Reinvention has become Microsoft's new slogan. On Tuesday, the software giant released its newest reinvention, the updated Office suite for consumers.
The cloud-based Office 365 Home Premium, under a new pricing model of $99.99 for an annual subscription, offers the latest version of the suite's productivity applications -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access -- and can be installed on as many as five devices by a licensed household.
In addition to Windows-based PCs, the new release supports Windows tablets and Macs, and integrates with the company's SkyDrive online storage and Skype's Net-based calling. Twenty gigabytes of storage on SkyDrive are available to Office 365 subscribers, as well as 60 free Skype calling minutes to any mobile or landline phone, or to a PC.
'Next Big Step'
CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement that the launch of the newest incarnation of Office "marks the next big step in Microsoft's transformation to a devices and services business." He added that the new release is "so much more than just another release of Office," because it is Office reinvented "as a consumer cloud service with all the full-featured Office applications people know and love."
For consumers, one of the benefits of the cloud is the delivery of many new features and services for Office to the cloud first, instead of home users having to wait for upgrades.
Alongside the unveiling of Home Premium, the company is releasing Office 365 University for college students and faculty, at $79.99 annually. The company is also launching a new, crowd-sourced Web site, Time to 365 at www.office.com/timeto365, where users and experts can share tips about the suite. The company said some of the tips on the site include ways to use Office applications for planning a child's birthday party or how to organize a grocery list with OneNote on a smartphone.
Office brings in more than half of Microsoft's overall profit, and the company has said that there are about a billion users worldwide in all markets. The Home Edition is one of a variety of efforts by Microsoft to counter the cloud-based apps being offered by Google and others, while supporting the growing trend of access to documents and, in many cases, apps from anywhere and from a variety of devices. Google Apps, by contrast, is free to home users and is available to businesses for $50 per user annually.
Windows 8 Look
The newest Office uses the Windows 8 look and supports touchscreens. Users can gain access to documents stored online even if their subscriptions have expired, and there's an updated version of Office Web Apps, which offers reduced-functionality editing of online documents through a Web browser. New features in this Office include auto-fill in Excel spreadsheets and additional notes in PowerPoint that only the presenter can see. The Office on Demand capability allows a customer to use a cloud-based version of an Office app on a PC if an installed 365 version is not available.
Charles King, an analyst with industry research firm Pund-IT, told us Microsoft is "being extremely aggressive in its pricing" for the 365 version, which can then be shared across five devices. He added that the adoption of its new cloud-centric business model is having "a pretty big impact" on how the software giant does business, such as its new intention to provide updates to Office 365 on the cloud every three months instead of its previously longer cycles.
Customers can buy traditional versions of Office for a one-time fee, at $140 for Office Home and Student 2013, $220 for Office Home and Business 2013 and $400 for Office Professional 2013. These versions save to Microsoft's SkyDrive online storage by default and require normal updates. The Home/Student version does not include Outlook, Publisher or Access and the Home/Business version does not have Publisher or Access.
The newest Office 365 for businesses will officially launch on Feb. 27, but the rollout has already begun to some large existing customers.