Office 2013 Coming March with Touch and Cloud Hooks

Microsoft's next-generation Office products will reach general availability in March, the company said.

Microsoft's volume licensing customers were able to access some new Office 2013 products as early as December. The "new Office" includes Office 2013, with its traditional perpetual licensing, and Office 365, with its monthly subscription-based licensing. Next month, all of the new editions will be available, both for businesses and consumers, in a range of licensing options.

Office 365 subscriptions are licensed per user on up to five devices, while Office 2013 perpetual licenses are licensed per device for a single use. Perpetual licenses never expire and are based on an up-front payment. In contrast, the right to use Office ends when a user stops paying the recurring Office 365 subscription fees. Another difference is that Office 365 users get the latest software updates delivered to them on a more-frequent basis. Office 365 subscribers also have the rights to use Office for Mac 2011 if they wish.

Cloud and Storage
The new Office is notable for having a more touch-optimized Ribbon UI. Depending on the edition purchased, there also are cloud-enabled perks for end users. However, despite the Office 365 cloud marketing by Microsoft, all of the Office products get installed on the customer's premises. It's a misconception that the new Office suites run from the cloud, or from Microsoft's servers.

Office on Demand, a feature available through some Office 365 plans, is the closest thing to a truly cloud-delivered Office suite. It uses Microsoft "click-to-stream" technology (based on App-V) to install a temporary copy of Office on any machine. After an Office session ends, most of the installed bits get automatically wiped from the machine.

The Microsoft SkyDrive cloud-based storage service is available to both Office 365 and Office 2013 users. When SkyDrive is used in conjunction with a Microsoft account (formerly known as a Windows Live ID), document synchronization can be enabled. A user can edit a document at work and then resume the editing at home. When it's opened at home, the synced document will point the user to the last-edited page.

Microsoft announced in July plans to introduce SkyDrive Pro for business users. SkyDrive Pro works with both the SharePoint Online service or a premises-installed SharePoint 2013 server and enables capabilities such as "social networking, collaboration, search, metadata, workflow and compliance," according to Jeff Teper, corporate vice president of SharePoint, Microsoft. It's available as part of some Office 365 subscriptions.

SkyDrive Pro is both a client solution and a SharePoint-enabled service, except with better security, according to Wes Miller, an analyst with Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft. "There are going to be some enhancements [in SkyDrive Pro] that, for an organization that cares about security, are a far, far better approach than saying, 'Hey everybody, just use Dropbox, just use SkyDrive,'" Miller said. "Going with SharePoint Online and going with SkyDrive Pro for the synchronization/sharing experience is going to be a really interesting solution."

Apps Abound
Some Office 365 offerings come with use rights for Office Web Apps, which are browser-based versions of Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word. Office Web Apps aren't full-featured products, but they're improving. They'll tap into a new Office Web Apps Server, which is a single infrastructure supporting Exchange, SharePoint and Lync services, according to Miller. "It's this separate infrastructure, and you can scale it up pretty easily if you want to have another server," Miller says. "But, more important, Microsoft can now service the Web Apps separately without requiring a SharePoint service pack. So we probably will see a revision of the Office Web Apps far faster than we have in the past."

Microsoft also is building up a developer community around "apps for Office," which are Web-based applications that complement an Office Web App or an Office client application. Microsoft describes an app for office as a Web page hosted within the Office client. The apps are designed to extend Office suite functionality and can run on the client, in a browser, on-premises in a server or in the cloud.

As for whether customers will move to this totally cloud-based Office that's emerging in the future, Miller said it's not likely any time soon. "I think we're going to slowly see it moving more toward a truly streamed experience," he said.

About the Author

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


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