How to parse a Microsoft denial

Microsoft's response to The Daily's latest Office on iPad story provides a lesson in how to interpret Microsoft's official responses to information the company isn't ready to share.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

As a long-time Microsoft watcher, I've seen lots of Microsoft denials in my day. I've had my stories called "not reflective of Microsoft's current thinking," mere "rumors" and "based on incorrect and out of date information."

Microsoft officials called out The Daily's February 21 story on the coming Office on the iPad product as being "based on inaccurate rumors and speculation." Does this mean Microsoft isn't building Office for the iPad? No. Not at all.

A Microsoft spokesperson also told me that the images illustrating The Daily's story were not pictures of a real Microsoft software product. Does that mean the images were Photoshopped? Again, no.

Notice Microsoft officials did not say that Microsoft isn't building a version of Office for the iPad. (In fact, if Microsoft wasn't building Office for the iPad, I'd be more surprised than if they are.)

When I contacted Matt Hickey, the author of The Daily's latest story, he sent me the following:

"Right now, someone with a mid-level job at Microsoft is being yelled at. To that person: I'm sorry, I owe you a beer. But say it however you want to, we both know that Office for iPad is on its way. And if it's as cool as the version I've seen, you've got a winner."

So what about Microsoft's claims thatThe Daily's photos weren't of a real Microsoft software product? Remember: If something like the actual UI screen in a photo isn't yet final and subject to change in any way, Microsoft execs technically can say this with a (semi) straight face.

A more truthful answer could have been something like "This isn't what the final launch screen for Office on the iPad may end up looking like." But because the Softies aren't yet ready to raise the curtain on the  coming iPad app (and yes, I do believe such an app is coming) -- they tried to discredit the whole report, hoping that those reading would say "nothing to see here" and move along....

I think Microsoft's main quibble with The Daily's report today may be around the alleged timing. That's where I am most cautious, too. Hinting that Office for the iPad is going to Apple for approval very soon and could be available in "the coming weeks" strikes me as potentially overly optimistic. A tweet from @MSFTnews account seems to make this point, too:

The motto of this post is a couple wrong tidbits don't mean an entire story/post is wrong. But if Microsoft officials can get you to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to a story they don't want out, they'll go for it.

By the way, as @AvatarX reminded me today on Twitter, a three-app version of Office for iOS isn't a brand-new concept. He predicted this was coming in December 2011, right after The Daily leaked its initial report.

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