Microsoft Office on the iPad

With lots of hoopla, Microsoft finally realized they were ignoring a lucrative platform and released “Office” for the iPad. I, like millions of others, wanted to see what it offers, despite my… ennui (is that contextually valid?) with Office for the iPhone.

I realized that most of the functionality is locked away behind a (fairly pricey) subscription to Office 365, but I wanted to see what is freely offered.

After a large download I fired it up… My first impression is that the design is really nice. They finally realized how to make a good touch interface.

My second impression wasn’t as generous. What isn’t locked away is exceptionally minimal. Even if you cough up the Microsoft Tax (hey, They can do it, so can We) much is missing. The apparent lack of styles is shocking, never mind the fact that printing is entirely absent. This is a system-level function, not application specific. And a word processor that can’t print is an odd fish no matter how you look at it. Especially if that fish is $99. Per. Year. On a platform that has a light but relatively full-featured office suite thrown in with every recent device. Or a few bucks if you don’t qualify (and that’s to keep).

I have a few predictions. First, they will sell a ton of subscriptions. Why? People want to try it (hey, I do), plus they get actual software on their desktop for the same price. I still suspect Office 365 might be worthwhile for regular upgraders or multi-machine users. Maybe. I have vacillated on my opinion of this a tremendous amount.

My second prediction is that the second year’s subscriptions of Office 365 will plummet if everything remains the same. People now are buying with hope, a fine ground for bitterness to sprout.

Third is a very weaselly prediction: Microsoft won’t let #2 happen… unless they do. They will make Office on the iPad a serious contender. Round-tripping documents is by far the biggest factor in a professional tool like that. It doesn’t matter how advanced your image insertion tools and text flow are if your documents get munged. They know this, and I suspect the back-end is there, even if the interface doesn’t reveal that. The weasel part comes in because I just don’t know Microsoft’s direction lately. I mean, Office 2011 is, well, 2011. They could have come out with a new one of those for exactly the same reasons a year ago, or so. Maybe Ballmer was holding it back. It is telling that a new CEO is named and boom, this comes out.

Apple will almost certainly remain unfazed. I expect the same roadmap for iWork that they had a week ago. They know they have a head start. But hey, guys, Round-tripping. Get it figured out. (I know it’s a huge task, but it is critical). Save as .doc and .xls natively if you can (optionally, of course).

This should be an interesting show to watch.

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