Technologizer

My First 12 Questions About the New Microsoft Office

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Harry McCracken / TIME.com

Steve Ballmer introduces the new Microsoft Office in San Francisco on July 16, 2012

On Monday afternoon in San Francisco, Microsoft held a press event to unveil its next version of Office, which is now available as a free preview. On any typical day, the launch would easily have been the day’s biggest tech story.

But while Microsoft was still demoing its upcoming software, word broke that Marissa Mayer was quitting Google to become CEO of Yahoo. Suddenly, Microsoft’s news got overshadowed.

Even without the Yahoo bombshell, the Office news is relatively low-key by the standard Microsoft has set lately. This upgrade is nowhere near as radical as Windows 8, and it’s not a shocker like the company’s decision to enter the PC business with its own tablets. Everything about it is evolutionary, not revolutionary.

(MORE: My First 23 Questions About Microsoft’s “Surface” Windows 8 Tablet)

Still, there’s a lot of aggressive evolution in the new Office. It’s the first version of the suite designed for use with fingers as well as keyboards, mice and touchpads. It’s the webbiest edition to date: By default, it stores documents in SkyDrive cloud storage rather than on your hard drive, and it lets your files and settings travel with you from device to device. And Microsoft is going to try to convince consumers to think of Office as a service rather than a piece of boxed software–and to pay for it on an ongoing basis rather than in one lump sum.

Here’s Microsoft’s own brief video summarizing the highlights of what it’s calling “your modern office”–note that it refers to it as a service, not software.

I’ve been playing with the preview apps and will have more thoughts. For now, though, I still have lots of questions about it. Here are a dozen of them.

1. Why isn’t Microsoft introducing a full-on Metro edition of Office? The new Office features versions of OneNote and the Lync universal communications app that are built for Windows 8′s all-new, touch-friendly Metro interface. But the key Office apps–Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook–haven’t been Metro-ized.

Instead, they’re classic Windows apps, but with interfaces that have been tweaked to work better on touch devices. For instance, they have touch modes that make it easier to tap with a finger rather than a mouse pointer, and you can select text by grabbing handles, in a way that’s similar to how it’s done in mobile operating systems. Also, the file-management interfaces in the apps look a lot like Metro even though they’re not officially Metro.

Now, I’m not confused about why Microsoft didn’t release a new Office that only worked on Windows 8 with Metro: It needs an upgrade that will appeal to hundreds of millions of people who aren’t planning to move to Windows 8 any time soon. I also get that no Metro edition of Office would incorporate all of the features which have accumulated in Office over the past few decades; it would have to be a more streamlined product, akin to Apple‘s iWork apps for the iPad.

But you know, I’d be excited about a really good streamlined Metro edition of Office. Plenty of other people would, I suspect. I also think that Windows 8 would benefit hugely from the quick release of some outstanding productivity apps that demonstrate what Metro is capable of doing. (Note: When Apple announced the original iPad, new versions of Pages, Numbers and Keynote were part of the keynote.)

I’m not saying that OneNote and Lync won’t help Windows 8′s cause, but they’re not Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.

2. If not now, when? I assume that there will be Metro editions of all of Office’s major programs someday. And I hope that someday doesn’t have to wait for the next sweeping upgrade to the whole Office system in 2015, 2016 or thereabouts. Maybe Microsoft is working on them right now.

3. Will someone other than Microsoft build the first Metro word processor, spreadsheet and presentation package? Seems like it could be an opportunity for somebody.

4. Is the new Office a sign that the old Windows interface is still a living, breathing thing? I’ve tended to assume that Windows 8′s Desktop mode, which lets you run non-Metro software, is there for–I hate this term, but it applies here–legacy apps. My assumption has been that anything interesting that happens in the world of Windows software henceforth would involve Metro, and that the Desktop would feel frozen in time.

The fact that Windows 8 doesn’t make many significant changes to the Desktop–except for eliminating its Start button–seemed like evidence to support my theory.

But the non-Metro Office interface isn’t more of the same. It’s cleaner and more modern-looking than the average Windows application, and tries, like Metro, to address people using touch screens, keyboards, mice and combinations thereof.

I think it’s a given that other major developers of Windows applications will continue to release Desktop apps for a long time to come; I wonder if they, like Microsoft, will attempt to freshen up their interfaces for an ever-changing world.

