Report: Microsoft Adding Touch Capabilities to 'Office 15' (UPDATED)

A leaked screenshot allegedly of "Office 15" suggests Microsoft's next-generation productivity suite will have support for touch.

The screenshot is apparently from the Office 15 technical preview, which launched late last month, and shows a "touch mode" button. According to a blog post by veteran Microsoft observer Mary Jo Foley, the button doesn't currently work but is designed to add user interface support for devices that may not have Windows 8's touch capabilities

Microsoft already appears to be scrambling a bit on touch-enabling Office. For instance, the company announced this month that it will release Office 15 applications for Windows 8 on ARM devices that will run using the classic "desktop" interface, rather than the "Metro-style" touch experience. The so-called desktop interface is the familiar one that uses chromed borders and the "ribbon"-style menu system, as seen in Office 2007 and Office 2010 today. In contrast, the Metro interface runs programs in a flat, full-screen mode that's optimized for touch interaction.

It's not clear why Microsoft has not yet announced Metro-style interfaces for Office running on Windows 8 on ARM or Windows 8 on x86 devices. Such interfaces were not seen at Microsoft's Build developer conference in September. However, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said back then that building a Metro-style interface for the next generation of Office was something that Microsoft was considering.

Apparently, developing applications for Microsoft's new touch-based UI in Windows 8 involves lots of design considerations for independent software vendors. Microsoft recently published some tips on how to do it right (.PDF). For instance, a "close" target on an app has to be somewhat large, at about a 9-mm by 9-mm size, according to Microsoft's guide.

Office 15 Releases
Office 15 is scheduled to appear as a public beta this summer, but Foley's sources predict the release-to-manufacturing version of Office 15 will appear in late 2012. A recent roadmap prediction by consulting company Directions on Microsoft did not show Office 15 appearing this year. Instead, Directions on Microsoft expects product releases of System Center 2012 to appear early this year (possibly in April) followed by late-year product releases of Windows Server 8, with the Windows 8 client appearing late in 2012 or slipping into 2013.

At the end of this month, Microsoft will release a beta of Windows 8, along with betas of Visual Studio 11 and .NET Framework 4.5. A beta of Windows Server 8 will appear at that time too, according to an InformationWeek article, although Microsoft apparently hasn't announced it.

With regard to hosted Office, Microsoft currently only offers browser-enabled Office Web Apps, which lack the features and complexity of the premises-installed product. Organizations that want to use these Office Web Apps need to use SharePoint, since the document management and sharing are enabled through that application. Despite the Office 365 name, subscribers to the Office 365 service get Office through the Office Professional Plus offering. Office Professional Plus must be installed and maintained by the customer on their organization's premises. It is not hosted in Microsoft's datacenters. However, Microsoft has stated its general intention to eventually cloud-enable all of its business applications some day.

In any case, Microsoft claims that its premises-installed Office is still high in demand. In June, the company stated in a blog post that Office 2010, based on its availability over one year's time, was the fastest selling version of that product.

Next-Gen Product Rumors
This week was a time for many rumors about upcoming Microsoft products. For instance, it's rumored that the next version of SharePoint will get a new SharePoint Apps Marketplace plus a new education module to compete with the Moodle open source app that's used to manage classroom curricula. Once again, these ideas come from a Foley source. That source also claims that SharePoint applications "will support multi-tenant installations," although this capability already exists since SharePoint is one of the applications available to Office 365 subscribers. The whole point of Office 365 is to commoditize application access using a multitenant architecture, so that capability in SharePoint likely isn't new.

UPDATE, 2/27: Foley's source, Bjørn Furuknap, clarified by e-mail on Monday that the multitenancy support that Microsoft will be adding is for SharePoint Apps, a new Microsoft creation. It will benefit developers working on top of the SharePoint platform.

"This [multitenancy of SharePoint Apps] may seem like an obvious thing, but to developers it's a huge thing because it means one can care less about handling multi-configuration scenarios and more on building great functionality," Furuknap explained.

Other rumors include rolling up Windows Live applications into a Windows 8 "communications" hub and replacing the Windows Live sign-on with a "Microsoft Account" sign-on, according to a media report from The Verge. That report also suggests that Zune branding is quietly disappearing in Windows 8 and Windows Phone. Microsoft put an end to Zune hardware production in October, but the development efforts continued for the mobile music and video software.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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