Microsoft unveiled the latest version of its flagship desktop productivity suite this week, and took aim at more than a few of its challengers (namely Apple and Google) in the industry with new features and functionality.
Essentially, the three main areas that Microsoft is using to separate itself from potential competitors are cloud storage, mobile access, and new features via integrations. There is a host of other new bells and whistles, but from a strategic standpoint, the really key developments in the new release focus on improvements in those areas.
Microsoft has tightly tied Office 2013 with its SkyDrive cloud storage offering, allowing automatic synching and access to files from any computer. The suite will ship with the SkyDrive app, which enables synching of files between multiple devices and the cloud drive. Hopefully, this can help prevent a major problem in document management, namely that of losing track of multiple versions of documents.
Office 2013 will also be available via Office 365, the company’s cloud-based subscription version of the suite. Unlike previous iterations of Office 365, which were based completely on cloud access, users will be able to download the full applications to multiple computers, which will all synch files via the SkyDrive.
Microsoft started down this road with Office 2010, when the company introduced basic browser-based versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Today, the goal is to keep users and business from being tempted by Google’s productivity offerings, which were built from the ground up with cloud access in mind, and from Apple’s iCloud services, which offer content synching for its popular iOS devices.
In the mobile arena, Office 2013 (as well as the upcoming Windows 8 operating system) has been optimized for touch interfaces and tablets with relativity small interface changes such as having the ribbon disappear when not in use, thus preserving screen real estate, and the addition of a full onscreen numeric keypad for working in Excel. According to early reviews (full disclosure, I have not used it), the onscreen keyboard functions well, and the touch gestures that are introduced in Windows 8 make using Office 2013 apps on a tablet a viable option instead of it being an emergency back-up plan.
Further addressing the mobile market, Office 2013 comes in a version that will run on ARM chip-based devices, such as the base model of the company’s recently announced Surface tablet. The Office 2013 RT version is to be included on future ARM chip-based tablets running Windows 8 RT. Surprisingly, no iPad version of Office 2013 was announced, although rumors persist that Microsoft is working on bringing the suite to iOS.
Integration with collaborative tools also play a main role in Office 2013. Social networking functionality from Yammer, a company Microsoft recently acquired, will be bundled into the suite to introduce activity streams and document sharing into the applications. Microsoft has also announced that it will leverage technology from Skype to provide presence functionality within its Lync communications platform.
Due to its long history in the desktop productivity space and its extremely large established user base, at this time, Microsoft still appears to be the most capable of the major technology players to deliver a complete desktop productivity offering. It is also clear that the company is not resting on its laurels and that with Office 2013 it is betting big on a future of computing that values cloud access and mobility (a vision that Apple and Google have already embraced). We will report back with a full review of the new features of the applications soon.
Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.