Does the newest iteration of Redmond's flagship software merit an upgrade? InformationWeek breaks down four key points to consider:
1. Microsoft really wants users to sign up for a subscription.
Though consumers can still purchase standalone versions of Office products, Microsoft is aggressively pushing its Office 365 subscription services. For those who prefer the former, the new pricing model offers relatively restricted packages and higher initial costs. For those open to the latter, it boasts immediate access to the newest releases, more flexibility and -- depending on the number of devices running the software -- lower prices. This departure from earlier licensing structures is likely to be one of the most discussed aspects of the new suite, as it remains to be seen whether buyers will view it as a welcome incentive, an annoyance or a strong-arm tactic.
Available only to eligible students and educators, Office 365 University offers the lowest entry cost, at $79.99 for a four-year subscription that permits the full fleet of products to be run on up to two PCs. Microsoft's consumer-oriented Office 365 Home Premium, meanwhile, will set buyers back $99.99 per year. Like the education license, Home Premium provides access to the most up-to-date versions of all Office apps, but it allows installation on up to five machines. Both subscription packages offer on-demand services, 20 GB of additional SkyDrive storage and 60 monthly minutes of Skype international calling.
[ For more on Microsoft's Office 2013 strategy, see MS Office 2013: Will Subscriptions Be A Hit? ]
At $139.99, Office Home and Student 2013, the base standalone suite, includes only Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Office Home and Business 2013 adds Outlook to the package for $219.99. At $399.99, Office Professional 2013 completes the offering with Publisher and Access. The standalone products permit the applications to be used on only one machine and do not include on-demand options, Skype incentives or extra SkyDrive space.
SMB and Enterprise-oriented Office 365 products that include Lync and InfoPath are expected to become available in late February.
2. SkyDrive could attract Google Docs users.
As mentioned above, Microsoft is pushing its 365 options with not only installation flexibility and lower entry costs, but also expanded SkyDrive resources. Despite lacking Word's full functionality, Google Docs has slowly muscled into the word processing and spreadsheet games -- and the SkyDrive emphasis can be at least partly seen as an effort to curb this momentum. Mobile workers and others who collaborate remotely might appreciate the effort, as SkyDrive allows not only storage but also for a document to be simultaneously edited by people in different locations. It also syncs document updates to other licensed devices.
For users who are leery of the cloud, it also provides data security reassurances. If Internet connectivity is lost while a user works on a SkyDrive-stored document, Office 2013 will locally save a temporary copy and automatically sync it to the cloud later.
3. Office 365 is a step toward full-featured mobile document creation.
Like SkyDrive, Office 365's on-demand feature is a nod toward mobile workers. With it, users can spin up a temporary copy of any Office application simply by signing into office.com. The service is available even on unlicensed machines -- handy for times when a user might need to borrow a friend's laptop to quickly complete an important task. The on-demand feature includes access to the user's SkyDrive repository.
Other mobile-oriented features include touch-based functions aimed at tablet and Ultrabook users. Anyone holding their breath for an Android- or iOS-compatible version, though, will have to keep waiting to exhale.
4. From social media to better charts, Office 2013 has a lot of new features.
Many of the Microsoft Office applications are highly mature, polished products. Indeed, many offices still get the job done with decade-old copies of Word running on some antiquated version of Windows. Consequently, Office 2013's enhancements might strike some users as less than essential. For others, though, the new suite offers several compelling upgrades.
Standouts include Word 2013's PDF import function and a reader mode designed to make reviewing a document on a tablet more like reading from a printout. Outlook 2013 boasts improved IMAP support while allowing users to transmit Facebook and Twitter content in addition to regular emails. Upgrades to Excel include Flash Fill, which tries to auto-populate cells by looking for patterns in the user's completed work, and a variety of tools designed to more easily create charts and tables.
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