Microsoft launches new Office

Steve Dinneen
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Microsoft boasts that its Office software – which includes Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint – is used by more than 1bn people. It is the company’s biggest revenue driver, bringing in an astonishing $15bn a year. Around 90 per cent of business PCs use it. And yet many people see the new version of Office, which will go on sale next year, as a pivotal moment for the firm. Rivals have been making gigantic in-roads in office software and are providing it for a fraction of the price – or free. Microsoft now needs to present a compelling case for paying for its service. Familiarity goes a long way but it might not be enough. Here is what chief executive Steve Ballmer unveiled this week:

The new Windows 8 operating system, due out in October, is built with tablets in mind and Office 2013 sticks to the game plan.

The ribbon interface (where you hover over an icon in a menu bar and a new set of options pops up) is more spaced out, making it easier to control with your fingers (although some users are already complaining that navigating through some functions can still be tricky). There are some other neat tricks: transferring data between columns in Excel is made easier, for example. Even with these improvements, though, you aren’t going to want to spend too long working on a spreadsheet on a tablet – at best it’s a bridge to make things a bit easier if you’re stuck out of the office.

Metro facelift
Windows 8’s most distinctive feature is the “Metro” view, designed to close the gap between mobile devices and your desktop PC. The new Office looks like a product from this new stable, while retaining enough of its familiar design to make sure long-term users still know how to use it. This is crucial for Microsoft – it is this familiarity that keeps people coming back, despite the increasingly sophisticated rivals out there. Exactly how the public will react to Metro is yet to be seen (it has received mixed reviews based on what we’ve seen so far) but Office 2013’s visuals are unlikely to put many people off.

The Cloud
One of the biggest selling points of the new Microsoft Office is its cloud capabilities. Through a new Office 365 monthly subscription service, both consumers and businesses can save their work in the cloud, allowing them to access their information from anywhere with an internet connection. Files will be automatically saved on Microsoft’s SkyDrive platform.

Through the cloud, users will be able to close their documents on one device and pick up where they left off on another, making the process of creating and collaborating on projects over multiple locations far less painful. Users will also have a profile across devices, meaning stored settings will remain the same.

The new Office also incorporates Skype, the video-calling service Microsoft bought for $8.5bn (£5.43bn) in 2011.

You can’t get anywhere in the tech world these days without apps. Microsoft will have an app store linked to Office, allowing people to download programs to compliment their experience or include within documents. Microsoft hopes the extra customisation will help keep Office customers loyal to its software.

How much will it cost?

We don’t know yet. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft approaches this – Office is still the market leader by a country mile but it is increasingly having to fend off rivals like Google Docs (see below). Previous versions of Office Professional, with the full tool-set went on sale in the UK for £430 for the boxed version and £300 for the product key card alternative. Office Home and Business cost £240 or £190.

Prices are likely to be in a similar ball park, although this is without the Office 365 monthly subscription fee and consumer pressure may force prices down.

Social media integration
Social media has never been Microsoft’s strong point, but Office 2013 makes a concerted push in that direction. The newly acquired Yammer enterprise network will feature, allowing businesses to collaborate and share information both internally and externally. There may even be a “like” button. A new SharePoint service will also be laid out a bit like a Facebook news feed. Options will be available to publish your documents directly to blogging platforms, such as WordPress, Blogger and TypePad, cutting out the hassle of having to reformat your work to share it.