Microsoft unveils latest version of Office

July 16, 2012

Microsoft unveiled its newest version of Office and talked about the momentum that Microsoft has right now. But this time, it’s also on your (Windows) phone and your (Windows) tablet.

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said that Office is one of the “most exciting” products the company offers, though not one that get a lot of press coverage. But the company is radically remaking the Office suite — to be a service, not a product.

To translate: Office is going cloud first.

“This is the most ambitious release of Microsoft Office that we’ve ever done,” Ballmer said in his presentation speech in San Francisco. The preview of Office is available Monday, though the company didn’t give a firm release date, or price.

Here’s a rundown of what’s changed in Microsoft’s suite:

Touch: Building in Microsoft’s Windows 8 system design, the applications are built with touch in mind and are designed to work with the Windows 8 Live Tiles. Every program in Office is touch-enabled for easier scrolling and navigation.

Cloud-first: Users will be able to access their Office software through the cloud. The software saves documents to SkyDrive by default, for easy access on tablets and smartphones, and will sync across devices. Users can, for example, pick up their work on a different device. The company is offering cloud-based versions of the PC software and is also offering subscriptions that can give consumers access to Skype minutes or extra SkyDrive storage. You will, of course, also be able to save documents locally.

Social: Social is built into Office, a clear signal to Microsoft’s loyal enterprise customers that the company is focused on staying the essential program for business customers. Users will sign in to Office applications to access their saved templates or custom dictionaries.

“The way people work today is dramatically different than the way people worked when I started at Microsoft,” Ballmer said, adding that this was a key reason that the company acquired the social networking company Yammer.

The Sharepoint interface looks a lot like an old Facebook profile, with a newsfeed that contains updates about documents and people that any user is following. The service also suggests documents that people should be following and will also let you “like” documents. It will give users quick access to IM, phone calls and e-mail.

Inking: Yep. Microsoft is doubling-down on the stylus, building inking into the software, which is designed to convert handwriting to text, mark up documents, color or erase. Users can also use the stylus as a laser pointer when giving presentations.

The ribbon: The ribbon, a somewhat controversial design decision from recent versions of Office, can be hidden or pinned depending on how you choose to use it. On touch devices, you can tap to get access to the ribbon and all of its features.

Different modes: In PowerPoint, the presenter will see a different version of the presentation, with options such as a timer for smoother presentations. Word will have a reading mode and an editing mode with an option for comments.

Outlook design: Outlook has been redesigned to give users more room to look at their messages. The small calendar, for example, is now in a pop-up window at the bottom of the application.

Collaboration: Using Lync, Microsoft also showed off a collaboration app — on a huge, whiteboard-sized touchscreen — that lets multiple people video conference, view documents and annotate something together. The service works with OneNote as well, to make meetings run more smoothly.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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