Foley on Microsoft

Mary Jo Foley on The Next Big Thing for Microsoft: 'The New Office'

With Microsoft's focus on Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and Surface RT in 2012, Mary Jo Foley comments on what Microsoft will be pushing next year

Windows 8, the Surface RT tablet and Windows Phone 8 have wrested most of the marketing dollars and attention from Microsoft in 2012. But the next big launch is just around the corner: the new Office.

The new versions of the Office client apps, server apps and services are more evolutionary than revolutionary. But based on feedback from testers I've followed, the new Office is a bigger deal than many might think.

Office is now the biggest cash cow at Microsoft. And Microsoft aims to keep it that way. The bundling of a free Home & Student version of Office on Windows RT tablets such as the Surface RT is a big selling point for those devices. According to various sources, Office for iPad is coming soon, most likely by mid-2013. With the next iteration of Office, Microsoft is adopting a "store" model with both the Office client and SharePoint, which involves moving from add-ins to apps -- a big change for Office developers and consumers.

What, exactly, is "the new Office"? No one ever said Microsoft excelled (pun intended) at product naming, but in the past year, things have gotten progressively worse -- and confusing.

Office products with "2013" in their names -- such as Office 2013 or Exchange Server 2013 -- are the on-premises or locally installed versions of apps in the newest Office release. But "the new Office" is the way Microsoft is referring to versions of Office sold on a subscription basis, as well as cloud versions of its Office wares (such as the next version of Exchange Online). At the same time, Microsoft's preferred uber-name for the newest Office release -- the client, servers and services -- is also "new Office."

Microsoft released to manufacturing (RTM) its newest Office suite and servers in October, which was about a month ahead of what even the most optimistic of my tipsters were predicting. Between October and November, Microsoft began trickling out the final Office 2013 bits to MSDN/TechNet and volume licensing customers. The complementary Office 365 releases including "new Office" features began rolling out in late October, as well.

But the actual launch of the new Office, as well as commercial availability of all of its parts, isn't slated until early 2013. Originally the goal was February, I heard, but given the accelerated RTM, I'd say January is a definite possibility for launch.

Microsoft's biggest competitor to the new Office remains Office itself. With the new Office release, that situation is unlikely to change. Microsoft is cognizant of this fact. The way the 'Softies are attempting to get users to stop settling for older versions of Office simply because they're "good enough" is to put all the newest features into the cloud versions of the Office products first, going forward.

That's not the only carrot (or stick) Microsoft is using to try to pry older Office versions from users' hands. There are a bunch of new and confusingly named Office 365 SKUs -- including Office 365 Home Premium, Small Business, Small Business Premium and ProPlus -- that are not-so-thinly veiled attempts to get complacent Office users to upgrade. (I say these are confusingly named because, unlike other Office 365 offerings, these SKUs are not hosted in the cloud and don't include any of the cloud-hosted servers, such as Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online. They are regular, locally installable Office products that are sold on a subscription basis.)

Microsoft is marketing and positioning these new Office 365 SKUs as being the best deal price-wise, licensing-wise and feature-wise. The argument is that those who "rent" Office on a subscription basis (with rights to deploy Office on up to five PCs and Macs) will get the latest updates and features before those who buy Office 2013 for use on a single PC.

This attempt to move its user base more fully to the subscription model is the biggest new component -- and biggest bet -- for the Microsoft Office team. The coming year should be an interesting one, thanks to the new Office.



About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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