Microsoft overhauls Office suite for Windows 8, shows new cloud features and Ribbon UI

Microsoft Office 2012 Press Conference (image by CNET)

In a press conference moments ago, Microsoft showed off the newest version of Microsoft Office, its flagship productivity suite, which you may know for its apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. CEO Steve Ballmer introduced the new “modern Office” which has been designed as both a standard app you can buy or a service (Office 365) to which you can subscribe. The new version is built as a cloud-first and touch-first (yes, both) app. Social networking and Skype integration has also been added.

New Interface features

Ribbon UI: Many users rebelled years back when Microsoft introduced its “Ribbon UI” to the Office Suite, which reorganized all of the functionality into a fat ribbon of options that runs along the top of the screen. This UI is returning, but now it is minimized by default. To expand it, you tap on the ribbon you’d like to see. You can lock the ribbon in expanded mode if you’d like. Microsoft claims that this new Ribbon is “Ink” (stylus) and touch friendly. 

Presentation mode: In PowerPoint, OutLook, and other apps, the presenter can now see a simple set of options on his/her computer screen while still displaying a pure full-screen presentation to others. 

Reading mode: The new version of Microsoft Word will automatically resize text and pages to present a document in the best possible way, no matter what type of device you’re on. Video is playable directly from this mode as well. 

Quick Actions tab: Some basic functions will now be docked on the right side of the screen, like Delete or Forward, if you’re in Outlook.

Cloud Integration: Office is now extendable with some basic cloud-apps, like “suggested appointments” or Bing Maps integration. In addition, all documents will, by default, save to the cloud.

Microsoft Office OneNote radial menu

Windows 8 style applications: All Office Apps now look a lot like the new Windows 8 apps, but OneNote will be a full-screen Metro-style application (now called “Windows 8 Style”). Other Office Apps will look a bit like the new style of apps, but will actually be classic desktop apps. The OneNote app will have a new “Radial menu” that allows you to select options inside of a circle of choices. For those of you geeky enough to have played a recent Legend of Zelda game, you’ll understand this menu style instantly. Hardware manufacturers like Acer have played around with circular menus as well.

Images: You can search and insert pictures into Word documents. This is an old feature, but appears to be improved. 

Social: The new SharePoint looks like a little social network for your workplace. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Skype are now integrated.

Excel gets smart: Perhaps more exciting than the new Metro features is the new Excel, which appears to finally have gotten a bit smarter. The new version of Excel can now learn from what you do and separate blocks of pasted content into separate columns and rows. It’s difficult to describe, but it appears to more intelligently understand different groups of data inside a field.

The Modern Office

Microsoft Office 2012 "The Modern Office"

The verdict is still out on Windows 8. But in a worst-case scenario where it completely tanks, it doesn’t appear like it will take down Microsoft Office with it. Office looks more complex than any touch-first applications Microsoft has shown before, but on first glance, it also looks relatively usable on different types of devices, which is good since a basic Office suite will come with Windows RT tablets. If you’d like to try out Office 365, a Web version of Office, head to Office.com/preview.

Lead image courtesy of CNET

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