July 17, 2012, 9:24 PM — Microsoft launched the public beta of Office's next version on Monday, saying that from now on the suite's cloud-based edition, Office 365, will be its primary focus of development.
Microsoft will market a new version called Office 2013 that will be installed locally on devices, but the future of the suite lies online with the cloud-based version released in preview mode Monday, said CEO Steve Ballmer during a press conference that was webcast.
"This is the new generation of Office, where it is a service first," Ballmer said, adding that this new version of Office is the first one to be designed primarily as cloud-based software.
The new version of Office has also been designed to work best with Microsoft's new Windows 8 OS, in particular with its Metro interface, which is optimized for touch interfaces such as those in tablets.
"This is the most ambitious release of Office we've ever done," Ballmer said.
In addition to hand gestures, Office has also been optimized for stylus input devices, but works equally well with keyboards and mice, he said.
The first Office applications getting a Windows 8 revamping in the Metro style are OneNote, which is for taking notes, and Lync, which includes IM/presence, Web meetings, video conferencing and audio communications capabilities.
The local version of Office will ship bundled with devices running Windows RT, the Windows 8 version for ARM-based machines, including Microsoft's own Surface tablet. That Office suite will include Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
This version for Windows RT devices will be called Office Home and Student 2013 RT.
The cloud-based versions of Office will be licensed on a subscription basis, while the versions that will be installed locally on machines will be sold in the traditional perpetual license model.
Asked to clarify the branding of this new wave of Office products, a spokeswoman for Microsoft said via email that "Office 365 is our services brand" that refers to cloud suites that are updated continuously, while "Office suites, such as Office Home and Student 2013, are designated by a year model and are current as of that year model."
In a demonstration at the press conference, it became clear that Microsoft has tried to give the Office applications a more modern, clean interface.
Microsoft held off on providing full details on all the different Office bundles and prices, but it did disclose details on three cloud models that each will include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access.
The first version, called Office 365 Home Premium, will be aimed at individual consumers and families and include 20GB of storage in the company's Skydrive cloud storage service, as well as 60 minutes of Skype world minutes per month.