Office 2013 in the cloud

21 Sep 2012

Microsoft is embracing the cloud with Office 2013, with subscription models and online web apps.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer insists that Office 2013 is the company’s first product to be “designed from the get-go to be software as a service”, and there’s plenty of evidence to support this.

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From cloud-based subscriptions for consumers, to Office applications “streamed” over the internet, to the full integration of SkyDrive and Skype, Office can no longer be accurately referred to as a desktop suite.

Office 2013 in the cloud: Office 365

Office 365 for consumers

Business users of Office may already be familiar with Office 365: the online subscription suite that gives you access to both the desktop and web versions of the Office applications for a set monthly fee. That model is now being extended to consumers. In fact, if you sign up for the beta of Office 2013, you’ll be enrolled into a (currently free) subscription service called the Office 365 Home Premium Preview.

Office 365 Home Premium Preview allows you to install Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Access and Publisher on up to five PCs – and you don’t even need to wait for the software to finish downloading and installing on your first PC to get going with the new applications. This is down to a new feature called Office on Demand, which is available on both consumer and business subscriptions. It uses virtualisation to provide “streaming” versions of the full Office apps – not the feature-restricted Office Web Apps we’ve seen before – from the moment you click on the installer. So, you can start tapping out your first Word 2013 document within a minute or two of starting the download, even if the installation doesn’t complete for another half an hour or more.

The Office on Demand versions of the apps aren’t quite as responsive as a local installation, and we’d be wary of doing any heavy-duty work on them, such as embedding videos in PowerPoint slides or serious number crunching in Excel. Nevertheless, getting access to full-fat Office apps over even a modest broadband connection is impressive, and it isn’t only handy during installation.

Office 2013 in the cloud: Office on Demand

If you’re working away from home without your regular PC or laptop, Office on Demand can be accessed from any Windows 7 or 8 PC, via this link. Click Create New, select your Office application of choice, and a streaming version of the app is “installed” onto your temporary PC home. It takes a minute or so to download the necessary files, but once this is complete, you get a full version of the app and access to any documents in your SkyDrive folders. We even managed to install an Office on Demand version of Word 2013 on an Atom-powered Windows 7 Starter netbook, and it was perfectly capable of lightweight document editing. Once you’ve finished your work, there’s no trace of the application or your documents on the host machine.

Office Web Apps

Alongside the new Office on Demand service, there are revamped versions of the browser-based Office Web Apps that were launched with Office 2010. These have been redesigned with the spartan, white ribbon interface that’s common across all the Office 2013 apps, but appear to be functionally identical to their predecessors. In other words, feature-stripped equivalents of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that are usable only for viewing documents and light editing.

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