Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said, while introducing the new product: "It feels like it's 1995 at Microsoft again. We have the most exciting, vibrant, dynamic operating system in years with Windows 8 and we combine that with the most exciting, vibrant new version of Office in years.”
Office 2013, which is available for download as a consumer preview, is designed for use on a range of devices, including tablets, and is deeply integrated with the cloud – storing content on Microsoft's cloud storage service, Skydrive, by default. Documents remain available offline and sync when connected.
“The new Office is social and unlocks modern scenarios in reading, note-taking, meetings and communications, and will be delivered to subscribers through a cloud service that is always up to date,” says Microsoft.
“Once signed in to Office, your personalised settings, including your most recently used files, templates and even your custom dictionary, roam with you across virtually all of your devices. Office even remembers where you last left off and brings you right back to that spot in a single click.”While Office 2013 will be available in a box, it will also be available as a cloud-based subscription service in the form of Office 365. The new version of Office also integrates Skype, allowing users to collaborate on documents via video conferences. Subscribers will get 60 minutes of Skype world minutes every month.
"Your modern office thinks cloud first. You can just click and start running Office immediately. Office is a service first. And I would tell you this is the most ambitious release of Microsoft Office that we've ever done,” said Ballmer.
Since Office is Microsoft's biggest money-spinner, with more than a billion users around the world, it is vital for the latest iteration to succeed in the face of increased competition from both Google and Apple.
Recently, Google acquired QuickOffice – the company best known for making Microsoft Office files available on Android and iOS. The acquisition upped the pressure on Microsoft to officially bring its Office suite to mobile devices – after the company had been widely criticised for dragging its feet on the issue.
It was noted that a reason for the delay could have been that a full version of Office on a tablet would be one of the key selling points of Windows 8.
It is expected that Google has its sights on using the QuickOffice technology to launch more of its own native mobile productivity apps – potentially posing a challenge to Microsoft's dominance in the office documents space.
Microsoft, however, brushed off the potential threat at the time, and director of communication for Microsoft's Office division, Clint Patterson, said: "Google Apps require compromise and don't meet the productivity needs of most people and businesses. Google's primary focus is advertising, so it's not surprising that they are trying to address the limitations of Google Apps through acquisition.”
Office 2013 is expected to be available early next year and will be compatible with Windows 8. Microsoft has not indicated when versions of Office 2013 compatible with other operating systems will be released.
Reuters quotes Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps saying: "This puts them [Microsoft] even farther ahead of Apple in terms of product richness. But it still leaves the door open to competition from Google pursuing a strategy that's cross-device, cross-platform – and is free.”
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