Microsoft finally has given us a sign that the company understands its enterprise hegemony is at risk – and that it intends to do something about it. At their financial analyst gathering last month, executives dropped strong hints that the company is developing Outlook for the iPad and Android, although they didn't come right out and say so.
No question that such a move is long overdue. Office dominates business productivity, though it's under attack from Google Docs and other cloud-based services. And the longer it takes to protect that turf with moves like porting Office to other platforms, the larger the threat becomes.
But in fairness to Microsoft, the issue is so knotted up in a web of competing company interests that I'm surprised that executives are able to do anything. Indeed, one of the more difficult challenges any executive faces is how to make and manage decisions that benefit one internal group at the expense of another. The rational option, at least from a pure market potential point of view, is usually pretty apparent. The difficulty comes in trying to navigate all the beehives around the organization that you'll be poking with your chosen direction. Imagine telling one of your kids that you love his sister more than him. If you can picture saying that -- and what it would do to your day -- then you've got a feel for management's challenge.
The dilemma for Microsoft with its Office decision is that versions for iOS and Android would weaken Windows' market position because it would hand to competing tablet platforms what today is an exclusive benefit that comes with choosing Windows. And it's not as though Windows' place in computing is so secure that in can afford to lose that. Many of its problems have been self-inflicted, yes. But the onslaught of tablets undoubtedly has contributed to the platform's state, which is shakier now than at any time since a superior DOS from Digital Research threatened the transition to Windows.
So what to do? Prop up Windows or let Office address the entire market?
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