Can The Cloud Keep Microsoft Office 2013 Ahead?

wayne Rash

Can Office 2013 keep Microsoft’s juggernaut ahead of the pack? Wayne Rash thinks it can

When Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer introduced the next version of the company’s ubiquitous business application suite, Microsoft Office 2013, you wouldn’t know that a stand-alone version of Microsoft Office would even exist. The whole presentation was about the glories of the cloud-centric products, and how they could be used in concert on multiple devices.

The cloud-centric features are impressive indeed. For example, Office 2013 is designed to save documents to the company’s SkyDrive cloud storage service by default. You can work on a Word document or another application, such as a slide show for example, and when you close the document on one device and open it in another, you’ll be in the same spot, regardless of the device. Office 2013 is designed for use on large and small screens, on desktop or portable devices, and in a variety of environments, including on cell phones.

Oh, and there is a stand-alone version of Microsoft Office just in case living in the cloud doesn’t work for you.

Touch enabled Office 2013

Perhaps equally important, the new version of Office is fully touch-enabled. When you use the software in a touch-screen environment, the menus and icons change subtly to allow the fat-fingered among us (me, for example) to use the product successfully. This is important, because Office 2013 is going to be included on the Windows RT version of the Surface tablet when it’s released in October.

By now, you’ve probably noticed that Microsoft has made a flurry of major product announcements in the last few days. We now know that Windows 8 will ship in October. We know that the Surface tablet with Windows RT will ship at about the same time. And we know that Office 2013 will be on the Surface.

The new version of Office will run in the cloud, and it will be accessible to pretty much anything that can access Microsoft Office 365 now. In fact, Office 2013 will appear spontaneously to users of Office 365 as the new applications are made ready.

This means that if you want to use Office on your iPad, that’s how you’ll have to do it. While there will be a version of Office 2013 for the Macintosh, you can bet that Microsoft won’t release a version for iOS.

Can Office still dominate?

What hasn’t been mentioned by Microsoft is that this is the company’s push to retain its position as the dominant office productivity application provider to enterprises. Despite the broad acceptance of the iPad and the iPhone in the enterprise, it’s clear that Apple doesn’t really understand or appreciate the needs of enterprise IT.

That’s demonstrated by the company’s continuing opposition to allowing companies to meet their security needs with anti-malware software, for example. And while iOS devices work with Microsoft Exchange, managing iOS with enterprise management software remains a challenge when users can pull themselves out of the management environment whenever they wish.

On the other end of the spectrum, Google has been marketing Google Apps to enterprises for some time. For a long time, Google Apps wasn’t really ready for prime time, but as the company continues to get its act together, it’s also getting closer to providing a real, enterprise-ready selection of applications for use in the cloud and now offline as well.

So Microsoft faces some real challenges from Google, which has been gunning for the Redmond software giant in the cloud space for some time. But Microsoft currently has a significant advantage over Google in the office productivity software business.

Google doesn’t work well offline

For one thing, you get a fully featured version of Office when you’re working offline. Google Docs will let you do some work offline, but it’s limited. For a second, Microsoft is letting you have things both ways; you can work in the cloud when you want; you can work offline when you want; and synchronize online and offline data when you want to. You don’t have to change your business just to work with Office as you do to work with Google.

Microsoft’s goal, it seems, is to really nail down its position in the cloud and more fully in the enterprise. The cloud-based nature of Office 2013 along with the ability to operate fully offline is something that’s necessary to most enterprises and it’s critical to many of them. Not every organisation has real-time access to the cloud, after all.

But there are a couple of things that stand in the way of this new Microsoft application blitz on the enterprise.

The pieces aren’t all there

Perhaps the most significant is that the enterprise version of the Surface won’t be ready until early in 2013. Perhaps that’s long enough for Apple to start paying real attention to the enterprise and realize that the iPhone and iPad are more than just consumer electronics. It may also be time for Google to make Google Apps more fully functional, although Google seems to proceed at its own pace, unaffected by outside events.

The big question is whether or not giving the enterprise the cloud access it needs, the tablets it wants and the management tools enterprises must have will be enough for Microsoft to keep its rivals at bay. We don’t know the answer yet, but it appears to be a push in the right direction for Microsoft.

What’s more important to the enterprise is that the Office 2013 versions for the enterprise go far beyond what’s needed by consumers. You get Lync, SharePoint access, a full version of Outlook (something that doesn’t come with the Windows RT version) along with the ability to work with a mouse and keyboard, a stylus, or just a touch-screen.

In addition, you get full, native support for your Office documents—something else that Google doesn’t always handle right.

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