Microsoft's tablet-ready Office preview impresses

by David Needle

July 16 2012

Microsoft's corporate VP Kirk Koenigsbauer put the new Office Preview through its paces on a Samsung Windows 8 tablet
Microsoft's corporate VP Kirk Koenigsbauer put the new Office Preview through its paces on a Samsung Windows 8 tablet

Microsoft showed off a snappy, next-generation version of Office at a press event today.

As part of the announcement, Microsoft said a preview version of the new Office 15 is available today. The finished version will be available in October along with the finished version of Windows 8 which is also out in preview mode. 

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer emphasized the importance of Office as Microsoft’s flagship product for business users as well as consumers and that this latest version is “the most ambitious release of Office we’ve ever done.” Microsoft recently announced that there are over a billion users of Office. 

With Office 365, Microsoft is making Office available in the cloud which brings with it a number of advantages over earlier versions. Ballmer said it takes advantage of features in WIndows 8 including support for touch and “inking” via a stylus. 

“It remembers what you were doing, what your preferences are, your documents and the people you collaborate with,” said Ballmer. 

Taking note of the BYOD trend, Ballmer said it’s important to support these features for individuals both in their personal and business persona. 

Putting some perspective about how collaborative technologies have changed the way people work, Ballmer noted that in 1980 when he started at Microsoft, one of the new things the company had implemented was to give everyone a private office. 

“Certainly the way people work today is dramatically different than when I started,” said Ballmer who called the opportunity to bring more digital technologies to the workplace “amazing.” 

The reason is so many things today are still done with physical devices, such as taking notes on paper or setting up expensive conference rooms for high def video conferencing. On the latter point, Microsoft announced that the new version of Office integrates Skype (now owned by Microsoft) directly. 

On the note-taking side, Ballmer detailed the ability of Office and Windows 8 to accept input from a stylus as well as touch. With a stylus the software can convert handwritten notes to searchable text and gives users the ability to mark up documents and images. 

In a later demo, Microsoft corporate VP Kirk Koenigsbauer put the new Office through its paces on a Samsung WIndows 8 tablet. His Office demo included a PowerPoint presentation that readily accepted pen input and a laser pointer, using the tablet to project onto a larger screen. “I can switch between monitors and this effectively becomes a cockpit for me as a presenter,” said Koenigsbauer. 

When you sign in to Word 2013 you get access to all your settings, recently used documents and all your templates regardless of what Windows 8 device or computer your using. Word 2013 has a new Reading Mode for Windows 8 devices designed to make the content as readable as possible whether in landscape or portrait mode, regardless of device. 

“We want to make it a first class tool for reading,” said Koenigsbauer. 

A user's view

Early user Misti Guertin is solidly behind Windows 8 on tablets, so much so that she’s put her iPad away in a cabinet. 

"The iPad was great for emailing and calendaring but I still had to take my notebook along on business trips for presentations and to use Office,” she said. “I can do everything on my Windows slate which means there’s a lot less to carry.” 

Guertin, a copublisher of Coastal Angler Magazine magazine who frequently travels for work, says the ability to use a stylus on the tablet for annotation and handwriting is a big plus. 

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