The New Microsoft Office

I have been working with the customer preview edition of Office 365, one of the instances of the new Office 2013.  There are not a lot of new features, which is good, since most people only know a few of the already existing features, but the ways you can get office are changing.  I attended a preview webinar today, and would like to report what I learned here.

1.  The release date for Office 2013 has not yet been named.  It is expected to be in early 2013, following the Christmas season (October 26) release of Windows 8 and the Microsoft Surface.

2.  Office will come in three basic versions:

  • On a disc, named Office 2013, just as Office has always been distributed.  You will purchase the disc, run an install program, enter a license key, same as ever.
  • As a special (i.e., reduced) version written for Windows RT, the touch tablet OS intended for the Microsoft Surface ARM-based tablets.  Though this version will not be ready to ship when the Surface ships (October 26), a preview version will, with a promise to complete the product asap.  Microsoft is betting a ton on the success of the Surface and a touch tuned version of Office.  The Verge reports that “To optimize for Windows RT, Microsoft has made the decision to remove a number of features from its Office 2013 RT release to ensure battery life and reliability are not impacted on tablet devices. Macros, third-party add-ins, and VBA support will all be dropped from the Office 2013 RT edition…”  The list of dropped features is not yet available.
  • As a service, under the name Office 365.  This is the customer preview version I have been testing, and while Office itself has not changed much, I very much like the Office as a service.  Tight, essential cloud integration means that all my documents, settings, templates, etc. are available wherever I start Office.  I get 5 installations with the download, and can activate/deactivate them so that I can install it on any number of devices, just not more than 5 simultaneously.  There will also be an Office-on-demand product that will make it possible to install/run it on any computer via a login.  Office 365 has been available for business enterprise users for some time, but the new Office 365 will be Office 2013 provided as a service for a “small monthly fee” (unspecified, of course).  For the first time Office 365 will be available to home customers.  For home users it will contain Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Access and Publisher.  There will also be a small business edition that will include Infopath and Lync (web meeting software).

3.  You must be running Windows 7 or Windows 8 to install Office 2013.  If you are still running windows XP, what are you thinking?

4.  The free Microsoft Office web apps (severely stripped down web versions of the basic Office programs) will still be available, though clearly they will always be poor cousins of the for-pay versions.

In imitation of Apple and Google, Microsoft also finally has apps and an app store–though it is early days and it suffers by comparison.  One of the featured “apps” (what used to be called add-ins to the Office programs, it seems to me) on today’s webinar was an Olympics medal tracker.  You can find it at the app store (which is still in beta, let me stress).  Remember, you have to have Excel 2013 for this one to work.

It is clear Microsoft has a long way to go in order to compete with iOS and Android infrastructures, and it is completely unclear whether they can successfully move Office to the new tablet/cloud-based future.