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We know now that Microsoft is working on a touch-friendly version of Microsoft Office for Windows 8.

But here comes that age-old question, resurfacing once again: What about Microsoft Office on the iPad?

Veteran analyst Rick Sherlund, now with Nomura Research, threw some cold water on the possibility in a note to clients this morning. Wrote Sherlund, “If there were a tug of war of conflicting interest with the Office team on one end of the rope and Steve Sinofsky and Steve Ballmer on the other (chanting Windows, Windows, Windows), we would expect there would be no Office on iPad anytime soon.”

As noted by John Paczkowski of AllThingsD, Sherlund’s assessment conflicts with a report from last fall by Matt Hickey in The Daily, quoting anonymous sources saying that Microsoft “is actively working on adapting its popular software suite for Apple’s tablet.”

It’s worth watching this situation as it unfolds, because the decision will say a lot about Microsoft’s priorities in this new era. The company can give Windows 8 a boost if it makes Office exclusive to Windows-based tablets. But that’s also a risk. The iPad’s momentum not only in the home but in the workplace opens the door for Office alternatives to take hold on the Apple tablet, posing a challenge to Microsoft Office.

That said, I don’t think this is such a black-and-white issue. If I were betting on this, I’d wager that Microsoft will come out with a version of Office for iPad that’s not nearly as fully featured as the one for Windows 8 — using it as a point of differentiation for Windows tablets, without completely burying its head in the sand about the dominance of the Apple tablet.

There’s also the issue of pricing. Apple sells its productivity apps for iPad (including Pages at right) for a mere $9.99 each, a fraction of the price of full-fledged Microsoft Office for Windows or Mac. With that price as a comparison, Microsoft would almost be forced to offer a lightweight version of Office for iPad, if it offers one.

There’s precedent for this. It’s what Microsoft did with its Office Web Apps, offering lightweight versions of Office in web browsers with plenty of opportunities to upsell the users to the full-fledged Office software suite.

In a smaller way, it’s also what Microsoft has done with its My Xbox Live iPhone app, which gives the Xbox business a presence on iOS but doesn’t have the best feature of the Xbox app for Windows Phone — the ability to control the console with the app.

For now, at least, Microsoft is being extremely cagey about the situation. Here’s an exchange earlier this week at a Goldman Sachs conference between analyst Heather Bellini and Microsoft’s chief financial officer, Peter Klein.

HEATHER BELLINI:  Office on tablets, let’s chat.  There’s tons of people in the audience here, whether they’re working on an iPad, or an Android based tablet.  I think there’s probably not that many of those, but anyway, how do we think about getting Microsoft products into everybody’s hands?  How do we think about maximizing the value of (the Microsoft Business Division)?

PETER KLEIN:  The first I’ll say is, Office ‑‑ we have an awesome Office experience across all Windows devices.  So, that’s something that’s been cleared out, we talked about recently.  We’re super-excited about Office 15, whether it’s ARM devices or X86 devices, whether they’re tablets, desktops, laptops, you’ll have an amazing Office experience, which is it’s really one of the things people want.  Right.

The one thing we’ve learned over time, and certainly in the last couple of years, it’s the world’s best productivity tool and that’s what people want.  And Office is, has been, and will be where people do work and we have lots of examples of Office for Mac, and Office on phones, and Office on the web.  We deliver Office in the ways that people want it.  And where they do work.  And we’ll continue to do that.

HEATHER BELLINI:  So have you not been asked?  Is there feedback from users that you don’t need to have it on things like iOS on the iPad?  I mean are you not getting enough people saying, hey, we really want to have Office on here, and therefore …

PETER KLEIN:  We get a lot of feedback.  People love Office and I think they are looking for a great tablet experience with Office and they will get that for sure.

Lots of tea leaves to read in there, but nothing definitive.

Here’s the question: Would you want Microsoft Office on the iPad? And if so, how much would you pay for it?

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