Microsoft Death Watch – Office for Linux Rumour

Office 2013
Office 2013

There’s a rumor that Microsoft is going to introduce a version of Office for Linux. Let’s run an analysis on the idea.

First, we need to cover a couple of things.

  1. I have no direct knowledge of Microsoft’s plans.
  2. I have no intention of asking anyone who has any knowledge.
  3. I know a half dozen people who probably know all or part of the answer.

I make a lousy reporter. I’ve spent a huge chunk of my life covered in Non-Disclosure Agreements. I may still be covered by several. I’m not sure, but I’m not going to do anything stupid. In fact if you go back and read my writing, you will notice that:

  1. I cite sources.
  2. When I’m speculating, I provide reasons for my speculations.
  3. I never, ever, cite ‘informed parties’

It’s just too damned dangerous. A family joke at one point was that I was under so many non-disclosure agreements that I couldn’t disclose how many I was under. I’ve spent a huge portion of my adult life dealing with the fallout from NDAs. I know how to talk, talk, and continue talking, without SAYING A DAMNED THING.

In other words I’m better at keeping secrets than anything else.

Again, go back and read what I’ve written. You’ll see a pattern. There’s a lot of stuff that I don’t talk about. For example I spent a lot of time working in the Catalytic Converter business before my body fell apart. I know how to design 3-Way catalytic converters for use on automobiles, generator sets, forklifts, and marine engines. You’ll never get the details of how to do it out of me, nor will you find out how I learned how to do this. I can however provide proof that I worked in the business, which is available from a public source. A government agency for that matter. Here’s a letter written to me by Robert Cross of the California Air Resources Board on May 25, 2006 (PDF Warning).

I didn’t design the exact catalyst used in that device, but I was responsible for its successors. And no, I won’t tell you how I did it. I can tell you where you can buy this sort of thing. That information is publicly available. I have no issue with using my knowledge to find publicly available documents. If it is available, and I find it, I’ll use it. If it isn’t available, it doesn’t get used.

I used the above as an example, because I am a public figure of sorts. A lot of people know me, and a lot of them know the basic details of my past. They don’t know exactly which companies I dealt with. They might know the people I knew (heck, all they had to do was hit Google – PDF warning) to find documents with my name attached. It isn’t exactly a common name.

But I don’t talk about what I did. Not publicly. That’s one of the reasons that people trust me. I don’t screw a source. Ever. If I was willing to loose my sense of morality, I’d probably be a lot richer. But could I live with myself? Could the people who trusted me live with me? Not likely.

What I am good at is analysis. When I was working in the catalytic converter business, and in the forklift business before that, I worked with some of the best, and was honoured to be taught by them.

One chap in particular I’ll mention, a fellow named Ross Harvey. Ross was a tough old bird (note that when I first met him, he was the age I am now). He was also damned smart, and could see what was really happening behind the curtain. Ross got me interested in analysis, and was the first person to tutor me on the basics.

Rest in Peace Ross.

Office on Linux – Part 1 – Market Share

Why would Microsoft introduce Office for Linux?

This is a rather complex issue. Fifteen years ago Microsoft controlled about 95% of the Operating System market. That was just prior to the release of Windows 98. Apple was effectively a shell, producing over-priced, over engineered junk. The Commodore Amiga had died in 1992, and the Atari ST about the same time. OS2 had started to fade. Linux was too new, and feature deficient at the time to be competitive.

Currently Microsoft’s OS market share is in the neighbourhood of 21%.

Yes, I’m serious. But it all depends upon exactly how you define a computer. If you include mobile phones, tablets, and computers all in one huge pile, Microsoft’s OS market share is 21%. If you include conventional laptop/desktop systems only, Microsoft’s market share is slightly below 80% (in Canada at least, where Apple has huge penetration).

