The next version of Microsoft Office will be called Office 2016, and will appear in the second half of 2015 (go figure). But how does this tie in with Microsoft's ongoing Office 365 plans and the inclusion of Office for free on Windows 10 tablets and phones?
Microsoft confirmed the naming and timing in a blog post earlier today. Office product management team general manager Julia White wrote:
We are hard at work on the next release of the Office desktop suite that will be called Office 2016. (Unexpected, I know!) We will have more to share on Office 2016 in the coming months, but this suite will remain the comprehensive Office experience you’re long familiar with, best suited for a PC with keyboard and mouse . . . We expect to make Office 2016 generally available in the second half of 2015.
White wrote that in a post that was largely dedicated to the new mobile versions of Office that will be included in Windows 10 for devices with screens smaller than 8 inches. That's not an accident.
Something that has been clear throughout the development of Windows 10 is that Microsoft wants to emphasise that it is not simply casting aside existing users and their needs. That was very much the impression given by Windows 8, a product so keen to promote its touch-screen credentials that it dumped people in the unfamiliar Modern interface and entirely ditched the Start menu. The Windows-using public did not respond with enthusiasm, and when laggard corporates were forced to migrate from Windows XP last year, most shifted to Windows 7 rather than the newer Windows 8/8.1.
The shift to running Office on multiple devices is being handled a little more sensitively so far, and that core message — desktop Office is a separate product — is going to be repeated a lot. "We're going to continue to evolve our full Win32 [Office] apps specifically for the PC," operating systems group vice president Joe Belfiore took pains to point out during yesterday's Windows 10 launch event.
So we have a universe with "touch-first" and "keyboard-first" flavours of Office, the ability to run Office on multiple platforms (Windows, Mac, iOS and Android), and free versions of Office in many contexts. But despite the announcement of the Office 2016 branding, the glue that will hold this together is Microsoft's subscription service, Office 365.
While you can use Office on iOS, Android and (soon) Windows 10 phones, some features (such as Dropbox integration and collaboration) are only available to paying Office 365 subscribers. And if you want to run Office on a desktop, you have to pay in some way. You can buy standalone editions of the Office apps, but it's much more expensive than just paying for an Office 365 subscription. I don't expect that to change when Office 2016 appears.