What To Look For During Microsoft’s Announcement Of Office 2013 Today

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Microsoft is expected to announce the next version of Office today, and it has already prepped a new “Office Next” blog in advance of the official details. Internally, the project has been known as Office 15, but unless Microsoft plans to disrupt its standard naming conventions (now, that would be news!), we’re awaiting arrival of “Office 2013″ today – a Windows 8-friendly version of the Office Suite.

The New UI And Touchscreen Features

While we already know that Microsoft is prepping a version of Office for ARM (with its dual traditional/Metro mode), we won’t know until later on today whether or not the version designed for use on the x86 architecture will look the same, which features it will include, and which the web apps will include. (Here’s a sneak peek, though).

While Microsoft surely doesn’t want to give up on its more complex and detailed feature set, it has failed to achieve the simplicity of a more dumbed-down product. (Don’t even get me started on the “Ribbon” interface. How does shoving all the features in your face all at once make Office easier to use?) So look for a new UI that ditches the Ribbon, and makes the new version of Office something that better fits in with the Windows 8 Metro UI instead.

Microsoft is also expected to talk a lot about its touch capabilities in Office. Look to see whether it has adopted the same familiar gestures and touchscreen interactions with which users are familiar, and how simple any new interactions would be to learn.

When It’s Coming

Reports that the new suite will be introduced as a “Consumer Preview” sometime this summer seem likely. In fact, there’s a good chance that preview is coming sooner rather than later, as it turns out, since Microsoft already has an empty tag set up on its Office Next blog for “Office Consumer Preview” configured. If so, then a full rollout to the public release (RTM) should come just in time for Microsoft to sell the new Office on holiday PCs.

Enterprise Offerings And Changes

In January, Microsoft reported that its Office upgrade wouldn’t just focus on consumer applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but it would also – for the first time ever – upgrade its cloud services and mobile clients at the same time. That includes the cloud-hosted Office 365, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Project, and Visio. In other words, today’s news is a VERY. BIG. DEAL for any customer of Office, whether consumer or enterprise.

Office On iPad?

We’re also hoping that Microsoft addresses the elephant in the room – the glaring lack of Office on iPad. It’s not like the company isn’t already developing for the iOS platform – it already has OneNote on there, for example, among other things. But Microsoft has a tough choice here, you have to admit. Rolling out an iPad version of Office could discourage users from waiting for the forthcoming Microsoft Surface tablet or another Windows 8 PC. It could basically damage the enterprise appeal of Microsoft’s own Windows-based offerings. Meanwhile not launching on iPad is like being stupidly blind to the obvious: the iPad has tremendous market share that doesn’t look like it’s waning anytime soon – why not capture those users’ dollars, too?

Microsoft’s Google Compete Strategy

Another thing to look for in today’s announcement is how Microsoft plans to further compete with Google Apps in the enterprise via its Office 365 product. This was the main focus of the WSJ’s article today, which noted that the race is still in Microsoft’s favor here. Office has more than 90% market share for “business-productivity applications” according to Gartner, WSJ reported. It’s been said that Microsoft will begin selling “Office 365 Fully Packaged Product (FPP)” at retail stores where it will be available as a card, similar to those it uses for Xbox LIVE Points.

In addition to appealing to its business customers, Microsoft needs a strategy to regain consumer mindshare, too. Google Apps is “good enough” for most in this arena, and Google has even positioned its limitations as an advantage – it’s easier to use because there’s less to learn. Consumers adopt Google Apps, sneak it into work, then I.T. is forced to support it. It’s the whole “consumerization of I.T.” trend in a nutshell. Now Microsoft needs to encourage the same spirit of “just use it” (no matter what I.T. dictates), without alienating its business customers who specifically choose Microsoft products for their security benefits. A beefed up cloud version of Office that’s easier and quicker to use would be an advantage here.

Microsoft’s Corporate VP of Program Management for Office, PJ Hough, has already promised this is the “most transformational release” of Office he’s seen, so stay tuned for more details later today.

Image credit, Excel: LiveSide