Virtualization and Microsoft Office?

With the Mac-web in a tizzy about Boot Camp (and also the very interesting Virtualization software Parallels Workstation released shortly thereafter), a question again comes to mind that I’ve been wondering about for a while, but which recent events make all the more relevant.

A few weeks ago Microsoft released an interesting video (warning: Windows Media) profiling the upcoming Office 12 (for Windows), especially a newly designed UI called the “ribbon.” I am actually quite curious to see how well this is going to work in its own right, but as a Mac user I was stuck (as with the Aero interface in Vista) by how much Microsoft is trying (and failing) to capture some of the “lickable” quality that OS X users know and love. Back at MWSF when the Intel Macs were introduced Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit (MBU) again assured Mac users of five more years of support. However, now that Windows is running on Mac hardware, the entire Mac line-up will be Intel this year, a practical virtualization solution is available, and Microsoft apparently still working on porting Virtual PC, does it not seem increasingly possible that the suits at Microsoft might not simply cancel Office for Mac as an independent product?

Instead of developing Office for Mac as a stand alone product, if I’m Microsoft it seems like I have every incentive just to bundle Office for Windows with my newly released Virtual PC software and call it a day. I suspect that so long as it ran reasonably well, Mac users would still have to run Word, Excel, etc. to maintain compatibility with the Windows world, and Microsoft would save a ton of money on developing Office for Mac, while more or less maintaining their strangle-hold on the Mac office-suite market. It seems like a win-win for Microsoft, with only Office for Mac users left out in the cold.

This post is pure speculation; I have no inside knowledge whatsoever. But particularly if the new Virtual PC supports rootless windows (as it is almost certain to do), I can hardly see why Microsoft would not go in this direction, if not for the next version of Office for Mac (since there remains a large PowerPC market), then for the next one. What do you think?

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