Most of the attention on Redmond this year is focused on the upcoming Windows 8 operating system. But, the next generation of Microsoft Office is also currently under development--ostensibly to be launched along side Windows 8 this fall--and Office 15 has the potential to be the real hero among the two.
Microsoft has made a number of major changes to the latest version of Windows—not the least of which are the touchscreen optimized Metro interface, and adding ARM-based tablets as an option. But, as the de facto productivity suite for businesses, Microsoft Office is the standard bearer of the Microsoft Windows operating system and Office 15 has the power to drive adoption of Windows 8 by taking advantage of the unique capabilities of the new OS.
I have not personally had a chance to play with the Office 15 beta yet, but I have had the opportunity to live vicariously through Paul Thurrott, a respected authority on Microsoft and technology in general. After reading Paul’s feedback on Office 15, it seems to me there are certain aspects that users and IT admins will appreciate.
1. Hidden Ribbon
Personally, I like the ribbon interface, and I’m glad that Microsoft is extending that same functionality across virtually every product it makes. But, many people don’t appreciate it like I do, and even though I’m a fan I’d still like to work on a less cluttered workspace sometimes.
Thurrott reports that Office 15 continues the legacy of the ribbon UI, but that it is hidden by default. He points out that the move probably has something to do with accommodating the simplicity of the Metro interface.
2. Touch Mode
Microsoft is jumping into the tablet game with Windows 8--with both traditional Intel/AMD-based architecture, as well as Windows on ARM (WOA) for ARM-based tablet hardware. One of the defining elements of tablets is the lack of a physical keyboard, and the dependence on a touchscreen interface for multi-gesture navigation.
Office 15 applications have a Touch Mode button to make the software easier to use with a touchscreen device. According to Thurrott, Touch Mode enlarges the ribbon buttons and other controls, and spaces things out more so you can swipe and tap more accurately with your fingers.
3. Office Marketplace
You can’t develop anything these days without launching some sort of app store, and Office 15 won’t be an exception to that rule. Microsoft is planning the Office Marketplace as a resource for users to find extensions and tools to expand the capabilities of the Office software, and customize it to work the way you need it to.
4. Password Protected Change Tracking
As a writer, I love being able to track changes within a document. It makes it much easier to follow feedback and comments, and to be able to see what was added, deleted, or changed, from the original. However, anyone with access to the file can accept changes or delete comments, and the tracking will be gone.
Word 15, the Office 15 version of Microsoft Word, allows you to password protect change tracking so that only you—or someone with the designated password—can delete those changes.
5. Weather Bar
Outlook 15 sports a weather bar in Calendar mode. Obviously the weather updates can only predict so far into the future--usually a week to 10 days tops--but, now you can have at-a-glance access to the predicted weather conditions on a given day to help you plan out your week.
6. Inline Replies
Following the lead of the Office Web Apps version of Outlook, Outlook 15 will no longer pop open a new window to reply to an email message. Thurrott says, “Now, replies happen inline by default, and in the area normally reserved for the reading pane.”
This is just the tip of the iceberg, really. Microsoft seems to be going to great lengths to make Office 15 perform a delicate balancing act. It appears to be designed with tablets and touchscreen in mind, and take advantage of various elements of Windows 8, but it also contains a variety of updates and improvements that will benefit users on legacy Windows 7 desktops as well.
I’m not entirely confident in the overall success of Windows 8 yet, but it seems to me that Office 15 has a lot of promise.