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officeCan Microsoft really afford to wait to release its flagship productivity suite for Apple and Android devices? That’s the question increasingly being asked by analysts and investors as Microsoft’s Windows 8 struggles to gain traction in the tablet market, and the iPad continues to grow.

The latest to join the chorus is ValueAct CEO Jeffrey Ubben, the investor who revealed yesterday that he has amassed a stake in Microsoft worth nearly $2 billion. Although Ubben said he wouldn’t publicly campaign for changes in Microsoft’s strategy, Reuters reports that he told a conference yesterday that Microsoft “should make Office, its most profitable product, more widely available outside of Windows.”

In a note to clients after Microsoft’s earnings report last week, longtime Microsoft analyst Rick Sherlund of Nomura Research had this to say …

Android based notebooks (Chromebooks) and iOS and Android tablets continue to encroach and provide alternatives to Office, so it is awkward to watch Microsoft wait to launch Office for these devices and presumably try to protect its Windows franchise while alternatives to Office are gaining increasing traction in the market by a newer generation of users and those of us that straddle the PC and tablet camps. …

We advocate for Microsoft to let Windows stand on its own and pursue the Office opportunity cross platform, but we do not expect this will happen this year and we see a waning opportunity the longer Microsoft delays.

Microsoft has long been rumored to be working on a native version of the Office suite for iPad, but the company has never publicly acknowledged any plans, apart from one-off apps such as OneNote for iOS. Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet reported two weeks ago that support for Office on iOS and Android is slated for the fall of 2014.

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