Microsoft is showing off the next version of its Microsoft Office suite. It’s due out next year, and Office 2013 is a major update from the versions of Office you may have been using for the last decade or longer.

Touch

First up, Microsoft is making all of its apps much more touch-friendly, allowing you to navigate using your fingers on computer with a touchscreen. OneNote, for instance, has a new Metro-style user interface, in addition to support for hand-written notes.

But Outlook also now makes it easier to sift through your email messages using your fingers. You can change calendar views by pinching to move from day to week, to month.

PowerPoint lets you use a digital pen like a laser pointer — so you can wave your pen over the tablet screen and a red dot will show up on the projector screen you plug your laptop or tablet into.

Windows 8 is designed with touchscreens in mind, and it looks like Microsoft Office is designed with Windows 8 in mind.

Cloud

When you launch Office 2013 for the first time, it will ask you to login with your Windows Live ID. This will let you access files saved to your SkyDrive online storage space, as well as settings that are synchronized across all of your devices.

How much does Microsoft want to emphasize the online elements of Office 2013? By default all of your documents will be saved to SkyDrive rather than your hard drive. You can still save documents locally for offline use, but you’ll have to do it manually instead of just clicking the save button.

One cool thing about the Office cloud services is that you can now share any document you create with any other user just by providing a link to the URL for that document. The person opening that link doesn’t need to have Office installed to view your Word document, PowerPoint presentation, or Excel spreadsheet. They can just open it on the web.

You can also quickly share documents to Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social networks from within the app.

And of course, if you have Office installed on your home and work computers, laptops, desktops, and tablets, you’ll be able to access all of your documents from anywhere since they’re stored online instead of on your hard drive.

Skype

Microsoft bought Skype a few years ago, and while Skype is largely run as a standalone unit within the company, Office 2013 will include Skype integration.

For instance you’ll be able to pull up a contact in Outlook, view their Skype details, and even initiate a voice or video call directly from the app.

Subscriptions

There’s a catch to all this connectivity. Instead of paying once for the next version of Office, Microsoft wants you to sign up for a subscription plan. Office 365 Home Premium can be installed on up to 5 different devices and will provide you with 20GB of storage for a monthly fee.

There are also small business, Pro Plus, and Enterprise plans.

Pricing hasn’t yet been revealed. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says there will still be a version of Office that you can download and run on your desktop without signing up for a subscription — but he expects most customers to opt for the new subscription model.

Of course, this is coming from the company that thought the Zune Media Player and Kin phone were going to take off.

A free version of Office will be included on Windows RT tablets with ARM-based processors, but it won’t have all the features get with one of the paid subscription models.

Other Updates

Some of the other changes include a new reading mode for Word 2013, which lets you read documents in a clean view without viewing the editing interface. Since you’re basically viewing a web page in reading mode, you can also click embedded videos or other multimedia to open them up directly within a Word document.

Microsoft is also opening up various parts of office to third party app developers. For instance, you’ll be able to install plugins in Outlook that let you use an interactive Bing map within an email message.

Why you might not want to upgrade

Office 2013 represents a major shift, embracing support for touchscreens and cloud computing. But it’s not necessarily for everybody.

In fact, if you’re still running Windows XP or Windows Vista, you literally won’t be able to run Office 2013. Microsoft won’t offer it for those operating systems.

Microsoft Office also ain’t the only game in town. Google Drive has been offering collaborative document editing for years (although it used to be called Google Docs). Although Google’s office products don’t have all the bells and whistles you get with Microsoft Office, Google’s services offer many of the basic features you need to create and share text, spreadsheet, and presentation-style documents.

Google Drive is also free, as are open source desktop office apps LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org.

Odds are plenty of long-time Microsoft Office users will upgrade to Office 2013 eventually, because it’s still the industry standard… but it won’t necessarily be the same Office they’re used to.

