After months of public testing, Microsoft is releasing the final version of Office 2013 today. The new software package, dubbed Office 365, has a freshened look and feel, similar to that of Windows 8 -- and offers a fresh way of paying for and using the programs as well.
Office 365 Home Premium, which includes such familiar programs as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Access, will be offered with a yearly subscription fee. Instead of buying Office flat-out as you did in the past, you will pay a $99.99 annual charge, which buys you automatic software updates, 20GB of extra storage on SkyDrive (Microsoft's Cloud storage service), 60 Skype world minutes and use of all the Office programs on up to five computers or tablets.
The Office 365 University edition will cost $79.99 for four years; it can only be used on two machines and you can only renew at that price one time. Office will still be available for $219.99 for those who just want to download it once. However, the whole point of the new subscription model is that the software is constantly being updated, just like a website or app.
Your Settings Stay with You
While the service has new features and ways of navigating -- for instance, the ribbon at the top of the screen with formatting tools has been hidden and there's a new touch screen setting -- one of the biggest changes comes with how Office works across your devices. To reflect just how much Office has changed in the 25 years since it was first introduced, Microsoft's Jevon Fark didn't compare the new version to another word processing program, but instead likened it to Spotify, one of the hottest new music apps. Yes, a long way from WordPerfect.
"Think of this as a Spotified version of Office. With Spotify, you are able to log in. With Spotify, you see all your artists or playlists. Office is going to have those sorts of capabilities and more, but with your files and documents and settings," Fark said.
When you log in to Office, you are able to save and sync your files to SkyDrive, Microsoft's virtual hard drive in the cloud, but also save your settings. For instance, if you write in a particular font, that font will be the default on any other machine you log on to that has the new version of Office.
Microsoft will still provide its Office web apps for free. Much like Google's Docs or Drive, you can use the web apps to write and edit your documents with others in the web browser. The Office programs, however, offer many more features.
Windows 8 and 7, No iPad or Windows XP
Microsoft offers versions of Office 365 for Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone. While you can use the browser-based version on the iPad, Microsoft does not have a standalone version for the iPad. According to Fark, Microsoft will release the next version of Office for Mac this year. However, when asked about Office for iPad he said, "Microsoft does not have anything to announce on the iPad."
The software also includes a number of new productivity features, including the ability to edit PDFs in Word; Excel tweaks, which allow you to make charts even faster; and an enhanced presenter mode in PowerPoint. "This is easily the most ambitious version we have released in the 25 years of Office," Fark told ABC News.
The new software is certainly a break with the past for Microsoft. The new Office 365 will only work with Windows 7 and Windows 8; it will not work with Windows XP. The new version will be available for download today from Office.com.