5. Do consumers want to pay for Office as a service? Steve Ballmer thinks they do, or at least he said so repeatedly at Microsoft’s event on Monday. The company is going to introduce a home version of Office 365, its business service which bundles the Office apps with web services for a monthly fee, and which always entitles you to download the newest versions of everything.

Microsoft would like Office 365 to be the default version of Office, with the shrinkwrapped software available as an alternative for pigheaded cheapskates and Luddites. That’s an understandable viewpoint for the company to have: Office 365 is an annuity for the company, and prevents pesky Office users from buying one copy of the suite and then spurning upgrades indefinitely.

I’m curious to see whether the company can convince the majority of real people, most of whom are comfortable paying for Office on an on-off basis, to turn into Office subscribers.

6. How much will the consumer version of Office 365 cost? Businesses pay $20 a month per user for the version that includes the full Windows suite. Office 365 Home Premium is going to include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher and Access and let you use them on up to five computers and other devices, plus 20GB of additional SkyDrive storage and an hour of Skype calling time. It’s a lot of stuff, but if Microsoft truly wants it to largely replace the boxed version of Office, it’s going to have to make the price really tempting to huge numbers of price-conscious folks.

7. How much will the non-subscription version of Office cost? The Home and Student version is currently $149.99 (or $119.99 as a download). With Windows 8, Microsoft is offering a limited-time upgrade offer for just $39.99–way less than it’s charged for the operating system in the past. Will it try a similar strategy with Office by slashing its price?

8. Will Office make sense in Windows RT? On PCs that use x86 processors, Windows 8 will run all existing applications along with new Metro ones. But Windows RT, the version of Windows 8 for tablets with ARM processors, can’t run third-party Desktop apps. So Office, with its non-Metro interface, will be an outlier.

While most x86 Windows computers will continue to be conventional PCs with keyboards and touchpads, Windows RT is meant for tablets. That means that Windows RT users will be more likely to use Office entirely through its touch interface. Will they find it smooth and efficient or clumsy?

Also: We now know that the Windows RT versions of the Office apps will be full-strength editions, not reduced-functionality ones designed for casual use. Microsoft presumably sees that as a major advantage: The new Office will be way more powerful than Apple’s iWork programs and other iPad productivity programs. It’ll be interesting to see if Windows RT users agree–or whether the new Office feels like bloatware on a tablet.

9. Wither the web apps? Microsoft hasn’t had a whole lot to say about the future of the Office Web Apps, the web-based versions of major Office apps. I’ve always had a sense that they were created by a Microsoft that gritted its teeth and built them as an unavoidable response to Google Apps, not because it genuinely wanted to offer a web suite. I’m still not sure whether the company still sees them as a quick-and-dirty substitute for Office in its real, desktop-based form, or something that might conceivably become the dominant version of Office someday.

10. How does Office for the Mac fit in? If you subscribe to Office 365, you’ll have the right to download Office’s Mac version as well as the Windows apps. Right now, Office for the Mac is substantially different from the Windows one–with a different interface and fewer features and apps. (I also find parts of it outlandishly slow.) Opinions may vary, but I’d be happy if the next version of Mac Office, whenever it shows up, is a closer counterpart to the Windows one.

11. iPad? Android? Back in February, The Daily’s Matt Hickey reported that an iPad version of Office was expected to arrive “in the coming weeks.” Many weeks have since passed, and there are no signs of such a product being imminent. (If Microsoft were ready to announce it, it presumably would have done so on Monday.)

The current version of the rumor now says that Office for the iPad will show up in November–and so will Office for Android, which Hickey said was not in the works. I hope it’s all true, but the scuttlebutt has been so unreliable to date that I’m not going to assume anything just yet.

12. Is there an impending office-suite war? Microsoft may be synonymous with Windows, but Office and related products are actually a bigger, more profitable business. So the new Office is at least as important to Microsoft’s bottom line and general future well-being as Windows 8 is.

Right now, Office dominates its product category almost as utterly as it ever did. Yet the market is changing so rapidly that it’s not hard to envision scenarios in which it’s less of a given that the vast majority of people who use office-productivity tools use Office. By being more service-like, the new version will compete with Google Apps more directly than ever; by running on tablets, it’ll be more directly comparable with Apple’s iWork apps and other software for the iPad. I get the sense that Microsoft wants Office to be ready for whatever the future may hold, including the possibility of the business model which has worked so well for Office for so long being far less of a sure thing.