Is a mobile a computer? I know of one person who wrote an 80,000 word novel on a mobile, using a BlueTooth keyboard. It isn’t something I’d want to try, but I’m nearly sixty, and my eyesight isn’t what it used to be.

What can’t you do on a mobile (or tablet) that you can do on a laptop/desktop computer? I can’t think of anything. I’ve seen video editing apps, sound editing apps, photo editing apps (did our Christmas cards using one), scientific apps, in fact I’ve seen things on mobile that I haven’t seen available for Windows or Mac OS X (though it has often been available on Linux).

So if it comes down to capabilities, yes, a mobile/tablet is just as capable as a laptop/desktop. I wrote another 500 words at this point explaining why this is, but I’m cutting them because they detract from the point:

Mobiles and Tablets are now powerful enough to replace conventional computers.

As a reference I went for three months without touching a keyboard, using only an original generation iPad. No, it wasn’t a problem. In fact it was hard going back to the keyboard.

Microsoft has recognized that they have a huge new market available on mobile, and have apparently committed to versions of Office for IOS and Android. Apple is already selling Office Suite software for IOS. Documents to Go has been in the market since the Palm Pilot days, and is happily playing on both IOS and Android. And there are a lot of vendors providing single part solutions, i.e. stand alone word processors on both IOS and Android. There is definitely a market, though I don’t know what the actual sales figures are.

And if Microsoft is doing a port for Android, a port for Linux wouldn’t involve that much extra work. Android is a Linux Kernel variant, and the Android modifications are being merged back into the main Linux kernel, or at least they are when they meet the Kernel Maintainer’s standards.

Office on Linux – Part 2 – What is Microsoft

Everybody knows that Microsoft is Windows. When everybody knows something, it usually is worth going back and taking another look, because it is probably wrong.

Let’s look at Microsoft’s most recent Form 10K (yearly SEC filing).

First look at how the company defines itself:

We operate our business in five segments:

  1. Windows & Windows Live Division,
  2. Server and Tools,
  3. Online Services Division,
  4. Microsoft Business Division, and
  5. Entertainment and Devices Division.

Windows and Windows Live Division is one of five Microsoft operating divisions:

Windows & Windows Live Division (“Windows Division”) develops and markets PC operating systems, related software and online services, and PC hardware products.

Server and Tools

Server and Tools develops and markets server software, software developer tools, services, and solutions that are designed to make information technology professionals and developers and their systems more productive and efficient.

Online Services

Online Services Division (“OSD”) develops and markets information and content designed to help people simplify tasks and make more informed decisions online, and help advertisers connect with audiences.

Microsoft Business Division

Microsoft Business Division (“MBD”) offerings consist of the Microsoft Office system (comprising mainly Office, Office 365, SharePoint, Exchange, and Lync) and Microsoft Dynamics business solutions, which may be delivered either on premise or as a cloud-based service.

Entertainment and Devices Division

Entertainment and Devices Division (“EDD”) develops and markets products and services designed to entertain and connect people.

Let’s look at overall company numbers, in millions of dollars:

Revenue $ 73,723

Operating income $ 21,763

Percentage 29.93

Pretty impressive. Note that this is fiscal year 2012 only, if you want historical information I strongly suggest you read the SEC filing yourself. Also note that I’m not a Business major, and I use non-standard methods. I’m ignoring a whole bunch of things by only using the Gross numbers. For accounting purposes that would be suicide. For basic analysis, well, we won’t be all that accurate, but since we don’t know Microsoft’s internal numbers, nor a lot of the other numbers, we can’t be accurate anyway. What we want is a gestalt.

Windows and Windows Live

Revenue $ 18,373

Operating income $ 11,460

Percentage 62.37

62.37% is a level beyond belief.

Server and Tools

Revenue $ 18,686

Operating income $ 7,431

Percentage 39.77

39.77% is a level that companies like General Motors, Toyota, Exxon, and GoldCorp dream of.

