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What we know so far about Microsoft Office 2013

The newest version of Office, Office 2013, is on its way, and admins are wondering what'll be inside when they can finally unwrap it.

Office 2013 highlights: What Microsoft says you'll get

Touch support similar to using a mouse and keyboard;

The ability to handwrite email, notes and other content with a stylus and copy it to text automatically;

The ability to create color content and erase mistakes easily;

New Windows 8-style applications;

Office for Windows RT included on ARM Windows 8 tablets;

SkyDrive access and automatic backup;

Personal settings and data available across multiple devices;

Office 365, the cloud version of the suite;

Yammer for social collaboration and connectivity;

Skype, plus 60 Skype world minutes per month;

Read mode in Word that auto adjusts for screen size; and

New PowerPoint features, such as Presenter View.

Microsoft has been releasing tidbits and previews of Office 2013, so there shouldn't be too many surprises when the productivity suite finally arrives. Here's what we know so far about Office 2013.

What's so special about Microsoft Office 2013?

Microsoft Office 2013 (formerly known as Office 15) is a client software package that is installed on PCs, but Microsoft also has a productivity suite for the cloud called Office 365 (more on that below). Microsoft Office 2013 sports Microsoft's new, user-friendly interface, formerly known as Metro. Other new features include touch support for Windows 8, deeper integration between applications such as Lync and Skype for voice collaboration, and the ability to edit PDFs in Word and embed and play YouTube videos.

The big deal in Microsoft Office 2013 is that it supports social collaboration. Office 2013 uses SkyDrive to store and sync documents, files and settings and to stream apps to Windows 7 and 8 desktops. Personalized settings, recent files, templates and custom dictionaries move with the user across devices. Users can also connect contacts to profiles across social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Yammer.

There will also be an app store for Office 2013 that will offer add-ons and other tools to make working in Office easier. The Office Store is available in beta now. Hertz has developed an app so users can rent a car through Outlook, and Kodak's Capture Office Software lets users add paper documents to any SharePoint library with one click. Developers can start building apps now.

What is Office 365?

Office 365 is the cloud version of Office 2013. Microsoft offers three versions of Office 365, and each one includes the 2013 editions of Office apps: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access. Office 365 Home Premium is for families and consumers and has 20 GB of SkyDrive storage, plus 60 Skype world minutes per month.

Office 365 Small Business Premium offers business email, calendars, and website and Web conferencing tools. Office 365 ProPlus is for bigger companies that want to use the cloud. When Microsoft Office 2013 comes out, customers with subscriptions to Office 365 will get the upgrade automatically. Office 365 works on up to five PCs, Macs or mobile devices, but it will only work with tablets and PCs running Windows 7 and 8.

When will Microsoft Office 2013 be here?

The short answer is that we don't really know exactly when Microsoft Office 2013 will arrive, but there have been some reports. Right now, Office 2013 is in public beta, and it'll work for 60 days after the final Office 2013 ships. Microsoft has a blog where readers can keep up with Office 2013 developments.

Some say that Microsoft Office 2013 will drop in October when Windows 8 and the Surface tablets come out. Microsoft has said that it won't release Microsoft Office 2013 for iOS devices at the same time as Office for everyone else, so if it does launch in October, analysts say that it will reach iOS devices in early 2013. But if Office 2013 doesn't come out until the first quarter of next year, then the release for iOS will also get pushed back.

How much will Microsoft Office 2013 cost?

There haven't been official reports yet, but sources say that versions of Office 365 will cost between $10 and $22 per month. Since none of this is set in stone, prospective pricing could change by the time Microsoft Office 2013 launches. Those who already use Office 365 won't have to pay for the upgrade when it drops. Right now, small businesses can get a light version of Office 365 for as little as $48 per year per user. Again, this may change when the full versions ship.

Can I run more than one version of Office at the same time?

It's possible to run multiple versions of Office on one machine, but it can be really complicated. If you want to run Office 2003, 2007 and 2010, you have to install them in chronological order, and you can only run one instance of Outlook on your system at a given time. You also can't mix 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Office, so if you want to use the 64-bit version -- which only Office 2010 has right now -- you can't have any 32-bit versions of Office on your system. Using virtual machines can help you run multiple versions of Office; just set up side-by-side instances of Windows.

What are the alternatives to Microsoft Office?

There are plenty of cloud and productivity applications on the market to choose from. Apache OpenOffice and Google Apps are both viable alternatives to Microsoft Office. But keep in mind that OpenOffice lacks some of Office's more advanced features, and Google Apps is Web-hosted, so without an Internet connection, users can't get much done. Don't forget to consider file- and system-compatibility issues that may crop up.

This was first published in September 2012

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