Office 2013: Finally, a true cloud Office suite

Microsoft finally melds the local and online versions of its Office productivity suite into something cloud-ready.

For some time, Microsoft has had two separate-but-unequal Office suites, one installed on a PC and one available on-demand. Now, with its latest Office, Microsoft has finally merged the two.

One sign of the blurring of the lines was that during the press conference to introduce the new suite, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and guests kept flipping between names, referring to the suite as "Office 2013," "the new Office" and "the new Office 365."

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Office 2013/365 may be Microsoft's most pervasive software package yet

Office 365 is the on-demand version of the productivity suite Microsoft has been offering for little more than a year now, and like a lot of 1.0 products, it's pretty lacking. It didn't match the features of Office 2010, the most recent desktop version, and required separate licenses for the cloud and desktop versions.

Office 2013/365 (my naming, not theirs) erases those lines and issues. The desktop and on-demand versions will have roughly the same features and one license covers both products. Office 365 subscribers will get free updates with their subscription and access to SkyDrive as well as per-use rights across as many as five PCs, Macs or mobile devices.

Plus, the company is broadening the 365 line from just the SMB-oriented version to a Home Premium version for families and consumers, a Small Business Premium version, and ProPlus for enterprise customers.

Desktop Office isn't going to be bound to one PC, either. Once you sign into Office on any PC, your personalized settings, most recently used files, templates and even your custom dictionary will come with you.

And if that's not enough, Office 2013/365 is getting SharePoint Skype and Yammer support, and Microsoft only announced its plans to acquire Yammer last month. Yammer is a private social network for businesses. Think of it as an internal Twitter.

I guess it's no surprise that Office 2013/365 won't be available on Windows XP and Vista. Even though these two operating systems still account for 54.6% of the Windows PCs market, Microsoft is doing its best to bury them. So I'm not at all surprised by that move.

Office 2013 looks like it will be the best proof of concept for the Windows 8 Metro interface and touch enablement. So they need to get this out quickly, and the release date is still a mystery. This surprises me. I would think they'd want to launch it side-by-side with Windows 8 in October, but the rumor mill puts Office at a 2013 launch.

You'd think they would launch their spiffy new OS with the best example of what it can do. But perhaps they don't want to launch everything at once, and quite a bit is already coming this fall.

The public beta will function for 60 days after the final product ships. In the mean time, the company has launched an Office blog to keep in touch with users about Office 2013 developments.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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