Criticised by its detractors for being bloatware and a hacker’s delight, Microsoft Office has nevertheless been lapped up by millions of users for over two decades. And despite having free variants like StarOffice, this proprietary commercial suite of applications called Office has been ruling user desktops.
While most users attribute the success of Office to “ease of use”, critics point out it’s more the “familiarity” and bundling of office with desktops over the years that has helped Office become almost synonymous with documents, spreadsheets, etc.
Microsoft, however, has changed its approach over the years, especially after facing stiff competition from online desktop offerings like Google Docs from the likes of Internet search player Google Inc. It has adapted well to the online world and come up with saleable Cloud offerings too.
So on 16 July, when Microsoft unveiled Office 2013 (codenamed Office 15) and Office 365--a subscription-based version of the same product that comes with more frequent updates and tight integration with SkyDrive (Microsoft’s cloud service for document storage)--it was just another step to stay ahead of its competitors.
Office 365 has variants for individual users (Office 365 Home Premium), small- and medium-size businesses (Office 365 Small Business Premium) and large enterprises (Office 365 ProPlus) too.
The new Office works on PCs but Microsoft has its eye on tablets running Windows 8, as well as Windows Phones. It also integrates social media with Yammer that offers integration with SharePoint and Microsoft Dynamics.
But to download and install Office 2013, users will have to have the Windows7/8/or RT operating system, at least 3.5GB of free disk space, a 1GHz or higher processor, DirectX10 graphics, a minimum resolution of 1024 x 576, and around 1GB of RAM for 32-bit systems, and 2GB for 64-bit machines. And, of course, a good Internet connection.
While the full line-up of offerings and pricing plans will be announced in the fall, Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer discussed three new Office 365 subscription services. When available, each new subscription offer will include the new 2013 editions of the Office applications--Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access. Subscribers will also receive future rights to version upgrades as well as per-use rights across up to five PCs or Macs and mobile devices.
We haven’t officially reviewed the software but our techie friends tell us that the new versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, OneNote, have a smarter look. Also the Ribbon remains the cornerstone of the Office experience. The importance of integration with the Cloud (loosely a metaphor for the Internet) can be seen from the fact that users can save to SkyDrive as the default, not the C drive. So you can access your files from anywhere. But if you want to upload to Dropbox or Google Drive, you’ll have to do it outside Office.
A feature called ‘Resume Reading’ allows you pick up exactly where you left off, even if you resume editing on another device. And there are a lot of features for photo lovers. The various apps use a new touch mode and animated transitions mark the slide of the screen when you use files or Excel charts.
Live Layout enables text to automatically wrap itself around a video, chart or anything else you insert (in real time, even as you drag the object around). Also you can insert clips directly from YouTube, Bing Video or any other site, of course with the HTML embed code. The new Office comes with Skype (which Microsoft acquired).
From an “openness” point of view, Microsoft has promised support for Office Open XML, a format it submitted to the ISO for interoperability with other office suites, and to aid adoption in the public sector. This version can read and write Open Document Format or ODF 1.2.
Incidentally, versions earlier than Office 2003 are no longer supported. For current and future versions of Office mainstream, support will end five years after release, or two years after the next release, whichever time is later, and extended support will end five years after that.
The million dollar question, as usual, is will Office 2013 and Office 365 find buyers in an online world? Will businesses opt for the cheaper Google Docs experience, and consumers continue to use Google Docs for free?
There are other alternatives like Kingsoft Office Suite Free 2012, Zoho, GnomeOffice, NeoOffice, LibreOffice, Lotus Symphony, ThinkFree Office, and OpenOffice (will soon becom Apache OpenOffice)--most of which are free.
Cost, indeed, can be a deciding factor in a slowing economy--especially for individuals and small businesses.