Office Will Determine Whether Microsoft Can Beat Apple

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Earlier this year, I returned to Apple's ( AAPL) Mac after too many years as a Windows guy.

Without hesitation, I downloaded Microsoft ( MSFT) Office. I was under the impression I could not live without it.

Then a strange thing happened. There was a technical problem with the download. While waiting to hear back from customer service, I used Apple's Pages word processing program.

I also used Numbers (the Mac alternative to Microsoft Excel). And, although I have yet to test it, several people tell me Apple's Keynote blows away Microsoft's PowerPoint.

My solid experience with Pages prompted me to get a refund on my Office order.

Back in the old days, I had to have Office for Mac. Without it, it was impossible to get much work done. Windows users couldn't easily convert Mac files.

Now, it's simple. Right from Pages, you "share" your document, selecting Pages, Word or PDF format.

And, like everything else Apple, Pages is intuitive. It lacks some of Word's bells and whistles, but who needs them?

Most of today's users don't. If you're doing anything more than basic word processing you're probably not using Word anyway.

Apple should turn the screws on Microsoft. Improve and push iWork harder in OS X and iOS. If it can ditch Google ( GOOG) Maps and get away with it, it can jettison Office.

Apple should wait, however, until it has Microsoft right where it wants it.

As it stands, nobody really knows whether Microsoft will release Office for iOS and Android. We have nothing to go on but rumors.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer can hallucinate all he wants about the Surface tablet, but he knows as well as the next geek that there's only one thing that sets Surface apart from the competition (particularly the iPad): Office.

If Microsoft releases Office for iOS and Android anytime soon, it's obvious Ballmer has no faith in his company's ability to to steal meaningful mobile market share from Apple, Google and Amazon.com ( AMZN).

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