Online Services

Revenue $ 2,867

Operating loss $(8,121)

Percentage NEGATIVE

Online Services has been one of Microsoft’s weak spots for years, ever since a small startup named Google redefined the space for itself. Microsoft isn’t the only company to have had problems competing with Google, the trail of corporate bodies Google has left behind is just as impressive as Microsoft’s own trail, if shorter.

Microsoft Business Division

Revenue $ 23,991

Operating income $ 15,719

Percentage 65.52

Remember when I said that 62.37% was a level beyond belief. What do you call 65.52% anyway? Utterly incredible.

Entertainment and Devices Division

Revenue $ 9,593

Operating income $ 364

Percentage 3.79

The long suffering Entertainment and Devices Division is finally turning a profit, and a really decent one. Believe it or not, in most of the business world 3.79% is considered a decent return on investment. Oh, you’d definitely want higher, but considering how many companies right now are loosing money, or just breaking even, 3.79% looks really good.

Except at Microsoft, where it looks, well, anemic.

So, division with the greatest sales? Microsoft Business Division. Division with the greatest return? Microsoft Business Division at 65.52%.

Which division rules the company? Microsoft Business Division. What does Business Division make?

MBD offerings include the Microsoft Office system (comprising mainly Office, SharePoint, Exchange, Lync, and Office 365), which generates over 90% of MBD revenue, and Microsoft Dynamics business solutions.

Read that. Over 90% of the sales of the division that rules Microsoft come from one product line, Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office is the product that defines Microsoft Corporation.

Office on Linux – Part 3 – One Division to Rule Them All

Office Division rules Microsoft. Windows and Windows Live Division probably hates the idea of Office for Android, but Windows and Windows Live Division has presided over some real duds. Mess up, and you loose your influence.

Ever seen a Surface RT? I haven’t either. I’ve seen a ton of Android and IOS tablets, even a few Windows 7 tablets, but never a Surface RT.

Then there is Windows 8. When Acer’s President says that Windows 8 is “not successful” but Chrome notebooks are winners to a reporter, he is really sending a message to Microsoft. He really doesn’t like Windows 8, and he is willing to push the competition.

So Business Division is the fair haired child that can do no wrong. At least until they mess up. So if they do produce a Linux version of Office, it will only be after a lot of research, because they don’t want to end up like Windows Division. Research which will have included the following at minimum:

  1. How big is the market?
  2. How much are users willing to pay?
  3. Who are the users?
  4. How much will it cost us to enter this market?
  5. How much will it cost us to not enter this market?

I can assure you that Microsoft’s list will have been a lot longer than that. Those five questions are core though. Remember I said that if you include Mobile and Tablets that Microsoft’s OS Share is only 21%? Microsoft hasn’t released their IOS version of Office yet, so if we include Mac OS X, that probably brings the addressable share of the gross market for Office Suite products to 22.5%, which means that 77.5% of computing devices cannot run Microsoft Office. Business Division probably considers this intolerable. I know if I worked there I’d find it intolerable.

The second question isn’t one we can address, beyond remembering the commoditization of Office Suite products I mentioned earlier.

The third question doesn’t mean specific users, it means classes of users, i.e. writers, business users, scientists, academics, etc.

The fourth and fifth questions are intertwined. If it is going to cost a million to enter the market, and five million if you don’t, you’d be damned stupid not to enter the market, EVEN IF YOU DON’T MAKE A PROFIT. Think about it. You have a choice of loosing money, or spending a million to break even. There are people who wouldn’t spend the million. You can find them in Bankruptcy Court. The term ‘False Economy’ says it all.

Remember the numbers. You could split Microsoft into five companies. Four of the companies would have no problems surviving on their own, at the current time. But the Cash Cow of the all is Business Division. And if Windows ends up dying? Who cares. Business Division is a right profitable little firm all on its own.

