Microsoft’s Office 15 embraces software-as-a-service model

Small business trial customers of Microsoft Corp.’s new version of widely-used productivity suite are giving the new Web-based delivery approach a thumbs up.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in San Francisco on Monday that Office 15 needed to be modern and embrace the cloud and social media. With that pronouncement, he introduced Office-as-a-service; specifically a cloud service incorporating SkyDrive and Skype.

Ballmer called this version of Office “the most ambitious release in the product’s history.”

He added that Office 15 will still be available in application form, but since the office worker is transforming because of new platforms and hardware the company needed to support the modern worker and focus on new applications capabilities.

“We are changing all of this at the same time with Windows 8 and embracing a service model for consumers all the way up to the enterprise,” Ballmer said.

The as-a-service portion of the launch was a bold statement, according to Ballmer and definitely intended to address the challenges Office is having in the market against Google. For Randy Clemens, managing director of Redwood Global Inc., a 30 per cent technology consulting and staffing organization, based in Toronto, Office-as-a-Service was all about speed for them.

“Since Office is now available in an as-a-service model it allows us to grow quickly given that you need less IT infrastructure,” Clemens said.

Redwood Global saved more than $20,000 this year because it could eliminate most of its infrastructure and technical maintenance costs. “That ties into our growth and helps us expand through Canada and open new offices in the next few years. We don’t have to invest in a LAN, WAN, switches, security and we can open an office within 24 hours. All they have to do is open a laptop and with Office-as-a-Service they are ready to go,” Clemens said.

Skype will be integrated into Office and users will be able to make Skype calls or an IM on Outlook and Lync.

Both haters and lovers of the Office “ribbon” interface will be able to have their cake and eat it with Office 15.

Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of Microsoft Office division, announced that Ribbon will be hidden. To make Ribbon appear the user has to tap on it.

“This works ideally for a tablet interface,” Koenigsbauer said.

User will now have to sign onto Office. This will get them access to preferred settings, the most recent documents, and favourite templates. Koenigsbauer said that Office 15 is meant to roam with you from machine-to-machine. By default all data will be stored in the cloud on SkyDrive. It can also be saved locally.

From there these saved documents can be shared using SkyDrive. A user can invite anyone to look at them, co-author them, post to Facebook or publish them as a blog. SkyDrive, Koenigsbauer said, is fundamental to the new Office. About 60 million people use SkyDrive each month handling more than 10 billion documents, videos, music, or photos.

New features in Office 15

Powerpoint

Powerpoint will have a cockpit view that gives the presenter a view of the main slide, a clock, a timer, the next slide on deck plus review notes.

Outlook

Outlook will use the same aspects of Ribbon where it will give users the ability to hide folders. Outlook will now be able to navigate emails with a finger. The Quick Action tabs can help a user flag, move or delete emails.

The Inline Reply function helps users who deal with lots of emails respond to messages in the email line up.

Office 15 will have a Peaks capability in Outlook where you can peak at contacts or the calendar with the press of a button.

For the developer community Koenigsbauer said they will be able to build Web-based apps in the cloud to be consumed in any office. These apps can also be built in Azure, GoDaddy or through hosted services from a channel partner.

Another two apps inside Outlook are: BingMaps and Suggested Appointment. Users who click on an location-based email will get Bing to present an interactive map. With Suggested Appointments users can click on an email that has a time or date and have it placed inside the calendar.

Word

Word will have a new reader mode. “This is a new experience from Microsoft. Word has always been a great authoring tool and we wanted it to be a first class tool for reading,” Koenigsbauer said. Word will be able to resize documents depending on the device. It can change the background depending on the lighting. Users will be able to view comments and from there do a quick IM, video chat or talk to someone on the phone.

You can increase the font size through a radial app that looks like a speedometer and imput videos, images and clip art through at Live Layout feature.

Excel

Excel will come with a Fast Fill feature for inputting names and figures. There will be a Quick Analysis feature where if the user hovers over data bars or charts can see what they look like and even choose pivot tables.

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