Microsoft Office for the iPad: Should they? Could they? Will they?

The Daily is quoting unnamed sources saying Microsoft has decided to go forward with Office for the iPad. But when and how (and for how much) will such a product debut?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

The Daily is reporting via unnamed sources that Microsoft is planning to roll out Office for the iPad in 2012.

I'd be more surprised if the Softies didn't roll out some kind of Office release for the iPad, given they've already done OneNote for the iPhone and are continuing to support Office on Macs.

No brainer or not, The Daily's November 29 report stirs up the age-old debate for Microsoft when it comes to all of its software and services. Would it be more profitable and preferable for Microsoft to keep a given product or service a Windows-only offering? Or would Microsoft make more money and attract more users by porting their apps to non-Windows-based platforms?

In the case of Office, Microsoft hasn't made the full version of its PC productivity suite available on any platforms beyond the Mac (though way back when there was talk that the Office division had developed a version of Office to run on Linux, but decided not to bring it to market). Yes, Office Web Apps -- the Webified versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote -- do run to some extent on non-Windows PCs. But currently, Office Web Apps only allow document viewing but not document editing or creation on the Mac with Safari 4 (or later), Firefox 3.5 (or later) or Chrome.

The Daily's report also claims Microsoft is planning to charge $10 or so for its Office apps in order to compete with Apple's own Pages, Numbers and Keynote products. If that's the case, that will be more of a surprise. Office Web Apps are free, but Office isn't. The Home & Student SKU of Office 2010, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote is around $99 (street price). Other SKUs run in the multiple hundreds of dollars range.

There is another way Microsoft could deliver Office on the iPad with less risk of cannibalizing sales of full-fledged/full-priced versions. The Starter version of Office  2010 is available only when preinstalled by Windows PC makers. It is basically reduced-functionality, ad-supported, free versions of Word and Excel meant to hook users in and convince them to upgrade to a full-fledged version of the product by buying an activation code. Could Microsoft use a similar strategy on iPads without requiring Apple to preload the SKU -- and instead allowing users to grab a stripped-down Word and Excel combo for the iPad from the App Store, hoping they'll ultimately be willing to shell out more for a full version of the suite?

Microsoft officials have been vague as to when and how Office will run on ARM, other than to say it will run natively. Will Office on ARM be a Windows 8 notebook thing only -- and maybe not until 2013? Or will it also be on Windows 8 ARM tablets (Microsoft's closest equivalent to an iPad), too, some time in 2012?  Once we know the answer to that question, maybe we'll have more insight as to what the Office team has up its sleeve for the iPad....

Update: A couple of my Twitter chums chimed in with some thought-provoking ideas.

Stephen McAteer noted that Microsoft could find a way to tie Office 365 and whatever kind of Office solution the company ends up fielding for the iPad. Microsoft could allow those with an Office 365 subscription to have access to a low-end iPad offering (for free or cheap), he noted. And Rod Simmons, one of the hosts of the Simple Mobile Review podcast, said he thought the Office for iPad offering would most likely be some kind of HTML5 Web app so as to prevent Apple from collecting a 30 percent cut as it does for apps sold through the iPad App Store.

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