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Businesses will have to pay up if they want Office on BYOD iPads and Android tablets

Rumor: Office as a service for iPhones, iPads and Androids coming next year

The big Microsoft rumor is that the company is coming out next year with a version of Office for iOS and Android phones and tablets – sort of.

According to The Verge, Office Mobile will be a free app that enables reading but not editing of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. Microsoft already has Office Mobile for Windows Phone and Symbian devices.

In order to use the Office apps for reading, customers will need to open a Microsoft account, according to The Verge, and if they want to edit documents as well they will have to buy a subscription to Microsoft’s cloud service Office 365. So there will be no one-time purchase of the application, The Verge says.

MORE: University edition of Office 365 to be offered via subscription only 

This fits in with Microsoft’s long-standing failure to produce full native Office apps for iPads and Android tablets and also with its current trend toward pushing users to make use of Microsoft cloud-based services. This is especially fitting now that Microsoft has launched its tablet-friendly Windows 8 OS and Windows Phone 8. It shouldn’t want to enable Office on competing devices without garnering a revenue stream.

That means two things for corporate IT departments that welcome iOS and Android machines as part of BYOD programs. First, with a means of supporting Office on these devices workers can extend the types of tasks they perform and thereby boost productivity.

Second, it means businesses will have to figure out whether they want to make use of this option. Office 365 is an added expense starting at $8 per user per month, not exorbitant but still something whose use should be evaluated carefully. Rather than buy it for everybody, IT pros should work with business unit heads to determine what categories of workers use the mobile devices and could also benefit from Office. This may involve tinkering with budgets.

Office 365 offers more than just Office applications. It also provides Web conferencing, email, calendaring, instant messaging and public Web sites.

Using the service means entrusting corporate data to the Office 365 cloud, something that will require due diligence by IT execs to insure Microsoft’s security measures up to corporate needs that can include meeting regulations set by governmental or industry standards bodies.

If the rumor proves true, this could be a way to squeeze more utility out of those privately owned machines employees are bringing to work. The Verge says it’s heard that the Office Mobile client for iOS and Android could be out early next year.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Tim_Greene.

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