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MS Office 2013: Will Subscriptions Be a Hit?

Jan 28, 2013 (07:01 AM EST)

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Microsoft Office 2013: 10 Best Features
Microsoft Office 2013: 10 Best Features
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When Microsoft announced its earnings for the most recent fiscal quarter, the news included a downtick in profits derived from the company's Office suite, which has traditionally been a revenue juggernaut. The product line's latest version, Office 2013, expected to become available as soon as Tuesday, is likely to reverse this recent downward trend. Mobile workers are among those most likely to benefit from an upgrade, but the big story could be the degree to which customers embrace Microsoft's new emphasis on subscription-based licenses.

Though full retail access hasn't yet materialized, Office 2013 has been available to certain businesses since November, and consumers have likewise had access to a preview edition for months. Microsoft has been offering upgrade options to those who recently purchased earlier versions of Office.

Those who haven't yet sampled the upgrade will find a variety of enhanced features, many related to mobility and collaboration, to sway their decision making. Touch-based commands have been integrated, for example, with tweaks including not only support for various gestures but also icons that have been resized to making tapping easier.

[ Office could face an uphill battle to win over traditionalists. Read Office 2013: Is Microsoft Out Of Touch? ]

Collaborators also have more options to simultaneously edit documents via SkyDrive or SharePoint. Other notable upgrades include: Lync's support for HD video conferences that concurrently display all participants; Word's ability to reformat PDFs as editable documents; and Excel's refined data analytics tools such as Flash Fill, which recognizes user patterns and attempts to fill cells appropriately.

As important as the new tools and capabilities are, Microsoft's new license model might be the most significant change for longtime Office users. Although ostensibly intended to push consumers toward subscription and cloud-based models, the new pricing structure will continue to include standalone purchases. The Home and Student edition of Office 2013, for example, will run $139.99 and includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Those who need Outlook will have to shell out $399.99 for the Home and Business Plus edition. Office Professional Plus 2013 will run $499.99.

The standalone options, though, will offer only one license for one machine. Subscription users will be able to run Office on five devices. The subscription model is further differentiated by its inclusion of various cloud-based services, such as an on-demand feature that allows the user to temporarily stream an Office product to a computer and then remove locally stored files when his or her work has been completed. Subscription customers also are entitled to upgrades to the newest versions of the suite, something standalone buyers won't have access to. Microsoft said subscription licenses will start at $99.99 annually for the Office 365 Home Premium edition, and at $149.99 for the Small Business Premium edition.

The motivation behind Office 2013 and its integration into Office 365's cloud infrastructure is "to get everyone working more efficiently," said Aamir Shah, senior cloud business manager at En Pointe Technologies, in an interview. Shad said En Pointe worked with Microsoft on an early onboarding program and that he expects new customers to take notice of Office 2013's social media aspects and its ability to facilitate collaboration outside a traditional office setting. With more employees working from home, he said, simple screen-sharing, messaging and video chat options will allow more businesses to reduce overhead while keeping employees engaged and productive.

He also suggested customers will grow to enjoy Microsoft's subscription-based model. "You want to have the ability to work on the latest and greatest," he said.

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