What skills do you need to plan a Microsoft-based IT strategy these days? Palmistry, clairvoyance and Extra Sensory Perception must now be as valuable as any technical skill you've acquired over the years.
Today, trying to second-guess the capabilities of Windows or Office, even six months out, is almost impossible. Mary Jo Foley has caught wind of a new strategy shift, but it's even beyond Mary Jo's ability to predict what Microsoft is doing (second to none) to make sense of it all.
Once it was so simple. There was one Windows and two Offices: a Windows Office and a Mac Office. If you were an all-PC shop (as most are) that really meant one Office.
Windows Mobile was easy to ignore, unless you had some specialist application for your field staff that needed to talk to a Microsoft server somewhere. And it was all very manageable: Windows and Office moved at a glacial pace - either things happened very slowly, or nothing happened at all.
Then the iPad happened, and CEO Steve Ballmer responded by dropping a bull into the china shop, just to straighten things out. Today, in the post-Sinfosky era, we have two versions of Windows, and three ways to write Windows apps. Make that four ways, if you include the competent but still-green mobile OS, Windows Phone.
And how many versions of Office are there? Well there's now two: one for Windows Intel PCs and one for Windows RT. Then there's the web version, and the streaming version, and one or two bits of Office are available through the Windows store in the Metro/Modern look. Although these versions differ depending on the underlying Windows - because they write to incompatible APIs.
So what was once a simple decision in the PC era - roll out Windows and Office for everyone - is now incredibly complicated in the "device era". If you rely on a business-critical subset of Excel functionality, you can't assume it's going to be there on a given device. But what makes it exponentially harder for customers is trying to divine what will be available in nine to 12 months time. In the absence of clear leadership, most of Microsoft doesn't know either.
Meanwhile, the various teams continue tinker away - with, Mary Jo, bits moving from one part of the new management structure to another (Outlook).
Mary Jo has gleaned that "Gemini" – aka Metro/Modern-style Windows RT versions of Office – will be delivered in 2014. Microsoft denies they're late. That hardly matters here, though. Trying to predict roughly what will come matters rather more.
The only thing we can infer with reasonable confidence is that Microsoft is apparently going to give its own platforms preferred treatment for a touch-friendly version of Office, rather than iOS. This cannot have been a hard decision to take.
For now, you may as well go out and buy a pack of Tarot cards. They might even be expensable. ®