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7/17/2012
07:59 AM
Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall
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Office 2013: Is Microsoft Out Of Touch?

Newest version of Microsoft's venerable productivity suite is all about touch and cloud, but if users don't see the point they may touch and go--to Google.

I'm writing this in Microsoft Word 2013--comfortably and safely behind a keyboard and mouse. But it's my hunch that if it was up to Microsoft I'd be tapping my way through this assignment instead of clicking and clacking.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer introduced the latest version of the company's flagship app suite on Monday at a press conference in San Francisco. Office 2013 is "the most ambitious release of Microsoft Office that we've ever done," Ballmer said. "We transformed in this process Office to embrace some of the same design concepts and principles that we showed you in Windows 8."

[ For more on Microsoft's new Office suite and what IT pros have to say about it, see Microsoft Office 2013 Built For Social Sharing. ]

Many of those concepts and principles embrace touch. The new Office features numerous changes to make it work on tablets and eventually phones--computing form factors that are fast replacing PCs and laptops as devices of choice for millions of users. Word 2013 on a touchscreen, for instance, brings up a virtual keyboard if the user taps the screen anywhere in the main document. It also responds to a variety of swipes and gestures for opening and closing files, and the like.

Office 2013 also works with Windows 8's Snap feature, which lets users run a conventional application, like Word, side by side with a Metro app. The 2013 versions of other Office apps, including Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, are similarly touch-enabled. OneNote also takes stylus input.

All this touchiness doesn't penalize mouse and keyboard luddites like me, though Office 2013 apps do show some interface changes that may take some getting used to. Word docs have almost no chrome at the borders--a fact that had me missing the file edge and clicking on the desktop a few times, inadvertently triggering Snap. But it's nothing that should throw users into a tizzy. "It's less of a change than from Office 2007 to 2010," Gartner analyst Michael Silver contends.

The real question is whether apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint really need, or benefit from, touch. Is touch enough of a selling point to get businesses running Office 2010 or older versions to shell out however many hundreds of dollars Microsoft may charge for Office 2013? Redmond has not released pricing details, but consider this: Office 2010 Professional retails for $350--and there's no discounted upgrade path from Office 2007.

Google Apps, which starts at $5 per user, per month, is meanwhile becoming a legitimate alternative for many businesses that just need the basics.

There's no question that some types of apps are better with touch. But those are mostly single-purpose, "app" apps for tasks like checking the weather and stock quotes, or finding a movie theater. But Office, even in its newest incarnation, is still an old-school suite of applications. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint were built for complex content creation and authoring tasks. The extent to which it will be practical or even physically tolerable for users to interact with them via touch is questionable.

"We'll have to wait and see if a product that's designed for the Windows desktop and keyboard will work well with touch," Gartner's Silver told me. "A keyboard is an integral part of creation in Word and Excel."

Of course, Microsoft says there's a lot more to Office 2013 than touch. The company touts the suite's close integration with cloud services like SkyDrive, which stores files and settings so they'll be instantly accessible from whatever device a user accesses their Office account. Close a file in Word 2013 and you're automatically prompted to save to SkyDrive (you can also choose to save locally).

The cloud option should prove popular with business users, who might want a tablet on the road without foregoing access to their desktop environment and files. Consumers who use only one device may find it less useful--but again, there's no real penalty to the cloud features. They're mostly just there, albeit a bit in your face. One annoying aspect of Microsoft's transformation of Office into an online service is that it acts like one. I had to sign into my Microsoft account to download the Office 2013 Customer Preview, again to install it, again after installation, and once more prior to first use. With such obnoxious authentication demands, it had better be secure.

Ultimately, Microsoft's approach to Office 2013 is the same as its approach to Windows 8. You want touch and cloud? No problem. Prefer to work locally on the classic desktop? That's fine too. These options are all to the good, notwithstanding some potential for initial confusion.

Again though, the question in Office's case is whether users, including enterprises, will care enough about these options to shell out big bucks for the software. Office accounts for about a third of Microsoft's revenue. If buyers think touch adds little value to word processing and spreadsheet and presentation creation, then Office 2013 sales could be touch and go.

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lajprog
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lajprog,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/2/2014 | 5:19:29 PM
re: Office 2013: Is Microsoft Out Of Touch?
Voice recognition within any version of Android is quite accurate and effective in my opinion and experience.  This is true even when it comes straight out of the Android Smartphone box, without any time spent "learning" and improving upon voice input.  Seri, on the other hand, is unuseable, and even at this point in it's lifecycle, isn't a viable form of input.  At least from my experience and that of my peers.
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2012 | 2:10:43 PM
re: Office 2013: Is Microsoft Out Of Touch?
It's not needed, it's an addition. You can still sit at your desktop and use this interface. What it does is ENABLE tablet users to enter the arena. Add the SkyDrive to the mix and you have a highly portable productivity suite. I wouldn't pick tablets OVER desktops, but if I am out of the office (especially if I were to travel a lot, such as a salesperson) it could be a godsend.

