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Microsoft Office on iPad: U can't touch this (yet) says Ballmer

It's coming, but Redmond won't say when

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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says Office for the iPad is coming, but not before a fully touch-enabled version of the suite arrives for Windows.

"iPad will be picked up when there's a touch first user interface," Ballmer told the audience at the Gartner Symposium ITXpo in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday. "That's in progress for Office."

Redmond surprised fanbois in June by releasing Office apps for iOS, but the versions it shipped only run on iPhones and not on Apple's much-beloved fondleslabs. Similarly, the Office apps for Android that were released in July only work on smaller screens.

That's probably for the best, as El Reg's own Trevor Pott has observed. The current apps are fine for some basic editing but they're not really suitable for serious document creation, and a larger screen would only make their limitations more obvious.

Just plunking the full version of Office onto iOS wouldn't be a good solution, either. As anyone who has used Office on a Windows 8 tablet can attest, the suite was designed for a mouse-and-keyboard interface, and it shows. Even the minimal touch optimizations Microsoft has made in Office 2013 won't keep you from reverting to the old school, desktop PC way of working.

The one exception is OneNote, Microsoft's freeform note-taking software. A version of OneNote with a redesigned, touch-centric UI is available for Windows 8, Android, and iOS (including the iPad), and although it's somewhat less feature-rich than the desktop version, it works quite well.

Microsoft has said it plans to follow suit with similarly revamped versions of the other core Office apps – including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint – but it will take time.

At Microsoft's annual Build developer conference in San Francisco in June, Windows honcho Julie Larson-Green briefly demoed a touch-friendly version of PowerPoint, but said that it was only "a preview of an alpha version" and that it and the other "app-ified" Office components probably won't ship until 2014.

When they do, they will almost certainly arrive for Windows 8 before any other platform, and particularly for Windows RT, the flavor for tablets with ARM processors. As it stands now, the Office suite that comes bundled with Windows RT devices drops the user into the desktop UI, something other apps aren't allowed to do.

How long it will take for a touch-friendly version of Office to arrive for the iPad after it debuts on Windows is up for grabs. But one rumor from earlier this year suggested fall of 2014 as a likely target for "iOS/Android support for Office."

Many dismissed that as bunk when the Office phone apps arrived this year, but given the persistent rumblings from Redmond about a more touch-centric version of the full suite in the works, there may yet be something to it. ®

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