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Microsoft plays coy over iPhone Office

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Web 2.0 Expo Redmond has hinted it soon may bring Microsoft Office to the iPhone.

In a Q&A with Tim 2.0'Reilly at the hypemeister's Web 2.0 Expo in downtown San Francisco this afternoon, Microsoft Office honcho Stephen Elop was asked how his aging desktop software suite would survive in a world increasingly obsessed with putting apps in the cloud on the web, and naturally, he responded with Redmond's "software plus services" chestnut.

"We said a couple of years ago that what we needed to do was fully embrace what we call 'software plus services,' the recognition that as software evolves, there's an important role for client technology combined with what happens in the cloud," opined the president of Microsoft's business division. "The truly best user experiences will come from that combination."

Elop badmouthed 2.0'Reilly's notion of an application that runs in some sort of ethereal "self-actualization" layer where client software doesn't exist, calling the idea "hogwash." He then proceeded to ask how many of the net-obsessives in his Web 2.0 audience carried an iPhone - and how many used the iPhone's Facebook application.

"Just as many, if it more," he said, tallying Facebook appers against iPhone users - and winning a chuckle from the gathered digerati. "The point being that the device, the operating system on that device, and the rich application - the Facebook app - combined with the service - the Facebook service - is a better experience. And that's what people are self-selecting."

When 0'Reilly pointed out that no one is using Office on their iPhone, Elop responded with a pointed "Not yet, you're not." And when pressed on the matter, he let out a terse "keep watching".

It so happens that Quickoffice introduced its own Office suite for the iPhone today, offering the ability to view, edit, and share Microsoft Word and Excel files on your Jobsian status symbol (in aging formats).

Elop then felt compelled to call Microsoft "the most interoperable company on the planet".

To support this claim, he pointed out that in February of 2008, the company published something it calls interoperability principles. And he boasted that since then, the Microsoft Office team has published 40,000 pages of documentation "on every aspect of every one of our most popular products."

His audience was unimpressed. So he pointed out that if they wanted to, they could connect their iPhone mail client to an Exchange server. And he said that Google has licensed Microsoft patents and used Microsoft documentation to offer Exchange access from Google Apps.

Ah, but Elop has a low opinion of Google Apps. He described Docs and Spreadsheets as little more than "free bolding, underlining, italics, and footnotes." And of course, he boasted that when Microsoft unleashes its "software plus services," it will be much more than "bolding, underlining, italics, and footnotes."

Microsoft has already demonstrated "lightweight" versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that run inside ordinary web browsers. And it intends to free (ad-supported) access to such tools. But Elop admitted that such software plus services won't arrive until, well, the next calendar year.

So, if Microsoft is prepping Office for the iPhone, you can't help but wonder just how close it really is. ®

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