Microsoft Office 2015 First Look


Every few years, Microsoft tries to persuade consumers and businesses to trade up not only for the freshest version of Windows but also the newest Office productivity suite. Windows and Office combined, of course, have long padded Microsoft’s treasure chest. But moving to a new Office suie doesn’t make sense for everybody—even in its present incarnation, the typical user only taps into a fraction of the available features.

As Microsoft gets us prepared for the Windows 8 era while simultaneously making a case for the new Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and the other programs that collectively make up Office, the world in which Microsoft and so many others compete is undergoing incredible transformations.

The “customer preview” of Office that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled at a San Francisco event on Monday reflects the changes. The new Office is touch-friendly and meant to play nice on Windows Phones, tablets, traditional PCs and Macs.

Now more than ever, Microsoft is encouraging us to exploit Office online. So while you can still buy desktop Office software as before, Microsoft is pushing a subscription-based business model tied to the company’s Office 365 cloud service. There’s an Office 365 Home Premium preview version that will let you install Office on up to five PCs and get an additional 20 gigabytes of online storage via Microsoft’s SkyDrive service. In addition to Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook, you get OneNote, Access and Publisher. Other Office 365 versions are targeted at small businesses or larger enterprises, adding user accounts and, in some instances, Microsoft-hosted high-definition videoconferencing. It’s worth noting that the final version of Office 365 will also give subscribers access to Office for the Mac.

Microsoft also says it’s recently announced Windows RT Surface tablets will come with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote as well.

Microsoft isn’t saying when the new Office will ship for real or what it will cost. It’s a good bet that it will be in the fall, probably soon after the official Windows 8 launch. While the latest Office is designed to take advantage of Windows 8, it will work with Windows 7 computers, too. But here’s a big change this time around – the new Office will not work on Windows XP, much less more-ancient versions of Windows.

You can download the Office preview at www.office.com/preview. Keep in mind that the preview doesn’t last forever: You’ll receive a 60-day expiration notice once Office becomes generally available. If you don’t convert at that point to the final service, you’ll be able to view your documents but not edit or create new ones.

Up to now, the new Office has been identified by the code name Office 15. But the individual programs in the suite go by Word 2013, Excel 2013 and so on. The Office preview is just that — so think “beta” rather than a final product.

When Microsoft brought out the last version, Office 2010, it released Office Web apps at the same time, freebie (if somewhat lighter) versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. With this new version, Microsoft is encouraging consumers to store Office documents online on Microsoft’s SkyDrive and businesses on its SharePoint service. The idea is that when you sign in, Office will let you resume where you left off. Your settings and the ribbon-style interface follow you from machine to machine (though the ribbon is backstage in some circumstances). You can insert online photos and share and collaborate with family members and colleagues. And Microsoft can apply updates to keep Office fresh. The new Office also includes “connectors” to LinkedIn and Facebook (but not yet Twitter). If you have an Office 365 subscription, you can invite a family member or friend to edit a document you’ve posted on SkyDrive.

I’ll wait until I hear about pricing and actually test the final version of Office and Windows 8 before saying whether or not the upgrade makes sense. But in moving toward making its Office suite more touch and online-friendly, Microsoft appears to be taking Office in the right direction.

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