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No New Mac Office?

You can say that Office 2011 for the Mac has been a mixed bag, which isn’t unusual for a Microsoft release. After several fixes, Outlook 2011, the replacement for the Entourage email/contact manager, has become reasonably usable for most people. But full compatibility with Lion is still an unfulfilled promise, even though we are days away from the release of Mountain Lion. Yes, support for full-screen mode is a plus, but that’s not even lip service.

This week, Microsoft released a public beta of Office 2013 for Windows. The reviews are decidedly mixed, with Microsoft adding token support for gestures and Windows 8, but otherwise retaining essentially the same busy look and feel of the previous version. As with Windows 8, it’s a schizophrenic environment that works better on a traditional PC.

But why bother to upgrade in the first place? Because of some compelling new features that will boost your workflow? Not really. Because of half-hearted support for a touchscreen? Definitely not!

So what about the Mac version? Well, it doesn’t appear as if Microsoft is ready to announce a successor to Office 2011. So what will be supported? Here’s what Microsoft has to say on the subject:

When the new Office launches, we’ll deliver an update for Office for Mac 2011. With this update, Office for Mac licenses can count as part of your Office 365 Home Premium subscription. You will be able to use SkyDrive and/or Office 365 to save and access all your documents from your Mac. Note that we’ve not announced any branding for future versions of Office for Mac.

But it’s not so simple. There’s yet another published report stating that consumers and businesses will still have to purchase Office 2011 separately, that it will not count as part of an Office 365 Home Premium subscription after all. I suppose, when Microsoft figures out what’s really going on, they’ll let us know.

Meantime, it’s fair to say that Mac users shouldn’t lose sleep over a Lion or Mountain Lion update for Office 2011. Documents will probably still be compatible with the Windows version, and might as well let Windows 8 users, however many there will be, figure out how to cope with a disorganized interface that will result in lots of support issues and the need for retraining.

This isn’t to say that Office for the Mac is necessarily a lost cause. Microsoft could, I suppose, deliver a couple of minor feature updates without delivering a major new version, an Office 2013 or 2014. It may also be that there will be an Office 2014 in our future.

The other lingering question is whether Microsoft is really working on an iPad version. There were published reports about that one a while back, along with some supposed mockups of the possible interface, though I do not know how real they were.

But Microsoft denied that such a version is being developed. Perhaps they are hoping that customers will flock to the Surface tablet, because both the ARM and Intel versions will include a version of Office. Should the Surface really see the light of day, that could be a key selling factor, a way to attract business customers to Microsoft’s tablet.

On the other hand, if the Surface never appears, or is, like Microsoft’s other mobile initiatives, an abject failure, I suppose they could build an iOS version as a possible revenue builder. I suppose Microsoft could even build a version for Android tablets, although there there’s still no viable app platform for those products, since they sell so poorly.

But whether or not there is a new version of Mac Office isn’t terribly important, so long as the current version continues to sell in reasonable numbers. Microsoft has larger problems, such as coping with the possibility that Windows 8 will not do so well, particularly in the business market. What’s more, if Windows Phone 8 gear does as badly as previous Windows Phone products, Microsoft may lose whatever opportunity is left to become relevant in the mobile space. At one time, Microsoft regarded the Mac OS as mostly an asterisk (by hill at tforge corp). That may accurately apply to Windows Phone products if things get any worse.

Also, you have to wonder whether people would buy a Microsoft product because of Office. There’s nothing wrong with current versions, and no compelling reason to upgrade. Microsoft may have to depend more and more on new user licenses, but that market is saturated. More and more customers are considering other alternatives, such as staying with the existing versions of Office, using Google Docs are or of the other free or low-cost Office alternatives.

On the Mac and iOS, more and more people find that the iWork combo of Pages, Keynote and Numbers may deliver all or most of the features they expect from an office productivity suite. On the Mac, you can also choose from several other compelling word processors, such as two versions of Nisus Writer and Mellel. When it comes to email, Apple Mail may fulfill most of your needs, even for people who must connect to a Microsoft Exchange Server. Yes, Outlook may have more features, but it’s up to the individual which ones they need, and whether they see the need to buy something to replace what they get free.

In the end, maybe there will be a new Mac Office one of these days. But does anyone really care?