Office on Linux – Part 4 – Costs and Benefits

Now we get into the real speculative part. I’ve never programmed for Android, though I’ve done a lot of programming in the past. I did a lot on DOS, some work on Windows (but only Console programs), and a fair bit of Web programming.

So while I know the basics, there are a lot of people who know this stuff better than I do.

Android uses a variant on the Linux kernel. In theory anything designed for Android, should be fairly easy to port for Linux, as long as it doesn’t use Graphics.

But everything uses Graphics. Your Desktop is a Graphical User Interface. The screen on an Android, IOS, Windows 8, Blackberry 10, or Palm Pilot devices is a series of graphics drawn on a screen.

Microsoft has the capability to build their own graphics library that interfaces with the Linux Kernel directly. Yes, it would have to have modifications for Android, but it is quite possible those modifications would be relatively minor. For a given value of minor.

If this sounds impossible to you, I’ll refer you to the Wikipedia entries for John Carmack and for ID Software. Microsoft has a lot more money that ID Software did when it developed the 3D engine for Castle Wolfenstein. And the basic technology is now fairly well known. There’s no reason Microsoft can’t develop their own graphics library. In fact they’ve already developed their own graphics library for Windows. They could use the same basic interface, with different device specific hooks.

Overall I believe that the costs would be relatively low for a division the size of Business Division.

Benefits are harder to quantify. Microsoft currently has access to about 22.5% of the total market for tablets, mobiles, desktop/laptop computers, and of that 22.5% only a certain percentage are buying Microsoft Office. Gamers for example probably don’t buy it, nor do a lot of home users. It doesn’t make economic sense. We can assume the same of the new market that would open up with IOS, Android, Linux, and possibly Blackberry 10 variants of Office.

So the market expands by about four times in gross. In reality most mobile users have no need for an Office Suite, and a lot of tablet users probably don’t either. But Business Division’s total sales could increase by between 1.10 and 2.00 times.

An increase by 1.10 may not sound like much, but, if Microsoft doesn’t address that market someone else will, and tell me exactly why you would be willing to throw away $2.4 Billion worth of revenue. Are you nuts?

Agreed, margins might not be what they have been historically, but with Windows market share plummeting as more people move a lot of their life to non-traditional computing devices, Microsoft has to address this market.

Microsoft’s earlier attempts through Windows Division have been failures. Windows CE, Windows RT, Windows Phone, Kin, none have done superbly in the market place. If you are Steve Ballmer, you’ve got to be thinking that you’ve been attacking the market completely wrong, and that it’s time to bring in a new team.

Linux market share is of course nearly impossible to define. I buy my Linux boxes from a computer store that will sell them to my bare bones, no operating system. But my Linux laptops all originally had Windows installed. Linux ran a lot better. No crashes, totally stable. Yes, it was a bit harder to set up when I started, today? A child could do it (and if you ask, my wife will tell you I’m her fourth child).

Nobody knows how many systems have had Windows removed. Microsoft probably has the best idea of anyone just from tracking Operating System serial numbers on computers calling home for updates. They would have noticed that one serial number, assigned to Gateway, stopped calling home in June 2008. That was when a six month old install of Windows XP died, and I blew up and installed Ubuntu.

But the market really doesn’t have to be all that big for Microsoft to make a profit, as long as they can keep their porting costs in line, by leveraging off the work done for Android.

Based on the raw numbers, I’d call this rumour plausible.


Wayne Borean

Thursday February 7, 2013


14 thoughts on “Microsoft Death Watch – Office for Linux Rumour

  1. Microsoft will not make a version of Office for “Linux”. They already have a web based one. They will adapt that. That’s the future. The installable one, the past.

    10 years ago even private users thought that they needed Microsoft Office, not anymore. Private users don’t need Microsoft. Even for business the concept of a Office Suite will change or disappear. As more and more people change their devices, from traditional to the new form factor, the tablet/smartphone (have you seen that smartphones are becoming bigger and bigger), the necessity for anything Microsoft will disappear.

