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New Microsoft Office designed for fingers, styluses, keyboards, and mice

Microsoft preps for "the most ambitious release of Office we’ve ever done," says CEO. But will it be a jack-of-all-trades, master of none?

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Microsoft is planning to end its support for Windows XP, the still widely used 10-year-old version of the operating system, in less than two years, noted Silver. Organizations that are still running XP are largely focused on moving their computers and users off of it, rather than worrying about upgrading to the latest version of Office, he said.

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Spending time to evaluate the new version of the software suite “is time that a lot of organizations just don’t have,” said Silver. Office’s new features “may encourage them to upgrade, but it may not be right away,” he added.

Microsoft declined to say when the new Office will be available or how much it will cost.

The new Office will come in multiple versions and will go by multiple brand names. For example, the online version will maintain its “Office 365” moniker, while the retail version will go by Office 2013. The version of Office that will run on computers using chips designed by ARM won’t include the Outlook email program that’s included in other versions of the software. But at the news conference Monday, company representatives repeatedly referred to the software suits simply as “Office.”

Silver said that all the different names could lead to consumer confusion. “Microsoft’s naming is a real mess at this point,” he said.

The company said it will release more details on the software this fall.

Office has become Microsoft’s cash cow, providing more than 30 percent of its sales and more than half of its revenue in its current fiscal year. But the new version of the suite comes as Microsoft’s products are beset by heightened competition.

The new version of Office may give upcoming Windows 8-based tablets a way to distinguish themselves in a market currently dominated by Apple’s iPad. Meanwhile, many of the new cloud-based features that will be in Office resemble those already offered in services such as Google Docs and Dropbox.

MICROSOFT’S NEW OFFICE SUITE:

Among the new features:

  • Metro style: Two of the Office applications — OneNote and Lync — have been redesigned to work natively under the Metro interface that is the centerpiece of Windows 8. Other applications will continue to run under a version of Windows’ traditional desktop.
  • No messy ink: Many of the applications allow users to annotate documents, take notes and underline changes using a stylus. Microsoft hopes these features will replace physical notepads and users hand-editing printed documents.
  • In the cloud: Office documents and users’ settings are saved to Microsoft’s servers by default so that they can be accessed on multiple devices.
  • Socially aware: Users can share documents on Facebook and LinkedIn. They can instantly connect to contacts on Skype from within Outlook. And the new version of SharePoint offers a news feed much like that found on most social networks.
  • Reading and writing: Word gets a new “reading” mode that allows it to imitate an e-reader application.

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