office for iPad engineers took to Reddit for an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on April 8 -- just a couple of weeks after Microsoft launched its long-rumored Office for iPad offering.


There were lots of questions for the team about why Office for iPad took so long to debut (it allegedly was seen as far back as 2011), as well as what additions the team plans to make to the suite. As to the first question, the team would only say good things take time. They confirmed that the initiative to deliver Office on iPad dated back to the Steve Ballmer as CEO timeframe, as had been rumored.

Sangeeta Mudnal, Jeff Zhang and other members of the development team answered quite a few of the queries. Their answers about how much of the Office on iPad code is shared and how it was developed were especially interesting, to me.

I've culled a few key questions and answers from the AMA. (I've paraphrased the questions.) Here they are, in no particular order:

Did Microsoft use C# and/or Xamarin to write the Office for iPad app or is it native Objective C?

"The Office for iPad apps are completely native! The core logic, such as Excel’s recalc engine or Word’s text layout code, is C++ code that we compile and share across all of our platforms. The UI is all completely native Objective C; we did not use Xamarin or C# to develop our UI. As for using C#, we do use some C# for internal tools. I imagine we’ll continue to use the appropriate native frameworks for each platform (UIKit for iOS, AppKit for the Mac, etc)."

Has your iPad work delayed the next version of Mac Office? I'm still waiting for a real Cocoa version of Office (AFAIK 2011 still uses Carbon primarily, despite a few Cocoa UI elements).

"The code for Office for iPad and Office for Mac is shared, as the development platforms for both are very similar. :) The iPad work required us to create an all-new UI and to redesign the interface between UI and the internal logic. That work actually helps us with de-Carbonizing Office for the Mac, instead of delaying or hindering it. We're able to create new Cocoa UI on the Mac and tie it into the new logic interface now."


(Me: In other words, no one will still say exactly when Office for Mac is coming. The Office engineers provided a handy animated GIF, an image of which is embedded at left, to emphasize that point.)

Will it be possible to write extensions for Office for iPad using the new Apps for Office model?

"Sections 2.7 and 2.8 of Apple's App Store Review Guidelines emphatically state that downloading, installing, or launching any sort of code other than your app's own code is prohibited. I don't know if Apps for Office would be allowed in the iOS App Store."

Will Microsoft add Outlook for iPad to the suite?

"Currently, for work email, we have OWA for iPad. To read email (previously known as Hotmail), you can use the iPad Mail app."

When will Office for iPad support printing?

"Print is a high demand feature that we intend to introduce in due course."

Are there new features for Excel for iPad coming, including add/change conditional formatting and comments?

"Unfortunately, I can't really comment on what's coming up, but I will say two things: One of the great things about Office for iPad being a subscription is that it means you'll keep getting frequent updates. Both of the features you mention are definitely on our roadmap and are things we on the product team use often.We just need to prioritize them properly with all of the other things people are asking for, which is why feedback like this is great."

What about support for mathematical notation on Office for iPad or Office for Mac?

"We've heard from several students like yourself that equation support would be useful. We're looking into it."

Will Microsoft add Office for iPad support to Office 365 A2 Education plans?

"Not currently. The rule of thumb is that Office for iPad is included in O365 plans that include Office for PC and Mac. If you would like to use Office on the iPad, we recommend the A3 or A4 plans."

How does Office for iPad measure up to Apple's iWork?

"As for competing with iWork, I think the two products really have different aims and audiences. There's some overlap, but the variety of user needs is really very broad. In that sense, Office and iWork more complement each other than compete with each other."

Is Microsoft planning to deliver Office on Android tablets?

"We want to bring great Office experience to our customers who want to be productive on their tablets. In the future we will bring Office apps to the Windows Store and other popular platforms, including Android tablets. No dates yet... "

Does Microsoft expect the iPad to replace using the laptop for Microsoft Office use?

"When multitasking is required, or you need to combine information from multiple documents, or you want pixel perfect precision, then Office on a laptop with keyboard, mouse and multiple monitors is the better solution and will not be replaced by iPad or tablets scenarios."

Is CEO Satya Nadella "the MSsiah like the tech media is portraying him?"

"The decision to ship Office for iPad was made before Satya became CEO. Steve Ballmer approved the plan to ship Office for iPad."

Would you rather fight 1 horse-sized iPad, or 100-iPad sized horses?

"Definitely 100-iPad sized horses. We have an army of iPads on standby waiting to strike back."

You can read the full Reddit AMA with the Office for iPad team here.

Topics: Mobility, Apple, Collaboration, iPad, Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • its great

    The mouse and keyboard comment is true and speaks to the persistence of the desktop on RT for nothing else but Office. The other parts are company lines -the two year delay was to see if Surface would sell (didn't) and Win 8 tablets get traction (didn't).
    • Cursor Keys

      Did the mouse totally replace the cursor keys to move around the screen? Will touch totally replace the mouse? The answer to both is no. Everything has its place. Using all 3 (cursor keys, mouse, touch) provides the most versatile interface to the computer possible.

      The comment about mouse and keyboards is simple and straight forward. Your interpretation of the answer has been distorted to meet your opinions.
  • Brave New World

    If I am reading this and past articles correctly, we are going to end up with FOUR versions of Office: (1) Office 20XX for the big boys, (2) mobile for Windows 8.1 tablets, (3) mobile for third party tablets (iOS and Android), and (4) mobile for phones. Each a subset of the predecessor but all with file level fidelity. Sounds like a pretty good strategy to me if they can pull it off AND they don't let feature creep and bloat cripple levels 2 and 3 over time.
  • So this told us ....?

    Was it just me or was I the only one to get a big "Nothing new we can say. Move along" from this?

    How did they go live without print support?
    • Print

      Enlighten me. How do you print from iWork on the iPad. I don't see a way. Must not be that big a deal.
      • You...

        Hit the image of the wrench and then choose share or print.
      • You have made this same reply comment about iWork printing on 2 separate


        You really, REALLY should listen to others that have instructed you on how printing content (iWork content included) can be accomplished from an iPad. There are several ways and Jason Perlow (ZDNet Blogger) has also illuminated or explained several printing options in his recent blog touching on this subject.

        But if you can't listen to other's than perhaps you should do some research on your own. Otherwise, persons reading your comments on this subject might be excused in thinking that you don't know what you are talking about. Just saying.
  • Money quote:

    "That work actually helps us with de-Carbonizing Office for the Mac, instead of delaying or hindering it."

    Great news for every Office for Mac user, and clearly a win-win for Microsoft.
  • Regarding that bit of info about Steve Ballmer approving Office for iPad.

    I have to commend the Microsoft OS X and iOS team members for being loyal to their former boss. I can appreciate that quality.

    I can also appreciate not telling the whole truth. Steve Ballmer, according to published reports, approved the release of Office for iPad. However, he also stated that this iOS Office Suite of Apps would only be released AFTER Office for Touch had become available for Window's users.

    Obviously, the whole truth of this matter is far more illuminating than just a snippet of it and, IMO, Satya should be given credit for moving the Office of iPad release date ahead of Office for Touch. It was a bold move on his part.
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  • MAC Office 2008 and iPad Office

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