Microsoft Should Offer Office for Android and Apple's iOS

Last Updated Aug 6, 2010 5:03 PM EDT

If there's a tech equivalent to the It Girl concept, it has to be Android. The mobile operating system from Google (GOOG) is already on track to pass Apple's (AAPL) iPhone in the number of units in use by 2010 and it's already selling faster than the iPhone.

This is all bad news for Microsoft (MSFT) because mobile will supplant much of the desktop, cloud computing reduces the importance of the client operating system, and Windows is going to take a beating. Not a couple of smacks across the face, but a full on pummeling. Given that it's one of the two cash cows that Microsoft has, that's pretty scary news. What's an executive like CEO Steve Ballmer to do? Implement some classic advice in the high tech realm: Cannibalize your own sales before someone else does.

In this case, it means dope slapping Microsoft's internal politicians and making a push to immediately get Office working on Android and iOSand on cleaning up the pathetic web version the company released earlier this year.

Microsoft is fighting hard to keep Windows relevant with an incredibly belated push into consumer-oriented tablets and the new Windows Phone 7. But the company faces a terrible pair of hindrances. One is the general environment. Over the next few years, desktop operating systems will simply become far less important than they have been. The other is Microsoft's own ineptitude in getting beyond the person interests of those who run the older lines of business. You can't blame those executives, because they know that positioning for the future means the demise of their empires.

Ballmer has let these executives have their way for far too long. Now it's too late to make the necessary shifts -- smaller, more user-friendly, and far cheaper -- to keep Windows in its dominant position.

However, it's still not too late for Office. But Ballmer has to take stock and realize that the company can't control everything any longer. Office can stand on its own and still remain a viable revenue generator only if it goes to where people are headed. That means a reduced version to run on tablets and smartphones and the operating systems those devices run. Yup, that means an Android as well as one for iOS, because you'd have to be nuts to ignore the combination of iPhone and iPad sales.

Will anyone at Microsoft like this? No, they will wail and gnash their teeth. Too bad. The company is at a point where someone must save its future, and Ballmer is the only one in position who can. Sure, there will be a smaller business in Redmond, but at least it will continue. The other choice is for all the executives there to lie to themselves and then delay the inevitable until it is too late and Google has overtaken both on the operating system side and in the office applications market.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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