First Look: Microsoft Office 'lite' for touchscreens

As part of the beta release program for Windows 10, Microsoft has released free touchscreen versions of Excel, PowerPoint and Word through the Windows Store.

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Microsoft Office

As part of the beta release program for Windows 10, Microsoft has released free touchscreen versions of Excel, PowerPoint and Word through the Windows Store. This does not represent the next version of Office, but instead a simplified version of the current Office. Nonetheless, together, they are a full-fledged set of tools that you can use to create documents, and edit or view your current Office format documents (.doc, .docx, .ppt, .pptx, .xls and .xlsx).

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Only available for Windows 10 Technical Preview testers

Excel Preview, PowerPoint Preview, and Word Preview are each available for free for the time being, but are meant for testing purposes, and only for users of the latest Windows 10 Technical Preview, which is Build 9926. Each is downloaded separately from the beta of the desktop version of the Windows Store. Their file sizes range from 78 MB up to 90 MB.

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Designed to work across all screen sizes

These are among Microsoft’s first apps intended to work across different Windows 10 device platforms: desktop/notebook, tablet or phone. To accommodate touchscreen use, the toolbars utilize large fonts and icons with plenty of whitespace in between. When you highlight text or an image, a toolbar appears listing Cut, Copy and Paste buttons. The UI still works with the traditional keyboard-and-mouse. Thus, these apps are well suited for Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, which is designed to be switched between notebook and tablet modes.

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Features: Not as extensive as Office

Some Office 2013 features are missing. In Word Preview, you can’t create a table of contents. You’re not even allowed to define custom margins or page sizes; you can only choose from a selection of preset margins and sizes. But when it comes to the features they do have, these three apps are similar to the web app versions of Excel, PowerPoint and Word. They are “good enough” for most users’ needs. Excel Preview includes charts and formulas helpfully grouped into categories. The light bulb icon works as both a help search engine and agent that can guide you on how to do something to your document.

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Availability of final releases

As for the price of these apps when their final versions are publicly released, it’s speculated that they could be included with the next version of Microsoft Office (which is being targeted to come out sometime in the second half of this year) and to subscribers of Office 365. They will also come pre-installed on Windows 10 phones and tablets (which have screens of a certain maximum size, perhaps 10 inches and smaller), and could be offered for free for other Windows 10 computers and devices. Either way, additional features would be unlocked with an Office 365 subscription.

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Bridging touchscreen devices and desktops/notebooks

So how would these touch versions of Excel, PowerPoint and Word fit within the Microsoft Office ecosystem? For desktop or notebook users, these touchscreen versions are certainly capable enough for creating and editing basic Office documents with a keyboard and mouse or touchpad. On smartphones and tablets, they are used best for throwing together a rough-draft document, or editing a document you already have. These app versions look to be Microsoft’s attempt to bridge these two platforms into a single workflow.