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Touchable Office suite headed to Android before Windows 8, report says

Now that Office for iPad is out in the wild, Microsoft is getting ready for a new touch-friendly Office release. But rumor has it the next tablets to get the Office suite will be members of the Android army and not Windows 8.

That's the word from ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, whose unnamed sources say that an Office suite for Android could land before 2014 is out. Windows 8 users, meanwhile, probably won't be tapping their way through an Excel document until spring 2015, Foley says.

Android phones can already run Office Mobile, but the new Office for Android would be a more fleshed out version of the Office suite including separate apps for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint built with tablet interfaces in mind.

Android second, Windows...third?

Microsoft gave its most thorough peek at the Metro-ified version of Office in April when the company demoed a touchable version of PowerPoint during its Build developer conference. Early speculation then pegged fall 2014 as an initial release data for modern UI Windows 8 Office apps.

But all that has been upended, according to the oft-reliable Foley, in favor of getting the Android version out the door. If Foley's sources are right, the fact that Microsoft is delaying Office for Windows in favor of Office for Android is both sensible and surprising.

It's sensible since Android tablets are far more popular than Windows variants. In May, market research firm IDC said Android continued to dominate the tablet market worldwide—the metrics firm did not release a specific market share number—while the popularity of Windows tablets remained small.

Based on market share statistics, debuting Office for Android as a follow-up to Microsoft's Office for iPad release in March makes a lot of sense. But the idea that Microsoft would favor not one, but two third-party platforms ahead of Windows shows times have changed in Redmond.

Microsoft appears to have embraced the new reality of a cross-platform world where Windows is merely one player in a larger computing universe, as opposed to the longstanding pre-2010 status quo, where Windows dominated everything. If Microsoft wants its apps to compete on mobile these days, they have to have strong Android and iOS offerings in addition to homegrown Windows apps.

It's tempting to attribute Microsoft's apparent cross-platform focus to newly installed CEO Satya Nadella, but the shift actually began under former company chief (and current pro sports magnate) Steve Ballmer.

Regardless of who gets the credit, it appears Microsoft is moving quicker than ever to get Office on as many different devices as possible.

Working on Office for Windows

As for Windows, Microsoft's newly rumored spring 2015 release date puts Metro Office on a similar schedule to Windows 9 (a.k.a. Threshold). Could that mean there will be some kind of parallel release, or that the touch-friendly versions will come as built-in trial software with Windows 9?

All we know for now is that with Windows 9 Microsoft is focusing, once again, on improving the desktop experience. Features such as the return of the Start menu and the ability to run modern UI apps in windowed mode are expected to be big parts of that push. But the company also needs something interesting to get users excited about the touch-tastic modern UI and a new, touchable Office suite just might be it.

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