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Updated Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 09:47 AM

New Microsoft Office: in the cloud or traditional software

By Janet I. Tu
Seattle Times technology reporter

Microsoft is expected to release its newest version of Office on Tuesday — its latest in a recent line of big-deal launches.

The launch — which the official Office Twitter account teased Monday by referring to a Tuesday event in New York City — marks a big change in how many consumers will buy Office, a suite of programs for work such as word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.

While people will still be able to buy the program by downloading it or by purchasing a software package at a store, the run-up to its release indicated Microsoft is clearly pushing a new subscription model for Office.

Under this new model, people would pay a subscription price to access Office online — what Microsoft is calling Office 365.

For instance, a customer would pay $8.33 a month for the Home Premium version, which allows the person to use Office on up to five PCs or Macs.

A user’s content is then, by default, automatically stored in SkyDrive, Microsoft’s personal cloud offering — meaning it can be easily accessed whether using a PC or Mac or a Windows tablet or phone. (Users can also choose to store their content on their local drive.)

As long as customers keep paying for a subscription, they will automatically get updates and the newest features as they come out.

In contrast, the traditional software package — what Microsoft is referring to as Office 2013 — will be priced at $139.99 for the Home & Student version and $219.99 for the Home & Business version, and is licensed for use on only one device.

It’s part of Microsoft’s move toward becoming more of a devices-and-services company in which people pay for devices (such as tablets, smartphones and PCs) that will run programs and applications largely available as online services.

“For some people, that could be a hangup — for the near term,” said Wes Miller, an analyst with the independent research firm Directions on Microsoft.

Consumers will have to decide which model makes economic sense for them.

“The more you use Office, the more PCs you have, and the more frequently you upgrade, the more this [the subscription model] makes sense,” said Miller.

Another big change people will have to get used to is the different user interface, said Miller, who’s been using the newest version of Office, which has been available to volume-licensing customers and to those who subscribe to certain Microsoft software-development and IT-support programs.

The new Office design echoes that of Windows 8: flatter, with cleaner lines and fewer borders. It’s also more touch-friendly, with menu icons that are slightly bigger and more widely spaced apart, Miller said.

Overall, one of the things he found most useful, Miller said, was the automatic syncing.

In this feature, users create a document on one machine and automatically have it saved to SkyDrive. In turn, other users can then access documents from other machines or work on it with others in a group via SharePoint, Microsoft’s collaboration software.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @janettu


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