I use Win8 at home and the while the METRO interface takes some getting used to, I do like the ease of use. I will enjoy it even more on my Surface Pro.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2012 | 11:02:31 AM
re: Office 2013: Is Microsoft Out Of Touch?
I still don't get why a touch UI is needed for an office suite. I can see that one wants that for readers that run on mobile devices and maybe they need some slight editing and annotation capabilities, but mobile devices are unusable for content creation. Even typing a short email on a soft keyboard is painful. Who in their right mind puts documentation and slides and charts together on a tablet? Touch 1 - Productivity 0.
ANON1237925156805
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ANON1237925156805,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/17/2012 | 11:52:58 PM
re: Office 2013: Is Microsoft Out Of Touch?
No question that this is nifty. But Paul is raising a good question. Frankly the fastest Word Processor I ever used was WordPerfect for DOS. Beautiful context sensitive help and lightning fast typing because all core functions were done on the keyboard. When Windows came along for a time you could still indent with the F7 key but that went away. At least once a day as I lift my hand from the keyboard, grab the mouse, check which ribbon I'm on then click the proper indent key I think of time wasted.

That's just a trivial example of course but the point is that when an interface becomes an end in itself rather than a tool for easing the user's path, then we're on the wrong path. Microsoft has never figured this out.

So legitimate to wonder whether touch will just add to the confusion or make life easier. As it is, Office is bloated with features I don't need and unnecessarily complex. Let's hope that the new version rebalances some of this.
jjr
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jjr,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/17/2012 | 11:46:24 PM
re: Office 2013: Is Microsoft Out Of Touch?
There comes a time when more mature but less used software needs to be revisited. Touch, keyboard and mousing are not the only way to input information. Voice recognition while it is lame in Microsoft products, which should be updated, could provide a viable input medium solution. I have loaded Dragon Naturally speaking on windows 8 Acer Iconia W500 tablet and saw that it out performed it's Microsoft counterpart.
The new Android Ice Cream Sandwich and Seri lack the ability to get things correct however voice recognition works. The Android folks really screwed it up in the latest OS release. I think maybe they are trying to reach the same level of Seri. My suggestion is shoot for the stars not at your own foot.
This is just another transition in computer technologies. I use to have a wordperfect template with all the hot keys in a UNIX and DOS environment. We have come a long way since then. I applauded the mouse and I am excited about touch.
I am not a fan of logging into MicrosoftGÇÖs website to utilize an application as the METRO interface suggests. I am not real keen on doing the same with Google with the Android Market and I would feel the same way about doing this with Apple. Security is a huge concern more today than ever before and who you trust weighs heavy on my mind.
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
7/17/2012 | 8:05:50 PM
re: Office 2013: Is Microsoft Out Of Touch?
The question appears rhetorical. Cloud and mobile computing has been the primary development focus for more than a few months now. From Cisco's anydevice, anywhere concept, to Android, Windows 8 and Apple tablets to smartphones, everyone is pushing the mobility cart through businesses. Touch on such platforms is the interface of choice not only aestetically but functionally and to continue developing separate product lines for the mobile and the desktop would be about as appealing as producing only 28.8 v.35 modems. I'm smiling as I recall the Google goggles (age old concept in the air force HUD placed in eyewear) published here on InfoWeek. This could hardly be enabled with tap and click. Imagine, rather than a time delayed activation if the gaze was fixed on a certain item in a HUD, would you propose a tethered keyboard peripheral to the goggles something akin to an Avatar's dragon guidance system? If Microsoft wants to sell Office for the mobile market, I don't believe it can not be touch enabled.
AustinIT
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AustinIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/17/2012 | 6:15:08 PM
re: Office 2013: Is Microsoft Out Of Touch?
What Paul should have elaborated on more is the integration of Office 2013 with Microsoft's online services infrastructure (aka Office 365). You will be able to get Office 2013 delivered as full version apps (not the currently limited Web apps) with an Office 365 subscription. That way, you don't have to buy the natively installed version of Office 2013 if you don't want to. That makes it deadly competitive against anything that Google, et. al. can offer.

Go see Paul Thurrott's Supersite for Windows to get the full scoop on Office 2013. I think you're gonna like what's coming with Windows 8 / Office 2013 and Office 365.
hlubinv8l
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hlubinv8l,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/17/2012 | 5:54:04 PM
re: Office 2013: Is Microsoft Out Of Touch?
Microsoft charges $100 or more to OEM PC manufacturers to licence Windows and Office which they install on the PCs they sell. But it costs Microsoft nothing to put their own software on the Surface (or any other computers they might sell in the future).

The OEMs can't compete with Microsoft due to this additional cost they must pay per device.

So will Microsoft give the Windows and Office licenses to OEMs for free (like Google does with Android) so that the OEMs can compete with their own tablets at similar prices to the MS Surface, or will Microsoft kill the competition for OEM "partners" from building their own tablets?
worleyeoe
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worleyeoe,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/17/2012 | 2:23:20 PM
re: Office 2013: Is Microsoft Out Of Touch?
Um, dude, the integration of Office and Windows has always been top notch. From a productivity stand point, which is really what Ed is lamenting about, touch is niche at best these days. What MS has done is given their loyal customers another reason to choose Office over Google Docs, in so far as it is much more touch friendly, at least for the time being.

Ed, a typical MS antagonist, had to write something, so he chose to write a premise based on an open-ended question. Rather, he should have used the product for a month and written a real review, even going so far as to compare it to Google Docs and iWork.
worleyeoe
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worleyeoe,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/17/2012 | 2:16:42 PM
re: Office 2013: Is Microsoft Out Of Touch?
Um, dude, it's $40 not $50. Not sure which Surface device you're talking about but WinRT comes with Word, Excel, PP, and ON. The priced competitively part is obvious as well. The real question is Surface a real product or a reference design for OEMs. MS is launching it through its extremely its limited retail stores, unless they happen to change their minds.
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