-- New Office integrated with Window 8 touch features
-- SkyDrive cloud storage makes Office features mobile
-- Skype video-calling integrated into new Office
(Updates with executive comment and product details.)
By Steven D. Jones
Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) introduced a preview of its new Office software that embraces cloud computing and mobile devices in an effort to revitalize the company's core software offering for global business.
"The new, modern Office will deliver unparalleled productivity and flexibility for both consumers and business customers," Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said. "It is a cloud service and will fully light-up when paired with Windows 8."
Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft designed the new version of Office from the "ground up" for operating in the cloud, Mr. Ballmer said. Rather than software installed on a single machine, Office users will access and run the software from remote servers. From there, users can store, share and publish content to other users and open it from a smartphone or home computer.
The new Office responds to touch as well as to keyboard and mouse, the company said. It also offers new Windows 8 applications, such as the planner and note-taking software OneNote and the communications platform Lync.
Microsoft said the new Office saves users' documents by default to its SkyDrive cloud storage service and offers roaming features. Among Office's social features, Microsoft said the recently acquired Yammer offers integration with Sharepoint and Microsoft Dynamics. The new Office also includes digital note-taking, reading and markup tools, and new meeting features.
Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service is "critical" to Office and its ability to work across devices, said Kirk Koenigsbauer, who runs Microsoft's Office division. Office saves documents to SkyDrive by default, making them available on other devices. Once signed in, users can easily return to documents they last opened.
"Whether I'm at work, whether I am at home, whether I'm at school, it's all there for you," Mr. Koenigsbauer said.
Office will work on either traditional PCs or laptops as well as the recently introduced Microsoft Surface tablet computer. That machine will be run on low-power chips from ARM Holdings PLC (ARMH), but it won't compromise any performance feature of the software, the software company said.
"You give up nothing of Microsoft Office when you use a Windows ARM device," said Mr. Ballmer. Designers built the Office to be "fast, fluid and touchable," on all devices, he said.
Office utilities such as Excel spreadsheets, Outlook email and PowerPoint presentation software remain at the heart of the software.
Microsoft needs robust demand for Office as it transitions customers to cloud services and its forthcoming Windows 8 operating system that will run on both traditional PCs and tablet computers. The new version, dubbed Windows 8, is widely seen as Microsoft's best chance at competing with machines running Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android operating system and Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) iPad.
The new version of Office comes as Microsoft redoubles its effort to embed the software in businesses world-wide. Last month, it paid $1.2 billion for Yammer Inc. as part of an effort to develop social networking features to complement Office's collaboration and communication tools. It also updated its cloud-based Office 365 to operate in 11 additional languages and 46 new markets. Office 365 is now available in 32 languages and 88 markets world-wide.
Cloud computing uses networks of computers to store and deliver applications, data and content to Web-enabled devices from PCs to smartphones.
Last quarter, revenue from Microsoft's business division--its largest--grew 9.1% to $5.8 billion on strong demand for its Office software. Microsoft will report fiscal fourth quarter earnings Thursday.
Microsoft shares rose 5 cents to $29.44. The stock is up 13% since the start of the year.
--Nathalie Tadena contributed to this story.
Write to Steven D. Jones at [email protected]