Will They or Won’t They Metro-fy Office for Windows 8?

Several sites are reporting that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, in a Q&A at this year’s Financial Analyst Meeting, has hinted positively at Microsoft Office in the Windows 8 Metro interface. Only one problem: he didn’t.

Here’s the line that’s giving folks hope.

“…we are rethinking and working hard on what it would mean to do Office Metro style.”

The Steve Ballmer I know doesn't pull punches.

Sounds like they’re serious about bringing Office to the Metro interface. Great news, except that’s not what Ballmer really said. Here’s the full exchange on the question about Office in Metro (transcript from Microsoft).

QUESTION: Thank you. On Office, I know there’s a development effort for Office for ARM. The question is Metro interface for Office. How critical is it to Windows 8 adoption to have software that takes full advantage of Office with Metro? It’s now only been about 15 months since the last release of Office. If we’re, say, a year away, still kind of on the cusp, I’m not sure if you had to choose to add functionality to Office, or you say let’s just do a Metro infrastructure. If you can kind of share with us your thoughts, particularly as it pertains to the adoption rate of Windows 8.

STEVE BALLMER: Yeah. No, we’re certainly — as I said in my remarks this morning, supporting our platforms and having our platform support innovation in our applications broadly remains super important to us.

The brilliance of the Windows 8 strategy, though, is we get all of the applications that come from Windows on X86, as well as applications that have gone through the process of rethinking how they might work in a Windows 8 world. When we have something that we want to talk about, we will, but certainly you ought to expect that we are rethinking and working hard on what it would mean to do Office Metro style.

Notice how the first part of the second half is dismissive of the notion that they need to bring Office to Metro. Why should they? Windows 8 delivers all the applications you have now, including Office, so it doesn’t need to be in the Metro side.

The last part is far less affirmative than is being interpreted. “Certainly,” he says, “you ought to expect” that they’re thinking about “what it would mean to do Office Metro style.” So will they do it? I don’t know. Do they know what it means to do it? I don’t know. Are they working on what it means to do it? I don’t know. Should we expect them to be working on what it means to do it? Absolutely!

Seriously, Ballmer? You think we should expect you guys to think about how Office could be Metro-fied? Because me, Warner, Kevin, and a bunch of other past and present users of Windows tablets think Office in Metro needs to be ready to go when Windows 8 launches. We don’t expect you to think about how to do it. We expect it to be done.

I realize Ballmer may have been imprecise with his obfuscation, but lack of Office support was a serious hindrance to Tablet PC adoption from the beginning. If it’s still not fixed with this second (or third) try at tablets, well, don’t say nobody warned you.