    Microsoft Office for Students and Home Users, the 2013 version, is more expensive and more restrictive than previous ones, only one computer per license and you can’t transfer that license. Your computer dies, you will have to buy a new Office license. Who wants that now? The student and home user market is moving to the web or at least webby. Free or very inexpensive.

    Office for Linux (Android or otherwise) with that conditions would be a still born.

    It’s a generational issue and a “how fast can you adapt and defend you position” issue. Microsoft is making all the wrong moves. Who wants anything Microsoft? Who?

    1. Microsoft will not make a version of Office for “Linux”. They already have a web based one. They will adapt that. That’s the future. The installable one, the past.


      I see where you are coming from, but you are missing several important points.

      1) Internet connectivity isn’t 100%. Where I live there are enormous gaps in cellular coverage.

      2) The numbers are pretty solid.

      3) Microsoft Management isn’t stupid.

      There’s a market. If they don’t address it, they don’t make any money. If they do, and handle it right, they can.

      Assuming the costs are in line, this is a win-win for them. Assuming they can convince people to buy, and they won’t know till they’ve tried, will they?


  2. Since they already have a MacOS version, porting to Linux would be pretty simple. There’s already a C# runtime, and the OS interface is essentially the same from one Unix variant to another. Graphics is another matter, but again that’s already pretty isolated because of the Mac port.

    On the other hand, the Mac version of Outlook is pretty bad compared to the Windows version — it’s definitely a second-class citizen. Or third class. If that’s true of the rest of the suite, LibreOffice and OpenOffice will continue to be the top choice on Linux outside of the business world.

    1. Steve,

      Back when I was still working, I used Mac Mail to connect to our Exchange Server. Worked fine. So who really needs OutLook?

      I think that iWork has really shaken things up at Microsoft, as have a couple of other things. Have you read, Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.?

      I think that competition, and the problems over in Windows Division will drive Microsoft to improve Office for other platforms. They can’t afford not to.

      Just curious, will you be coming to FKO?


  3. iPad and Android pads are selling like hotcakes and nobody noticesthat they don’t run MS Office. That’s because the content consumption tasks typical of pads don’t require MS Office.

    Instead Microsoft is betting the farm that its Surface Tablets running MS Office will be a pad killer. That too will fail for the same reason that Microsoft’s original tablet efforts failed (too costly, too hard to use, poor battery life)

    1. Content Consumption? What world are you living in?

      I know a guy who wrote a novel on his Cell Phone using a BlueTooth KeyBoard. I know several artists who do illustration work on their iPads. I use my iPad as an effects box for my electric guitar.

      Tablets and cell phones aren’t for ‘content consumption’ they are for getting things done. Sometimes that comes down to just reading a book. Sometimes it comes down to writing entire blog posts, or replies using a tablet or phone, like I’m doing right now.

      Desktop/Laptop computers are probably used far more often for ‘content consumption’, I know people who only use their computers for gaming.


  4. Wayne

    I have no idea if MS will make a Linux version of MSO. As you noted, there are a lot of devices in use now that can not run MSO because there is no MSO version available. Tim Cook of Apple recently commented that Apple can not afford not to cannibalize part of its market because if Apples does not someone else will. MS faces a similar situation with MSO and Windows, porting MSO to other devices/OSes risks a certain amount of OS cannibalizing. The longer they wait the more likely users will find other options and the less likely they will be to buy MSO once it is released; instead cannibalizing themselves they will be cannibalized by others. Also failure to address these markets may lead to declining sales in the “core” market as users find other options.

    1. I can’t be certain that they will, only that the numbers make the idea plausible.

      Tim Cook appears to understand Disruption. It is possible that Microsoft is starting to catch on. If they do move forward with this, it would be an indication that they have.