Your answers to the above questions–or speculation about them, at least–would be welcome. So would any first impressions you have of the Office preview if you’ve downloaded it.

19 comments
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An0nym0usC0ward
An0nym0usC0ward

Idunno about an impending Office suite war, but there's definitely a war looming - one caused by platform fragmentation. In a monopoly-free world, you'd have platform builders and application builders separated, with standards in place so that apps could run on all platforms which play by the rules. You don't have that, right now. IMO, in the end one platform will impose its rules on other platforms, and the platforms not conforming to those rules will be marginalized. Whether the dominant platform is going to be Windows remains to be seen. Android is growing faster than anything else, even in the tablets market, tablets are becoming more capable every day, and portable devices, where MS doesn't have a hold yet, are hugely outnumbering desktops, with many people already using their phones and tablets to do things which were reserved to the desktop in the past. So we might see Microsoft beaten at its own game - throwing in its weight in one market to establish a monopoly on another one.

And then there's HTML5. HTML5 is very likely to be a game changer. It makes it easier for developers to create apps running on any platform. Companies have already noticed the threat - both MS and Apple don't allow foreign browsers on their devices, so that they can control what specific dialect of HTML5 will be usable on their platform. Android, OTOH, is more open in this regard - you do have alternative browsers on Android. (You also have them on Windows and iOS, only they are forced to use the engine provided by the platform provider.) Open source developers have been extremely good, until now, to provide web frameworks which hide the differences between various engines. Provided that web apps will keep what they promise in terms of flexibility, performance and features, which is likely, any company's weight will not be enough - limiting support for HTML5 on a particular platform  will just cut that platform off from the big world out there.

larryprg
larryprg

The absence of Menus is VERY aggravating. Ribbons and Tabs are a NIGHTMARE for those of us familiar with Office 97-2003.

larryprg
larryprg

My over-all comment about Office 2207 and beyond, is the absence of menus. Using ribbons and tabs is a NIGHTMARE for those of us that started with the first MS Office up to 2003.

codebubba
codebubba

Call me a "Luddite" then.  I'm sticking with W7 and Office 2003.  The extent of my "cloud" exposure is my Dropbox account with which I can get at my Office documents with all of my devices.

Tecsi Aron
Tecsi Aron

I haven't actually used Word or Excel since I stumbled on Google Docs (about 2 years ago).

Darren Young
Darren Young

"

And Microsoft is going to try to convince consumers to think of Office as a service rather than a piece of boxed software–and to pay for it on an ongoing basis rather than in one lump sum."

I never will, but that's just me.

I will never put my sensitive data in the "cloud". I will never put myself or company in the position where I'm at the mercy of the cloud and the internet to retrieve data/information. It will always remain onsite. As to home use, I will never subscribe to a monthly software subscription whether it be Microsoft or Apple. Like in business, I want my data/info on home site and I like buying the product and using it for as long as I want until I want. Still using Office2002(XP)and it does all I need. Still using Vista, but may upgrade to Windows 7 before 8 comes out. I don't need the latest and greatest nor will I be a slave to a software subscription service where much of what I do does not require the internet or the latest and greatest software. I got off the must have the latest hamster wheel years ago where I thought I had to have the latest and greatest that Microsoft (or anyone for that matter) put out. So I'll pass and if Microsoft nudges everyone to where Office is solely a subscription based service, I still will be using my Office 2002 (XP) upgrade retail package. If Microsoft should stop activating the retail Office 2002 (XP) in the future when I need to reinstall it for whatever reason, I'll start using the Office 2000 retail package that I own or go to OpenOffice/LibreOffice. 

lifeisgood480
lifeisgood480

I gave the Office preview a spin for about 12 hours yesterday.  After installing it, I had three BSOD's on my laptop which had never before given me any troubles.  Since uninstalling it, I've had no problems.   But, hey, it's a trial version so I'll look past that, or assume that maybe it was a coincidence.

At for the program itself, I found the  UI unattractive and too minimalist on my widescreen laptop.   There was too much white space, and the icons and menus were too bland.  Maybe Office looks great running on a tablet, but I found myself relieved when I reverted back to Office 2o10.

Now, if the new Office were designed just for tablets, then I maybe I could be excited.  I'm not sure that tablets are a good form factor for creating content, but a 100% Metrofied Word or Excel might convince me otherwise.  From what I saw in the preview, I think both audiences will be unsatisfied. 

