Microsoft's next version of Office will apparently reconcile the needs of touch-screen and conventional keyboard users with a special button that activates Touch Mode, according to Mary-Jo Foley's All About Microsoft blog.
Her unnamed contactone with access to the "Office 15" (that's the code name for the next version of Office) technical previewoffered up a screen-shot with that Touch Mode button on prominent display. However, the exact details of that Mode remain largely unclear.
In a Jan. 31 report, The Verge described Microsoft's quest to make "core Office applications" more touch-friendly, although its unnamed source suggested that "plans to build a true Metro style Windows 8 version of Office have been pushed back" due to time constraints. Windows 8, reportedly due to arrive sometime in the latter half of 2012, will feature a "start" screencomplete with touch-friendly tiles linked to applicationsthat conforms to the "Metro" design aesthetic that increasingly defines the company's product user interfaces. (The more traditional desktop is accessible with a single click or tap.)
If that Verge report is correct, that would presumably mean "Office 15" appears first as a desktop app, before appearing as a Metro one at an unannounced later date.
Despite all the speculation, Microsoft has in fact let some key facts slip about its plans for Office, particularly as they relate to Windows on ARM (the architecture that powers many tablets on the market today, including at least a portion of the upcoming Windows 8 ones; Microsoft refers to it by the acronym "WOA").
"Within the Windows desktop, WOA includes desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, code-named 'Office 15,'" Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live division, wrote in a Feb. 9 posting on the corporate Building Windows 8 blog. "WOA will be a no-compromise product for people who want to have the full benefits of familiar Office productivity software and compatibility."
Office remains a significant 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 continues to hold 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.