Office 2013: The First True Cloud Office Suite

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Despite the fact that it’s a client software package you install on your PC, Office 2013 will be a productivity suite for the cloud computing generation, and that’s reflected in its services, features and design.

“This is designed from the get-go for Office as a service,” said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the new conference to introduce the new suite. Its naming alone is a bit confusing, but that reflects the area of emphasis. While Microsoft has formally named the product “Office 2013,” Ballmer referred to it as “the new Office” or “the new Office 365” during the event.

Office 365 is the Office suite subscription program that it’s been offering to small businesses for about a year. At the San Francisco event, Microsoft also introduced previews of several editions of Office 365, expanding it from just small businesses to home users and enterprise users.

Also, current subscribers to Office 365 will be automatically upgraded to Office 2013 when it ships. The new version will support up to five PCs, Macs or mobile devices. When Office 365 Home Premium officially launches, it will include an additional 20GB of SkyDrive storage space and 60 minutes of Skype credit each month, as well as free future upgrades.

There is a lot of online support in Office. Besides SkyDrive for saving files, once you sign into Office, your personalized settings, most recently used files, templates and even your custom dictionary will move with you between devices. So you won’t have to take your work computer home, you can work from home on your own system and everything will be available to you.

In addition to the SharePoint and Skype support, Microsoft is also adding Yammer, a secure, private social network for businesses. Microsoft only announced plans to acquire Yammer late last month. Yammer is not in the consumer preview of Office, however.

Office 365 will support both tablets and PCs running Windows 7 and 8. It should not surprise anyone that Office 2013 won’t support Windows Vista and Windows XP, since Microsoft is trying its best to put those two operating systems out to pasture.

Still, Microsoft is taking a pass on a large portion of its installed base. Windows XP and Vista still account for 54.6% of Windows PCs still in use, according to statistics compiled by Web analytics firm Net Applications. Windows 7 has ramped quickly, but is still hovering at 45% market share.

The public beta is available now and will function for 60 days after the final product ships. Microsoft has not given a release date, and with so many products shipping this fall, including Windows 8, Windows Server 2012 and Visual Studio, Microsoft may very well wait on shipping Office just to avoid overload.

In the mean time, the company has launched an Office blog to keep in touch with users about Office 2013 developments.

“I’m quite impressed,” said Joshua Greenbaum, principal analyst with Enterprise Application Consulting. “I think they’ve done a really good job. The blending of the touch and cloud experience are pretty well done and a good way for Microsoft to get the ball rolling in terms of understanding what Windows 8 can do.”

Greenbaum is an Office 365 subscriber and said Office 2013 fixes a lot of the problems he had with it. “The preview showed us cloud and desktop are now the same thing with the same license. That works really well. One of the problems with Office 365 is it doesn’t have the same user experience as desktop. There were a number of contentions between the two that had to be sorted out. Office 2013 has really broken down those barriers,” he said.

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