To answer question #5, there is absolutely no way I will pay Microsoft a monthly fee, essentially in perpetuity, for a static product like a word processor or an email client.     I must be missing something.

Finally, I found the cloud integration silly.  If I want to save documents to the cloud, I use the file chooser to save to my dropbox folder.  I don't need Word or Excel to help me accomplish that.  Obviously, Microsoft is trying to hook me into Skydrive by weaving it into Office.  I predict that will be as successful as trying to force people to use Bing by integrating it into Explorer.      

Overall, disappointing.

smooth edward
smooth edward

They call it Office 365, but they should call it Office 365.24-7. Get ready to able and expected to deliver completely edited and finished documents where ever you are and at anytime. Technological advances abhor a vacuum.

Quryous
Quryous

My FIRST Question: AM I eventually going to be forced to expose everything I do to the obvious and inevitable insecurities of the so called CLOUD?

Nex
Nex

Nexscience announces the new application for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch for the management of documents. 

Santa Clara, California

July 18th, 2012 — Mobile smart phones are changing the way we live, socialize and do our businesses. Our phones have replaced many other once-common tools, from GPS devices to handheld gaming consoles, notebooks, calendars, point-and-shoot cameras, newspapers and portable audio players.

At a local technology event in San Jose, Nexscience, a California based startup, announced the release of a new mobile application 'Document Manager' for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The app is the latest in a series of innovative ideas introduced to the Apple users by the developer community.

Nexscience now introduces Document Manager, a new application available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Document Manager allows users to transfer files from their PC or Mac via a USB cable, through Wi-Fi and external systems like Google Docs and Dropbox. Users can view MS Office Documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), PDF files, unzip .rar and .zip files.

You can also print documents through Air Print printer, save documents from the internet or save a whole webpage in your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. With TXT, RTF and HTML formats available, you can also read variety of books anytime you want. Document Manager also allows users to download Email attachments with the 'Open In' feature and share documents through emails directly from the application.

Application Download: 

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app...

DerkWann
DerkWann

Why they gotta go mess with somethign that works? If it works, dont fix it.

Total-Privacy dot US

Jeff Kibuule
Jeff Kibuule

1) WinRT APIs were only ready for developers last year. You don't create a fully functional office suite in a new environment in a year.

2) See point 1

3) Many will try, but just like on the iPad, if it's not Office, most won't really care.

4) The rise of Metro doesn't mean the death of the desktop. 

5) Like everything, it depends on the pricing. But $5-10/month for Office on all of your devices isn't a bad deal.

6) Who knows?

7) Good estimates.

8) I wouldn't expect a full version of Office in the WinRT environment, just whatever makes sense.

9) Looks to me like the web apps are being pushed forward, but Office on Demand is where the real meat will be: http://blogs.office.com/b/offi...

10) Office for Mac has always been 6-12 months behind the Windows release.

11) Will likely require an Office 365 subscription to use.

12) I don't see how any business can rely on an Office suite that relies on cloud storage that isn't in their control (and in many industries such as health care, just plain illegal).

steve_wildstrom
steve_wildstrom

Regarding point 8, it appears very likely that Outlook will not be a part of Office for Windows RT. At least, Microsoft won't say that it will be. I don't think anyone is going to miss Access on a tablet, but Outlook is another story

Sam Trutna
Sam Trutna

I wanted to touch on #4.

I don't understand why you felt that the desktop would die. Big developers might put more focus on Metro, but I think that freeware developers are going to want to avoid the Windows Store, and that's huge in my eyes.

Jeff Kibuule
Jeff Kibuule

Why would freeware developers avoid an easy distribution system? For apps that make sense in the Metro environment, ads are good revenue source.

Tecsi Aron
Tecsi Aron

I thinks its not what freeware developers will code for, more like what will developers, and other power users actually work on, that's going to keep the pc alive. Lets face it, I love my smartphone, and at some point i might buy a tablet(what ever OS), I am sure as hell not going to recommend to use them at the office.

Sam Trutna
Sam Trutna

Most freeware doesn't make sense in the Metro environment, and would make even less sense with ads. I love MPC, but if it has ads, I'm out. I'm not sure what rules and regulations MS plans to use on developers distributing software through the store, but it only makes sense that there will be rules, and it doesn't make sense for that to be desirable for a freeware developer