Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
Microsoft has unveiled its plans for Microsoft Office 2013. Here is a look at what you should expect (and download for free at http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/en
What's it called?
Good question. The semi-official name is The New Microsoft Office (like the new iPad), but for now we're calling it Office 2013 as well to make it clearer. However, keep in mind that there's also Office 365, a subscription service that offers the latest version of Microsoft Office. It's an alternative way of getting Office via subscription versus an up-front payment.
How many different versions are there?
Office 2013 will come in a variety of versions for home and business users, but the full set of prices and packages hasn't been unveiled yet. Meanwhile, Office 365's subscription-based cloud service comes in tiers: Home Premium (20GB of SkyDrive storage and 60 minutes of Skype world minutes a month included), Small Business Premium (shared calendars, business-class mail, HD conferencing), and ProPlus (enterprise). Buying Office 2013 will get you maintenance updates only, but staying subscribed to Office 365 will give you big updates down the pike as well. Sound confusing? Well, it is. There's also the Microsoft RT version of Office for ARM-based tablets, included for free on RT devices including the Surface. According to Microsoft, Office Home and Student 2013 RT will include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
How many devices will it support?
Your purchase of Office 2013 will be able to install on up to five PCs. You can deactivate versions to install on other devices after that. You'll need a free Windows Live Microsoft account to use cloud-based document sharing via SkyDrive.
When will it be available?
That hasn't been announced yet, but it would make sense to launch the new version of Office in time for the launch of Windows 8.
How much does it cost?
That also hasn't been announced.
How much has changed?
It looks like Office has been streamlined in its visual style in its quest to be more touch- and stylus-friendly for Windows 8 tablets. Newer social features and Skype integration look, at best, to add some new collaborative wrinkles, but at worst might replicate what's already available on PCs via other services and software. OneNote and Lync offer connected note-taking and video-connected communications to the Office suite. The addition of stylus support in tablet mode ("inking") also opens up opportunities for casual pen-based markups of documents, or more-casual free-hand note-taking.
Is there any free online part like Google Docs?
No, nothing that's flat-out free (although you can sign up to play with the Customer Preview for free), but cloud connectivity is offered free with software purchase, with no monthly fees. In its current form, Microsoft Office already has a large online cloud-based component called Office 365, but unlike the free Google Docs, you need to subscribe to Office 365 to utilize it (from $4 to $20 a month). Thankfully, that extra fee's been done away with: the new Office 2013 allows online and cloud-based use without the need for an additional subscription. By default, Micrsosoft Office 2013 will save documents in the cloud via SkyDrive. Settings, dictionaries, and templates will also be available in the cloud from any device.
Will there be iOS compatibility?
Office 365 supports some Web browser access, which will work on an iPad or iPhone. Other than that, there's no version of Office announced for iOS. However, OneNote apps will eventually be available not just on iOS but Android and Symbian phones, too.
Is there a Mac version?
No Mac version has been announced yet for Office 2013, but Office 365 is compatible with Office for Mac.
What are the system requirements? You'll need a Windows 7 or Windows 8 PC, or Windows RT tablet.
How will it work on tablets?
The new version of Office is specifically optimized for tablet use, and even smartphone use. The layout has been simplified and more touch-friendly button-icons added. While the Ribbon still remains in Word, you can opt to remove interface clutter for a cleaner view. Other additions focus on media use and consumption; Read mode optimizes a document for tablet reading with booklike page-flipping, and videos can be viewed within documents. Images can be captured from a tablet's onboard camera and resized right into the doc; finger gestures can enable layout changes. A clever radial thumb-controlled button scheme can quickly adjust fonts, colors, and sizes.
Will it work on phones?
Yes, Windows phones will support Office via SkyDrive, seamlessly updating saved changes. It's unclear how robust Office on phones will be.
What about Skype?
Skype is supported in Microsoft Lync for multiparty video chat, and within Office for collaboration on documents. The biggest impact could be in office meetings: a demonstration on an 80-inch Perceptive Pixel screen created a giant interactive white board and collaborative meetup.