      1. Wayne,

        One problem MSO (and all the other office suites also) has is it a mature product. I can not think of a new feature that would really wow me and make me want to buy any office suite. There are a few new features, some code clean (maybe), and other assorted items in the release but they are yawns. Nice but they do not really fulfill a need. I would suspect most people would a suite with approximately the features of MSO 2000 or MSO XP more than adequate. It makes it hard to justify purchasing the latest release of MSO.

        Oddly enough, LibreOffice and OpenOffice being free makes upgrading to the last release enticing even if I may not ever use any of the new features. Since the only commitment is a few minutes of my time when it is convenient upgrading is something I will continue doing.

        On the same lines, upgrading Windows can be problematic for most users because of the minimum hardware requirements for an adequately functioning system. If one needs upgrade the perfectly adequate hardware to install the OS it is not likely to happen. Also, what features does a new OS add other than hopefully better security that one needs. Touchscreen capability is wasted if the display is not touch enabled.

        Again Linux makes upgrading easier because of cost. There may be some work to do to fully configure your system but it is on your schedule. Since Linux distros supply both the OS and applications to make reasonably functional system on install any additional configuration is not as time critical. In fact I can not think of desktop oriented Linux distro that after install does not give on all the necessary tools to for a typical home/office user already installed.

        Two of MS’s major products are basically mature and it is difficult to justify rushing out an purchasing the latest version. Many users can realistically look at 5 to 10 years life for Windows and and the life of Office is potentially longer.

        MSO pricing scheme is apparently alienating many according to comments on Many have commented that MS appears to more interested in abusing their customers. Several commented they would switch to some other office suite to avoid the MS pricing games. Many people hate the subscription model and prefer the old model of a physical disk or complete download.

        1. And when you have mature markets, you have commoditization, and dropping prices. Unfortunately falling prices are dangerous to to the major market players, like Microsoft, and Apple.


  5. I see a three-way split : [a] MSOffice on Linux-D / Linux-M [MSOL] to address a seeming market gap (+); [b] severe price pressure on MSOffice on MSWindows [MSOW] (-); [c] severe embarrassment due to poor code quality (-).

    Yes, there are a lot of computers out there that could be running MSOL but are running some other suite (OO, LO, Symphony, Maker [DE], etc.) instead. But trying to sell MSOL to a market that is used to free or cheap software runs the risk of causing mass defections in the MSOW market if they price too low. And there wouldn’t be all that many sales if they priced too high.

    MSOW is notorious for its poor code quality (rumor has it that MSWord was originally written in an MSBasic) though some of that may be due to an insistence on backwards compatibility. I personally have been burned by a patch for MSWord (3.x version) that killed the text comparison feature which was my main reason for using it. The patch was needed because MSOW95 defaulted to incompatible mode unless the user went the extra “mile” (/klick /league /etc.) to save in compatible format. Oh the joys of a mixed (up) shop (3.x, 95, NT4, Netware) ! And then there were the “???x” (e.g. “.docx”) formats.

    P.S. I think that the typical office suite may have painted itself into a dead end. The attempt to be all things to all users has made the feature set hostile to the occasional user. And the regular user has to pay a space and code quality price for all of those supposedly wonderful features. Perhaps there’s a reason that RUNOFF‘s direct children (e.g. groff) are still with us.

    1. If they don’t price low, the defections will happen anyway. The only reason Sun Microsystems purchased Star Division was that it was less expensive than paying for Microsoft Office licenses.

      As to code quality, I have to admit to not having any idea. The last version of Office I used was 2004, and that was a long time ago.

      I do remember the compatibility problems between versions. I know of writers who had major issues with novels written in one version that they couldn’t access anymore. That sort of thing causes huge problems for users.

      The future? I think prices will drop. Commoditization is where things are going, that plus the move away from the desktop. I know people who bought Microsoft Works or Office because they got a ‘special officer’ with a new computer, and never used it. You loose those sales, plus the sales of those who realize that they really never use a keyboard anyway, and, well, that’s a significant amount of money.


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