Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has focused a lot of attention on Windows 10, but another one of the company's signature offerings -- Office -- will undergo a major overhaul for launch along with the operating system.
The revamp of Windows gets more press because the current version, Windows 8, flopped with consumers. A new version of Office has never bombed that badly because, well, the software suite hasn't changed that much over the years. Word from the mid-to-late 90s looks shockingly like Word today, and the same could be said for Excel, Outlook, and even PowerPoint.
That's not to say these programs have not evolved. They have, of course, added new features, and improved incrementally over the years. Now, however, as devices that aren't traditional desktops or laptops become increasingly important, it appears to be time for Office to make a big leap forward.
Microsoft's general manager for the Office Product Management team, Julia White, took to the company's blog recently to detail some of the changes. She described a future where Windows 10 and the mobile-first, cloud-first world that CEO Satya Nadella often talks about dictate new Office experiences.
A little bit of human touch
While Office was finally released last year for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhones and iPads as well as devices running Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) this year, one of the big complaints about it is that it's just the desktop/laptop software ported to tablets and phones. The iOS and Android versions, not to mention the version running on Windows 8 tablets and phones, do not take advantage of touch. White said this is going to change.
"Over the past 12 months, you've seen us reimagine the traditional Office experience for a mobile-first, cloud-first world," she wrote. "The next step in this journey is the delivery of touch and mobile optimized versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook for Windows 10."
This version of Office, dubbed Office for Windows 10 will offer touch-optimized versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook that "work great on small screen devices like your phone and tablet -- all the way up to the Microsoft Surface Hub," she wrote.
A separate version of the software, Office 2016, will be optimized for computers using a traditional keyboard and mouse as well as those not running Windows 10. But, while there will be two versions of the program with efficiencies and controls designed to work best with the device it's being used on, there will be one overriding Office experience, at least for Win10 users.
One of the key features of Windows 10 is that the operating system will be the same across all platforms. Your experience will be optimized based on whether you're using a desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone, but there will be one Windows for every device.
With Office, there are two versions, but the software is designed to offer a seamless transition between devices. That's good not just for users, but also for companies looking to develop software that works with the Microsoft suite.
"As 'universal' Office apps, they truly are the same app across device size, providing a consistent way for independent software vendors and developers to extend and integrate with Office apps," White wrote.
In addition, even the most basic Office 365 subscription allows for installing the software on a laptop/desktop as well as a mobile device. Add in the fact that Microsoft has made its free apps more useful on phones and small tablets (allowing editing instead of only viewing), and customers should be able to experience an Office that travels with them flawlessly.
Office for everyone
Office used to be a Windows desktop and laptop experience that was begrudgingly offered to Apple Mac desktop and laptop users. The idea of the software being useful, let alone optimized for tablets and phones, has developed over the last 12 months.
Now it seems clear that Microsoft wants Office to be an OS-agnostic, device-agnostic software offering. By committing to optimizing for touch -- along with the recent commitment to iOS and Android -- Microsoft has made Office documents truly universally accessible.
That's good news for PC users, and it makes Office a franchise with a value that remains even if Windows falters. That may be an unintentional hedge for Microsoft, but it strengthens the company to have its productivity franchise enhanced, but not dependent upon, the success of the OS.