The next version of Microsoft Office, unveiled on Monday, is a dramatic departure from the software that millions of users have come to know, built for the cloud and for touch-based computing and packed with features that make it more social and, Microsoft hopes, more intuitive to use than past releases.
CEO Steve Ballmer announced that a technical preview of the new Office 365 -- the online version of the product -- is available now to download and test at www.office.com/preview. He said it's the first version of Office built from the ground up for online use, and called it "the most ambitious release of Office we've ever done."
There will also be a shrink-wrapped version, called Office 2013, but it was the online version that Microsoft emphasized Monday. The company demonstrated the new applications, including Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook and OneNote, at a press event in San Francisco.
In each case the user interface appears cleaner, with far more white space than in previous versions, and the programs have been optimized for touch using fingers or a stylus. Many of the apps support pinch-to-zoom, for example, and documents can be moved around and off the screen with a fingertip.
The applications will also work well with a keyboard and mouse, according to Microsoft, though it didn't show that on Monday. The apps were all demonstrated on a Samsung tablet running the soon-to-be-released Windows 8 OS.