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Microsoft shows off new Office 15 features

updated 03:19 pm EDT, Mon July 16, 2012

Cloud, social, touch-oriented version of Office

Microsoft today held an event in San Francisco in which the company showed off the newest version of its Office productivity suite. The new software comes with a heavy focus on cloud capabilities, collaborative document management, and social networking. It also features a significantly redesigned style that brings the productivity software more in line with the Metro user interface seen in Windows 8. Notably, the company focused solely on Office 15 running on Windows platforms, which casts doubt on the likelihood of the software appearing on iOS and Android devices.

In an hour-long presentation, Microsoft showed off Office's new capabilities using a range of devices. The demonstration began on an ARM-powered Samsung tablet, on which the presenter ran through the new capabilities of Outlook. These included in-line message responses and a new "peek" feature allowing users to grab information from their Outlook calendars, address books, and other aspects of the program without having to switch their current view.

Notable among the new features were the additions Microsoft made in order to bring its Office software into greater alignment with the touch-centric trend. The company showed off a circular pop-up menu that can be accessed through a number of means throughout the software. Bringing up the menu presents users with all of the formatting and editing options users have come to expect in the system, but now shown in a touch-friendly interface. In order to account for the smaller screen size typically seen on touch devices, the company has also made the ribbon menu disappear when not in use.

The demonstration also showed Microsoft's work on making its Word program more pleasant for content consumption as well as content creation. To that end, the company has built in Facebook and Flickr compatibility, allowing users to pull pictures straight from those sources. Word and the rest of Office also support live linking, allowing users to embed videos and rich media content within a device so long as they have the html code necessary.

SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage solution, figures heavily into the new version of Office, and the company showed off some of its capabilities on an unnamed white Nokia phone that appeared to be a Lumia model. Documents saved and edited on the tablet device were nearly immediately accessible on the phone. The software also now includes a Resume Reading feature, allowing users to jump back to the last place they were editing on a document, even if they were editing it on another device.

As to connectivity, the company touted both its recent acquisition of enterprise social networking service Yammer and its continuing integration of Skype into its services. The demonstration moved from a Samsung PC to an 82-inch display made by Perceptive Pixel, which Microsoft also recently acquired. Using the camera on the screen, the presenter then began a five-person Skype video chat, dragging participants into and out of the conversation using the touchscreen.

The presentation ended on a less enterprise-centric note. CEO Steve Ballmer returned to the stage to talk about non-corporate users of Office. Possibly looking to demonstrate the software's potential on an individual consumer level, Ballmer cycled through three different individual users, displaying testimonials from them on how Office fit into their daily lives. He then went on to describe the new features and capabilities as pushing the productivity suite into the realm of the "magical," and even "beyond magical." The software is due to roll out later this fall, though Microsoft has yet to establish a date certain.

by MacNN Staff



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