Office 15: What we still don’t know

We know that the new Microsoft Office emphasizes cloud integration with new Office 365 subscriptions for home users, a greater focus on touchscreens, and Office on Demand virtualization, but what about the things we don’t know?

Microsoft is keeping quiet about several key issues, including pricing, release dates, and whether the software giant will be including Android and iOS devices in its Office 2013 rollout.

Microsoft recently unveiled the consumer preview for Office, the newest version of the company’s productivity suite, calling it “the biggest, most ambitious Office” to date. The new version of Office includes integration with online services such as Facebook, Flickr, SkyDrive, and YouTube.

The company is also opening its Office 365 online-desktop subscription service to home users. If you sign up for Office 365 Home Premium, once it becomes available you can install Office 2013 on up to five PCs, plus you get 60 minutes of Skype calling minutes and an extra 20GB of online SkyDrive storage. The Office 365 Home Premium bundle includes Access, Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher, and Word 2013. Office 365 subscribers will also be able to use a feature called Office on Demand that can “stream” a virtualized version of Office to a PC; when you’re finished working, the program disappears from the computer, but your files remain wherever you saved them.

If an Office 365 subscription doesn’t interest you, regular boxed versions of Office 2013 will be available as well.

Microsoft is not saying when the product will be released and the Office 365 companion products will launch. But it’s a good bet that we won’t see the new software suite until next year.

Since Microsoft isn’t discussing pricing yet, we don’t know how much the company hopes to charge Office 365 Home Premium subscribers. Microsoft charged $150 for Office 2010 Home and Student Edition, so that’s probably a good ballpark figure for the amount that non-365 users will pay for the boxed versions.

Will the Web Apps Play Nice on Android and iOS?

Microsoft claims that any Office 365 features you can access in a Web browser will work with Android and iOS devices. But exactly what that means is unclear. Current versions of the Microsoft Office Web apps do not work for editing documents on tablets or smartphones. All you can do with the current version of Office 365 is access your email, calendar, contacts, and tasks via Exchange Online, and view Office documents via SharePoint.

Will Android and iOS Apps Be Available?

We’ve heard some rumblings indicating that native iOS apps (and possibly Android apps) will be available as part of the new Office 365 subscriptions when the new Office launches. Windows-focused blogger Paul Thurrott reports that Android and iOS apps may even count against the five installs for Office 365 users. Microsoft already offers OneNote for iOS and Android devices. Rumors about Office for the iPad have been circulating for some time.

How Long Until the Suite Goes All-Metro?

So far, Microsoft has released just one all-Metro app for Windows 8 as part of its Office 2013 Preview: OneNote. The other applications have clear influences from Microsoft’s new Metro design language, but they still rely on the desktop interface instead of on Windows 8’s new touch-centric interface. Microsoft doesn’t appear ready to commit its entire Office suite to the revamped, touch-friendly version of Windows just yet, and even OneNote is still available on the desktop. But you have to wonder if over the next few years Microsoft will gradually introduce all-Metro versions of its Office programs.

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