New Microsoft Office Software Sticks Head in Cloud, Gets Social

Paul Lilly

Microsoft's inevitable Office 2013 announcement could be seen coming from a mile away, and now that the Redmond software maker has finally unveiled its next generation productivity suite, it's time to wade through the rhetoric to see if we can make heads or tails of it all. That's easier said than done. While Microsoft is making a concerted effort to simplify the decision making process with Windows 8 by offering just a few editions to choose from, users will ultimately have a bevy of online and offline Office versions to sift through.

The full lineup of offerings and pricing plans will be announced in the fall, but it's clear from the get-go that Microsoft is heavily emphasizing a subscription model, which will include three new Office 365 subscription services. As Microsoft breaks them down:

  • Office 365 Home Premium -- designed for families and consumers. This service also includes an additional 20GB of SkyDrive storage and 60 minutes of Skype world minutes per month.
  • Office 365 Small Business Premium -- designed for small businesses. This service also includes business-grade email, shared calendars, website tools, and HD webconferencing.
  • Office 365 ProPlus -- designed for enterprise customers who want advanced business capabilities and the flexibility to deploy and manage in the cloud.

By Microsoft's own admission , it's taking "bold steps" with the new "modern Office" suites, which CEO Steve Ballmer described as "a cloud service" that "will fully light-up when paired with Windows 8." And by that he means it will have a heavy emphasis on touch controls.

The new Office is also social. Yammer, Microsoft's enterprise social network, will play a role in the new Office, as will Skype and other connected technologies, such as being able to follow people, teams, documents, and sites in SharePoint.

While pricing remains a mystery, Microsoft said Windows RT tablets on ARM (including its own Surface device) will include the Office 2013 suite for free, giving users access to new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote applications.

For those who want to spy an early glimpse, Microsoft just made the Customer Preview available to download .

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