By Rachelle Dragani
03/19/12 11:54 AM PT
Officially, Microsoft's Office 15 is in a hush-hush preview stage, available only to select testers sworn to secrecy. But at least one reviewer claims to have gotten hold of a copy, and he's reported that the next version of Microsoft's Office suite carries some obvious nods to tablet users and makes significant use of Windows 8's Metro interface.
Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) next version of its office suite, Office 15, is currently available as a private preview for beta testers. However, a reviewer not bound by Microsoft's non-disclosure agreement claims to have used a copy, and he says the new version has a Metro look and feel to it that ties in Office to the minimalist aesthetics of Windows 8.
The changes to Office make it seem as though the product received a revamp to be a Metro app, even though it was designed for the desktop, according to Paul Thurrott in a review on his Supersite for Windows. He tested a desktop app of the product running in the consumer preview of Windows 8, which is an open preview available to everyone.
Microsoft Word in particular underwent a few changes. The Ribbon, or the command strip atop the document, is still there, but it is minimized by default to create the cleaner design pattern resembling Windows 8 and Metro.
Microsoft Word is also now available in touch mode. That option, as well as the full-screen mode for documents, is what Thurrott categorize as a nod to tablet computers.
There is also an emphasis on cloud integration throughout the newest Office line. When a user signs in, they are automatically signed in with a Microsoft ID and can access and manage connected services. For example, Thurrott reported that he was connected to Flickr, My Office, SkyDrive, Windows Live Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger.
The program that's being tested right now is only available to a select group of beta testers under a non-disclosure agreement. Microsoft didn't officially divulge much information about the product to the public, but it's called Office 15 its most ambitious undertaking yet in the Office line. It's also promised a more complete product will be made available for the public this summer.
The company didn't return our requests for further comment.
Taking on Competitors
Office 2010 has the ability to integrate via the cloud, but the upcoming product will represent the first time that all Microsoft's cloud services, servers and clients from mobile and PC, Office 365, SharePoint, Lync, Project and Visio will be simultaneously updated in the cloud.
The company made this a central point in Office 15 by adding icons for Microsoft's SkyDrive and other Web locations when a user is saving files and by making it possible to connect to other services via the Office products.
"If there's a problem Microsoft has, it's relevancy, and it's losing relevancy," Larry Walsh, president of the 2112 Group, told TechNewsWorld.
Some of its competitors, such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Docs, offer no-cost or lower-cost options to file, share and store documents. Microsoft has to remind users that it's still the leader in office-related services, said Michael Silver, research vice president and analyst at Gartner (NYSE: IT).
"It's hard to say on the office front that they're losing a ton of customers, but they have lost a lot of business to competitors, and there are definitely threats out there," he told TechNewsWorld. "The biggest one is probably Google."
In addition to relying on changes to cloud integration, one way for Microsoft to keep itself relevant is to get a piece of the app market now, said Silver.
"There are a few apps out there from smaller players, but without full compatibility," he explained. "Microsoft showing up could be a significant change to that market and a way to keep embedding themselves in users lives."