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By 17 July 2012 | Categories: news

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Following up from its recent unveiling of its incoming Surface tablets, Microsoft has this week lifted the lid on its newest Office offerings.

Office has traditionally been a heavy hitter for the company (and for good reason), and last saw significant improvements in Office 2010. However, Office 2013 appears to take the productivity suite into the future, bringing both tablet support and cloud-based features, to the table.  

One of the notable features of the new Office is an interface that has been designed to work across multiple input methods, such as PCs and notebooks that rely on a keyboard and mouse, as well as tablet devices that utilise a touch or stylus interface.

Truly touching

While the new release will work on Windows 7, it apparently is at its best on the forthcoming Windows 8  operating system. On that OS, which will cater to PCs and tablets alike, users will be able to swipe their finger across the screen or pinch and zoom to read their documents and presentations, as well as create new content and access features via touch control.

Additionally, Office 2013 will support ‘inking’ meaning users who long for a more familiar pen interface will be able to use a stylus to create content, take notes and access features, as well as handwrite email responses and convert them automatically to text.

Interestingly, a stylus will apparently be able to be used as a laser pointer when presenting, as well as to colour one’s content and erase mistakes in a familiar fashion. The suite will further feature new Windows 8 style applications, OneNote and Lync, which are apparently designed primarily for a touch experience.

Good news for those who buy an ARM-based Windows 8 device, such as the company’s Surface tablet, is that Office Home and Student 2013 RT, which contains new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote applications, will be included with the device.

Office Is in the Cloud

Cloud computing is a considerable part of the new Office offering, as the suite will save documents to Microsoft’s SkyDrive by default, which will make them available across one’s tablet, PC and smartphone. Additionally, documents will be available offline and sync when users reconnect.

The company explained that, once signed into Office, one’s personalised settings, including most recently used files, templates and custom dictionary, will roam with users across virtually all their devices.

The software will further remember where you last left off and bring one back to that spot in a single click. Additionally, users who opt for a subscription will be able to stream full-featured applications to an internet-connected Windows-based PC.

One potential that cloud integration could enable is that of digital note-taking. Users will be able to keep these handy in the cloud and across multiple devices with OneNote, while taking notes with touch, pen or keyboard, or in combination.

It’s not just what you know...

As befitting the modern technological landscape, the suite has further integrated a variety of social functionality as well, including the recently acquired Yammer, which offers a private social network for businesses, and a ‘People Card’ which delivers an integrated view of your contacts everywhere in Office.

The People Card includes presence information complete with pictures, status updates, contact information and activity feeds from Facebook and LinkedIn accounts.

Not surprisingly considering Microsoft’s previous acquisition of the voice over IP company, but still very welcome nonetheless, is that the new Office suite will come with Skype, and a subscription will grant users 60 minutes of Skype world minutes every month.

Availability detailed

The company explained that the new Office is available as a cloud-based subscription service. There has been no confirmation as yet as to what other forms or packages it may take closer to the release. Subscribers to the service will automatically be given access to future upgrades, in addition to cloud services, including Skype world minutes and extra SkyDrive storage.

While the full lineup of offerings and pricing plans will be announced later this year, Ballmer discussed three new Office 365 subscription services.

When available, each new subscription offer will include the new 2013 editions of the Office applications — Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access.
 
In addition, subscribers will receive future rights to version upgrades as well as per-use rights across up to five PCs or Macs and mobile devices. The three new editions will be the following:
  • Office 365 Home Premium — designed for families and consumers. This service also includes an additional 20 GB of SkyDrive storage and 60 minutes of Skype world minutes per month.
  • Office 365 Small Business Premium designed for small businesses. This service also includes business-grade email, shared calendars, website tools and HD webconferencing.
  • Office 365 ProPlus designed for enterprise customers who want advanced business capabilities and the flexibility to deploy and manage in the cloud.

To the point

“We are taking bold steps at Microsoft,” Ballmer said at the press conference in San Francisco. “The new, modern Office will deliver unparalleled productivity and flexibility for both consumers and business customers. It is a cloud service and will fully light-up when paired with Windows 8,” he asserted.

We suspect that it is fair to say that Office 2013 marks the programme’s most ambitious launch to date. The features on offer are exhaustive; more importantly, for information and knowledge workers, and those for whom productivity is paramount, they are exciting.

Office 2013 is already looking like a giant leap in its own right, and exactly the kind of services and integration we were hoping to see.  

The customer (home premium) preview is available and can be downloaded here

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