Microsoft had a surprise meeting today for an invitation-only crowd to reveal what we expected to be the upcoming Microsoft Office suite of products. As it would turn out, we were correct on that assumption and Steve Ballmer opened the 45 minute presentation to talk about The New Microsoft Office, or Office 15 - Ballmer used both so we can't seem to figure out which one is right. He began by explaining where Microsoft was and what they were trying to do with the new product and said that with this new generation of Microsoft Office, users will see the "same boldness and beauty in Windows 8 and Windows Phone" brought into the productivity software. Ballmer then added that The New Microsoft Office is the "most ambitious release of Office" Microsoft has ever done.
Starting with Office 365, Microsoft was very clear on pushing the cloud-based services that surrounded The New Microsoft Office, even though there was mention that there would be a version you could install that wouldn't require a 365 subscription. With the preview of Office available today, you can experience "your modern office," with the software focusing on four key aspects: Windows 8 style and functionality, cloud, social and new usage scenarios.
For more on what was behind those four aspects and to learn everything about The New Microsoft Office, click the break.
With The New Microsoft Office, Ballmer made a lot of reference to the "new wave of software" and "new wave of experiences" during the conference. Office is now all about the user, with things like touch and ink support being added to the platform, along with a new visual style, the ability to run on ARM architecture, which we've talked about, and the need to embrace the new Windows App Mode, eliminating your desktop interface that you're used to. "Modern Office thinks cloud-first," Ballmer added before leaving the stage for Corporate Vice President Kirk Koenigsbauer to step on and give us a live demo of some of the important enhancements and additions to the modern Office.
Kirk was big on mentioning that every application has a "new, clean, fluid user experience" and that the ribbon we are so used to seeing is now hidden by default and is now accessed by either tapping or bringing your mouse to the top of the screen. You can also use touch to pin the ribbon if you choose. He first demonstrated PowerPoint, using touch and pinch-and-zoom to select and move slides. Presenters can now "be more confident when presenting," using gestures they feel comfortable with, like the ability to tap or slide to change slides, double-tapping to zoom in, making annotations with a stylus during the presentation or even using the stylus as a laser pointer on the tablet. In the new Presentation Mode, the screen is a cockpit for the presenter to feel at ease, with your current and next slides displayed, as well as a notes cheat sheet, clock, timer and other options right at your fingertips.
Switching to Outlook, we got to see a new Quick Actions Tab, where you can easily get to the features that are most used in the program. Also newly added to Outlook is the in-line reply, and now we can all rejoice as we shout, "finally!" The last new feature Kirk showed off was a thing called Peeks, where common tabs like mail, calendar, people and tasks all can be hovered over to display pertinent information without having to leave the screen you're on.
Moving on to the focus of the ever-important developer, The New Microsoft Office introduces the Developer Model, where you can now create a web-based app in the cloud that can then be consumed in the Office experience itself. So, whether you're using AWS, GoDaddy or Azure, the experience happens inside the Office environment. The two apps we saw native to the Office suite were Bing Maps and Suggested Appointments, where the app would read the text within an email to find dates and locations to help you either locate the venue or schedule the appointment with just the click of a button.
There will also be two new Windows 8 style apps for Office, Lync and One Note. These apps are specifically made with touch and tablet screens in mind and now content can be entered with either a mouse and keyboard, stylus pen or with your finger. New to One Note will be a Radial Menu and all of your commands needed are at your finger tips, like bold, change color, which brings up a color wheel within the menu, font size or even taking a picture right from the integrated camera. You can then crop the picture to size and place it where ever you want in the notebook.
For Word, Microsoft introduced Reading Mode, which allows users to tap from page to page. Word will resize the pages for the size of the device, from something as small as a phone, to a tablet in portrait or landscape mode, to something even as large as an 82-inch display. More on that large TV later. In weird light settings, you can now also change the background from white to black or sepia to make things a little easier to read and with the addition of live commenting on a document you're working on, interactions with collaborators is even easier and can be done from right within the document.
Of course, all of this cloud-based goodness can't happen without the help of SkyDrive, which will serve as the backbone for all things inside your Modern Office. SkyDrive will carry all of your settings, documents and other profile information from one device to another. A nifty feature, known as last location, will also identify where you were working in a document from your previous device and will ask if you'd like to continue your work from that point, and it even works in the Office Hub on your Windows Phone.
For our Enterprise users, Sharepoint has seen a drastic improvement, in part due to the purchase of Yammer. With Microsoft's new social integration, you can keep track of documents, people and other important items by "following" them within the software. Users can preview a document or video that has been added to the timeline with the click of a button without ever having to leave your social surface, bringing productivity and social interaction together in one place. The People Card will allow quick access to your contacts in Sharepoint, allowing you to pick how you would like to reach out to them and the feature also works in Outlook, Word, Excel and brings all of your social feeds into one place along with your contacts.
Of course, it wouldn't be right if Microsoft didn't mention how they would use their new acqusition, Skype, within the Office suite. Skype will be integrated so that you can use Skype via the People Card from any Office program, giving you full access and control of how you reach out to the people you need to be in touch with.
The last program demo was on Excel and Kirk showed off two features: the flash-fill and quick analysis. For flash-fill, users who are copying and pasting a lot of data from places on the Internet will normally have to seperate the information by hand within separate columns and cells. The new feature looks to fix that by allowing the user to start typing one piece of the string and Excel will recognize where that information is and will auto-populate the rest of the column with information it pulls from the long string. Then, with quick analysis, you can quickly order and sort your content into charts and tables, where Excel will even recommend which style and options are best for the data you've provided.
Last but not least, it wouldn't be a Microsoft presentation without a truly "wow" moment. Another one of Microsoft's recent purchases, Perceptive Pixel (PPI), came into play here with that 82-inch, multi-touch TV screen I mentioned before. With a PC running Windows 8 hooked up to it, Kirk was able to display all of the favorite Windows 8 style apps and they simply looked amazing. Everything was sharp and crisp, with all pictures and video being in HD and a ton of information was displayed on the screen at once. Of course, something like this isn't just for looks. Kirk then jumped into a Lync meeting and had a party of five people, all in HD, collaboratively work on the same PowerPoint presentation from earlier. He then was able to drag-and-drop a new participant into the mix and then added the notebook from One Note about this particular meeting. Lync recognized that the document had the time and date of the meeting in it and filled in the information from the meeting as it progressed, including who attended and any important information that was annotated within the meeting. That was definitely cool, especially when Kirk was highlighting and selecting things on the enormously large screen.
Lastly, Ballmer took the stage to wrap up the show and thank everyone for attending, but not before he made another strong push for the ARM-based Windows 8 hardware, which is simply Microsoft's way of justifying the support for two platforms. In the end, though, the event was a great look into The New Microsoft Office/15 and I look forward to my preview copy finishing the download so I can play with it. Are you excited for the new Office, too? Let us know in the comments section below.