Microsoft will sell the next version of its Office productivity suite under a subscription model to users as part of its continued moves to a cloud-based version of the software.
Under a revitalised strategy unveiled last night, the software giant will sell most versions of its Office 2010 successor under the existing Office 365 cloud software-as-a-service moniker in what chief executive Steve Ballmer labelled primarily “a cloud service”.
The new software will see documents saved on Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud storage service by default while allowing subscribers to access applications on internet-connected Windows PCs in 'streaming' mode.
Users can also 'roam' onto other PCs while retaining access to customised user profiles, dictionaries and templates.
The suite is split into three editions, all including updated versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access.
Office 365 Home Premium features 20 GB of SkyDrive storage and 60 minutes of Skype minutes for worldwide calling.
The Office 365 Small Business Premium includes shared calendars, business-grade email service, website development tools and high-definition video conferencing.
Larger business customers are catered for with Office 365 ProPlus that features “advanced business capabilities” and cloud integration, and up to 25 user accounts.
Office 365 Enterprise comes with the features from Office 365 ProPlus along with Exchange Online, Sharepoint Online and Lync Online for meetings and collaboration.
A traditional install version of of the next Office suite will be available to companies without a subscription model, allowing for single or volume license purchases. Students will also be able to purchase a version of the suite to run on ARM-based tablets.
A Mac version of Office 365 is also said to become available, but no date has been given yet.
All updated Office applications have been enabled for touchscreens and include some elements of the Metro-style user interface introduced in the forthcoming Windows 8.
Handwriting recognition for stylus users is also built into the new Office, for note-taking and document writing.
Skype and social
Microsoft has integrated its recent acquisitions Skype and Yammer into the new Office editions.
Subscribers will get 60 minutes of Skype calling worldwide as well as Lync, which can be used for high-definition video conferencing and collaboration.
Social features acquired through Yammer, which the company only bought in late June, will also be integrated into the suite. Yammer provides a private social network for business users and will integrate with SharePoint and Microsoft Dynamics.
Office is expected to launch after Windows 8 in a few months’ time. Microsoft is making a preview version of Office available meanwhile, featuring the Office 365 Home Premium version
Microsoft is yet to announce pricing for Office 365 or Office 2013.