You can test out a consumer preview of the latest version of Office right now, but what will the new version of Office -- variously branded Office 2013, Office 15 and Office 365 -- include? Here's what we know so far.
What Is It Called?
The short answer is: it depends. Many people are referring to it as Office 2013 (following the convention of the earlier Office 2010 and 2007 releases), and that will be the name of the standalone version. The installer calls it Office 15 (which is essentially the current version number, though quite a few version numbers were skipped). The subscription version will be called Office 365, which is already the branding used by Microsoft for its existing subscription services. The press release announcing the update simply refers to it as Office, and that's likely to be the dominant label (since Microsoft wants to encourage people to think of it as an evolving product, not a static release).
What's Included And What Changes
The consumer preview gives you access to the main Office applications: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access, Project and OneNote. You can run the Consumer Preview alongside your existing Office install, but you have to be running Windows 7 or Windows 8.
We'll have a fuller preview of what's included in Office 365 as we play with it over the next few days. The changes fall into three main categories: interface changes, cloud integration and extra communications services.
As you'd expect, Microsoft has emphasised the integration with Windows 8 and the ability to use a touch interface within the product. This is obviously more useful with design and review tasks than with content creation (in a word processor or a spreadsheet, ultimately someone has to type the words or the numbers before anything else happens). OneNote has a completely Metro-driven interface (which means you need to install it separately on a Windows 8 machine via the Store). Other apps maintain the Ribbon, but tabs are now labelled in capital letters.
On the cloud front, SkyDrive will be the default location for storing documents. Perhaps more usefully, settings will also migrate between different machines and devices, so you don't have to switch languages or other preferences if you change between machines. You can also log into a virtualised copy of Office to access it on machines where the software isn't installed.
Finally, Microsoft plans to integrate Skype and Yammer, two communications tools it has paid large sums of money for, to make collaboration easier and more common.
Right now, Microsoft sells three main editions of Office 2010 to consumers: Home And Student (with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote), Home And Business (which adds Outlook) and Professional (which adds Publisher and Access). You can also use many basic Office app features through Office Web Apps, or sign up for Office 365 in a business context.
We don't yet know the full range of Office editions that will be available when the updated product is released later this year. Microsoft has said full plans will be announced in calendar Q3 this year, but has singled out three editions: Office 365 Home Premium, Office 365 Small Business Premium and Office 365 ProPlus.
Each of these editions will allow use on up to five machines, but seem designed to work on a per-month pricing basis rather than with an outright purchase. That means that you'll get upgrades automatically as they arrive, but may not be able to purchase Office as a one-off outright buy through this method. (Versions for outright purchase will presumably come with a version number, rather than the Office 365 label.) The subscription version will include Office for Mac, so you can potentially distribute your Office installs across PCs and Macs.
The main differentiators between the versions are the extra features: Home Premium will include 20GB of extra SkyDrive space and 60 minutes of Skype calls a month; Small Business Premium will include enhanced email, calendars and web conferencing, as well as site management tools; and ProPlus will have additional business deployment options and features.
We also don't know whether all of these editions will be made available in Australia. With Windows 8, Microsoft has generally been mirroring the pricing and editions from the US, and that seems the most likely outcome for Office as well.
Tablets running Windows RT will get the four basic Office apps: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. (The assumption here is that they'll use the native Mail client rather than Outlook.)