Microsoft announced the latest addition to its long line of cubicle-friendly Office software on Monday, and surprisingly, it isn't a piece of "inscrutable, soul-killing bloatware per the company's productivity suite tradition," says Alexandra Chang at Wired. In fact, it may even be "borderline cool." Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer introduced what he calls the "biggest and most ambitious Office yet," which melds the company's vision for a touchscreen-ready future for applications like Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and more. Ballmer didn't give an actual launch date, but analysts are predicting late January or early February. Here, five things you should know:
1. There are two versions
Accessing your documents from anywhere at anytime just got easier. Users can still buy the desktop suite software, Office 2013, to install directly onto their computers. But wait, there's more: Microsoft is also shooting for the cloud with a revamped version of Office 365, a purely web-based service (think: Google Docs) that users can subscribe to for a monthly fee. If you buy Office 365, for example, you'll be able to download the desktop version onto as many as five machines, all of which can save documents to the cloud. "It's now your Office, not your machine's Office," Microsoft's Chris Pratley tells Wired. "Your files and data and settings live in the cloud, and get synchronized with any device you own or any device you use."
2. Interfaces are touch-friendly
The various apps now include a new "touch mode" that makes using the software a little more "finger-friendly," says Dana Wollman at Engadget. In Word and PowerPoint, for example, you'll be able to enter a "read-only mode that turns documents into full-screen editions," replete with swappable pages like an e-book or digital magazine.
3. Apps are smarter
Everything is more intelligent. With Excel, for example, a new feature called "Flash Fill" recognizes your data patterns to the point where it can fill in the remaining blank cells for you. In Word, "Track Changes" are less cumbersome — you simply click on a red line and it will expand the thread to include edits and notes. And with PowerPoint, presenters will be able to use many "behind-the-scenes features" designed to make presentations easier, such as a new "Presenter View," which lets you tack on teleprompter-style notes on the back end that your audience never sees.
4. Easy PDF editing
Users will finally be able to edit PDF files using Microsoft Word. Before you'd need additional software, which typically wasn't free. After testing the feature, Engadget's Wollman noted, "We had no problem taking a PDF email attachment, typing in additional material, saving it as a PDF and then viewing it in Windows Reader." It may not be the most exciting update, "but it is certainly one of the most useful."
5. You can try it out now for yourself
Windows users can download a "Customer Preview" version of the unfinished software here, but you'll need Windows 7 or above, says Computerworld. "If you're one of the 50.3 percent of PC users working on either the 11-year-old Windows XP or the five-year-old Vista, though, you're out of luck."