The internet got very excited yesterday with the leaked photo of Office running on an iPad. For those who have been productive in the past decade, you’re familiar with Microsoft’s industry-standard productivity tools, Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint, that have kept all of us up through resume building, crappy yard sale flyers, and dire corporate meetings. The company has come out and said that the leaked photo is fake, with the ‘truth to be unveiled in the next few weeks’, but it’s this slow, hesitant attitude to rival platforms that highlights Microsoft’s biggest problem: they’re not on top anymore.
You have to remember that in its earliest days, Microsoft made its money by being ubiquitous. Whether it was the Altair, the Apple II, or IBM’s first machines, Microsoft got its start by making their software available for whatever platform you were on: kit-built or box-ready. As Windows rose in the 90s, they began to develop most of their software exclusively for it, saving equal-or-lesser versions for other platforms. Office and Internet Explorer went to Mac, their earliest games only worked with DirectX, avoiding consoles (almost) altogether, and Microsoft was content with feeding Windows its own killer apps.
While Windows has dominated for nearly twenty years, it’s getting a wake-up call in the fact that people are using their desktops less and their tablets and smartphones more. That Windows 8 needs to be incredibly successful and place them firmly in the mobile space, or that Windows Phone needs to start selling more phones is a given. What Microsoft needs to adjust for again is becoming ubiquitous. They need to be less Zune and more Netflix and spread their software to every platform that will take it. They’ve taken some small steps with bringing Xbox Live apps to iOS, but they’re not charging deep enough. If Windows and Windows Phone can’t grab any attention, they’ll need to make sure people will remember Microsoft’s strengths when people stop using their platforms. A similar experience happened recently when SEGA stopped building Dreamcast consoles in 2001 and started sending their games to rival platforms, but the fact that they waited so long undid much of their potential success.
Office going to iPad isn’t exciting just because the iPad is one of the most popular platforms in use, with only two short years on the meter, but because Microsoft is realizing its fate.