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Microsoft Previews Touch-Enabled Office Apps for Windows 10

Microsoft released preview versions of some of its touch-enabled Office apps for Windows 10 today.

These new preview apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint can be downloaded today, although Microsoft added a note at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time in its announcement that some people were experiencing "issues accessing and downloading the apps." The apps also will be available through the Windows Store beta application that's accessible from within the Windows 10 preview. Microsoft had previously released a preview version of a touch-optimized OneNote app for Windows 10 back in January.

The release of these new Office apps for Windows 10 was promised late last month when Microsoft announced news about its next Office 2016 release. At that time, Microsoft had indicated that the new Office apps for Windows 10 would be available when a new Windows 10 preview version was released. Microsoft did just that today. A new Windows 10 preview update rollup is arriving to testers as early as today through the Windows Update service. The update rollup mostly fixes some software flaws in the Windows 10 preview, according to a Twitter notice today from Gabriel Aul, a data and fundamentals team lead for Microsoft's Operating Systems Group.

Office Universal Apps
These new Office apps for Windows 10 are described by Microsoft as "universal apps," meaning that they are designed to run on various Windows 10 devices of different sizes, from big-screen Microsoft Surface Hub devices to small-screen smartphones. Microsoft hasn't yet released Windows 10 for smartphones yet, but the company intends to replace its Windows Phone operating system with Windows 10. It's thought that a preview of the Windows 10 for phones OS will appear sometime this month.

Microsoft talked a lot about its Office universal apps for Windows 10 during a January 21 press event. The ability of Office universal apps to adapt to different device sizes was shown off during the event by Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of the Operating Systems Group.

Belfiore noted that Office universal apps for Windows 10 include a "reflow mode," which is designed to make it easier to read text on smaller screen sizes. They also include the traditional ribbon menu seen in Office. The Office universal apps are touch optimized in contrast to traditional Microsoft Office applications for Windows 8/8.1 machines. Microsoft has described Office 2016, which is expected to arrive later this year, as "best suited for a PC with keyboard and mouse," so it seems that Microsoft is signaling a division of sorts in its Office product line. In other words, the traditional Microsoft Office products may lack the touch capabilities that have been built into the universal Office apps.

Office for Windows 10 universal apps are planned for product release sometime later this year. Although the Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote previews are available today, Microsoft is also planning to release an Outlook universal app for Windows 10. There's no word on its availability, though.

Late last month, Microsoft released Outlook for iOS and a preview version of Outlook for Android that's based on its newly acquired Acompli technology. It's rumored today via a TechCrunch article that Microsoft recently acquired Sunrise, a calendar app software producer, although official details haven't been announced by Microsoft.

Free Use on Windows 10
When the Office universal apps for Windows 10 products get released, they will be free to use on "phones and small tablets," Microsoft has said. Very likely, though, Microsoft means that free consumer use will be permitted, while businesses and organizations will have to pay for subscriptions to the Office 365 service to use them for document creation.

Microsoft may end up requiring an Office 365 subscription for Windows 10 universal apps users, too, if a user wants to tap certain "premium features." At least that's currently the case for users of Office apps for the Android and iOS operating systems. Examples of premium features include things such as inserting section breaks in Word, customizing PivotTable styles in Excel and using speaker notes in PowerPoint, among others. So far, though, Microsoft hasn't provided details about the potential costs of using universal Office apps with Windows 10. Windows 10 is still at the preview stage, with product release expected sometime in the latter half of this year.

Microsoft also has other Office products, such as its Office Mobile apps for smartphones and its Office.com Web apps that run in Web browsers. The emergence of the universal Office apps seems to be an advance over such products, but, so far, Microsoft isn't sharing information about its overall Office product line evolution.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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