Office 2013 Preview Edition To Be Included in Windows RT Devices

Confirming rumors, Microsoft said in a blog post Thursday that a free "preview" version of Office Home and Student 2013 RT will come preinstalled on Windows RT ARM-based devices.

While Microsoft will not have a final version of Office 2013 ready for Windows RT by the time Windows 8 reaches general availability on Oct. 26, the preinstalled preview version will be upgradeable to the finished product within a few months' time afterward.

Office Home and Student 2013 RT will feature Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word applications. The suite will be provided preinstalled on ARM-based devices running Windows RT at no additional cost, according to a Microsoft spokesperson.

"Office Home & Student 2013 RT is included with the Windows RT device. No separate purchase is required," the spokesperson explained via an e-mail.

Microsoft also confirmed that Office Home and Student 2013 RT will run on the "Desktop" side of Windows RT. It's a confusing point first outlined in February by Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows Division. Microsoft has two user interface (UI) sides to its WinRT platform underlying Windows 8 (for x86/x64 hardware) and Windows RT (for ARM hardware). The Desktop side of the operating system runs with a Windows 7-like UI, while the "Metro" side has a flatter, full-screen UI appearance, optimized for touch. Press accounts have claimed that only Microsoft applications have access to the Desktop side of the Windows RT operating system, which is mostly devoted to running Metro or "Modern" or "Windows Store" apps. (According to an article by veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft is changing its Metro nomenclature to "Windows Store," but the specifics of the name switch are still a little hazy.)

A "preview," in Microsoft's parlance, tends to be beta test software. However, Microsoft is promising that those who buy Windows RT machines with the Office Home and Student 2013 RT preview preinstalled will get a free upgrade to the final product "starting in early November through January," depending on language-version availability. The upgrade, which will take place automatically, will depend on the device having Wi-Fi connectivity, according to Microsoft's announcement.

Office 2013 Limitations
The Office 2013 for Windows RT product will have some limitations compared with Microsoft's x86/x64 Windows 8-based cousins. Microsoft's blog confirmed that Office 2013 for Windows RT won't support macros or add-ins, as previously rumored.

Microsoft provided the following list indicating the features that Office 2013 for Windows RT does not support:

  • "Macros, add-ins, and features that rely on ActiveX controls or 3rd party code such as the PowerPoint Slide Library ActiveX control and Flash Video Playback
  • "Certain legacy features such as playing older media formats in PowerPoint (upgrade to modern formats and they will play) and editing equations written in Equation Editor 3.0, which was used in older versions of Office (viewing works fine)
  • "Certain email sending features, since Windows RT does not support Outlook or other desktop mail applications (opening a mail app, such as the mail app that comes with Windows RT devices, and inserting your Office content works fine)
  • "Creating a Data Model in Excel 2013 RT (PivotTables, QueryTables, Pivot Charts work fine)
  • "Recording narrations in PowerPoint 2013 RT
  • "Searching embedded audio/video files, recording audio/video notes, and importing from an attached scanner with OneNote 2013 RT (inserting audio/video notes or scanned images from another program works fine)."

Also out of the picture is running Visual Basic for Applications on Office 2013 for Windows RT, according to the Microsoft spokesperson. Microsoft's Outlook mail client won't run on Windows RT devices at all. Instead, Windows RT users have access to a mail app that comes with the OS.

Optimized for Touch
Microsoft claims that Office for Windows RT and Office for Windows 8 are built from the same code base. The differences in functionality exist because Microsoft has optimized Office 2013 for Windows RT to save power on mobile devices, to save space on solid-state hard drives and to optimally support a touch-based UI, according to Microsoft's explanation in its announcement.

Microsoft rewrote its OneNote and the Lync client applications "from scratch" to accommodate the new touch UI in Windows 8. However, the other Office applications, such as the mouse-driven Excel, PowerPoint and Word, were just modified to support the touch UI, according to an Office Next blog post explanation.

The only true Metro-style Office application that's currently available for testing is OneNote MX. Microsoft released an Office 2013 "customer preview" test version for x86/x64 Windows 8 machines back in July.

The Office Next blog post also cautions that while Microsoft's next-generation Office release will be touch enabled on Windows 7 machines, the experience won't be as good as on Windows 8. The touch improvements on Windows 8 include bigger buttons, better responsiveness and improved speed.

Windows RT devices will available on the market starting around the same time that Windows 8 for x86/x64 devices is generally available, which Microsoft has announced will be October 26. Microsoft doesn't sell its Windows RT operating system in boxed retail editions, so availability depends largely on when Microsoft's hardware partners will have their tablets and devices ready. Original equipment manufacturers that are currently building Windows RT devices include Asus, Dell, Lenovo and Samsung, according to an August announcement by Mike Angiulo, vice president of Microsoft's ecosystem and planning team.

Microsoft has promised that its own Surface Windows RT device will ship near Oct. 26.