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7 replies on “Next-gen Microsoft Office puts emphasis on touch, cloud (and subscriptions)”

  1. I just purchased Office 2010. If all Office 2013 is about is touch, then they can have it. And, what happens if the cloud ever goes off line? Eh? I asked that question to a tech guy at work. They instituted a new program where all files would be saved to their private cloud, and all apps would be run from a central server. He just shrugged and said, “I suppose you go home for the day”.

  2. I wonder if corporations will actually use the SkyDrive feature. Are you allowed to use other cloud services (ie. company internal server or Amazon S3) for online storage and sharing?

    1. I doubt most companies (at least ones with trade secrets) will ever use SkyDrive.

      Also, the touch interface will probably be useful for reading on tablets but I doubt it’ll help much in creating documents on any device.

      1. There’s SkyDrive and then there’s SkyDrive Pro. The utility that syncs local and cloud-based files is a retooled version of Groove and re-branded as SkyDrive Pro.

        So the new Office will be providing SkyDrive Pro to sync files between SharePoint and the desktop. Leaving the regular SkyDrive just for general consumers.

        While you can also combine multiple SkyDrive/Pro and SharePoint accounts and access them from any device where you’re signed in if you opt for the web services, which in turn allows you to use office on up to 5 systems, as well as collaborating in real time, share documents via email links, etc.

        Companies can also choose to disable SkyDrive if they wish though.

  3. Wow, so… Pay monthly for office or download libre office for free… Hmm.

    BTW, if MMORPG’s are struggling to get subscriptions in this day and age, I’d assume office productivity software is going to have an even tougher time. I know the market’s aren’t analogous, but… You’re struggling against yourself, free alternatives, and you just locked out part of your install base apparently in the theory that it will help drive OS sales since there’s no compelling technical differences between Vista and Win7.

    Also what is this bringing to the table that I don’t already have? I don’t do collaborative document editing. I have separate apps for every one of these features except touch, which on my laptop and desktop computers looks like more of an anti-feature than something I want. Skype integration is meaningless, as is sky drive integration really. I could actually argue that they are anti-features in the enterprise environment, especially if you already use SharePoint document libraries to distribute documents.

    Now lets say that MS just crazy and doing integration for integration sake to make otherwise bad managerial decisions look somewhat decent. Let’s say this is the best version of Office EVER, and drives all their competition out of business or at least marginalizes it even further. This is also the EXACT BEHAVIOR THAT GOT THEM CONVICTED OF ILLEGALLY LEVERAGING THEIR MONOPOLY POSITION ALREADY! They have history and prior settlements to provide templates for future sanctions just sitting there waiting for them to cross some imaginary success line. This is begging for another EU investigation, and possibly more lawsuits in the US. I guess they’re hoping that Apple stays dominant or something, or tacitly admitting that they’re not in a monopoly position any more and are hence hoping this will fly.

    Increasingly MS’s strategy is making less and less sense to me. I’m a power user, with a MSDN license and decades of experience developing for and supporting their platforms, and increasingly it seems like they could care less about me. For every feature they add that helps me, they add two more that are meaningless or actively annoying. This obsession they have of chasing the nascent touch market at the expense of the existing desktop one is also growing to the point of being bizarre especially when viewed from the enterprise perspective which is where the majority of their profits come from.

    Here’s hoping they come to their senses or somehow magically Win8 and Metro are better in release than they have been in RC.

    1. If you actually read the article, Brad did point out they still offer a non-subscription version. So you only have to get the subscription services if you feel the service they provide is what you need or want.

      It does remain to be seen whether all these changes are ultimately a good strategy at this time or not. However, change is going to happen eventually. The old ways of doing things are just too limited and how we interact with data isn’t going to stay the same forever no matter what happens with W8.

      Change is just usually always resisted and some just get introduced before its time but invariably change does eventually happen and we always adapt.

      1. Yes, we will certainly have to adapt. I see touch being implemented in all new systems. So, all those old “touchless” apps will become hard to use with a finger.

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