Microsoft's next version of Office has reached its technical preview stage. Codenamed Office 15, the platform is being distributed to a select group of testers; a public beta will reportedly arrive this summer.
Office 15 is apparently an ambitious project. "For the first time ever, we will simultaneously update our cloud services, servers, and mobile and PC clients for Office, Office 365, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Project, and Visio," PJ Hough, corporate vice president of development for Microsoft's Office Division, wrote in a Jan. 30 corporate blog posting. "Quite simply, Office 15 will help people work, collaborate and communicate smarter and faster than ever before."
On a broader level, Office faces the same challenges as Windows: in a tech world increasingly slated toward mobility, where consumers and businesses are completing more of their daily tasks on smartphones and tablets instead of desktops, how do you evolve software originally built for traditional PCs with massive hard drives?
In the case of Windows, that evolution centers on its "Metro" design aesthetic, manifest in a new Windows start screen of big, colorful tiles linked to applications-equally capable of operating on both touch-input tablets and keyboard-and-mouse PCs. Those who want a more "old style" Windows experience can flip seamlessly to a desktop environment. It will offer a storefront for downloading Metro-style applications, in a manner similar to Google Android and iOS.
For Office 15, according to a Jan. 31 report on The Verge, that evolution will involve a redesign to make the "core Office applications" more touch-friendly. Microsoft is building OneNote and Lync as "Metro style applications," the publication claimed, while suggesting via an unnamed source that "plans to build a true Metro style Windows 8 version of Office have been pushed back" due to time constraints. Presumably, that means Office 15 will first appear only as a desktop app, with the Metro one appearing at an unannounced later date.
Office remains a significant revenue driver for Microsoft, allowing it to fund cloud projects and other future-focused initiatives that have yet to bear significant monetary fruit. The company is also pushing Office 365, a cloud-based version of the software. Although Office holds the lion's share of the desktop-productivity market, the rise of Google Apps and other cloud-based platforms have the potential to chip away at that dominance.