By Juan Carlos Perez, IDG News Service (Miami Bureau) | Jul 17, 2012
On Monday, when Microsoft is expected to unwrap the next version of Office at a press event headlined by CEO Steve Ballmer, it will become clearer whether the company is propelling the suite forward for continued success or setting it up for failure.
The impact of the latter on Microsoft as a whole would be catastrophic, since the ubiquitous suite of productivity applications is one the biggest profit engines for the company.
To beat back competitors like Google Apps, Office must evolve into an easier to use, tablet- and smartphone-friendly product, and one that doesn't penalize customers who access it via the cloud with big feature gaps and complicated setups.
Specifically, Microsoft must overcome its reticence to make an Office version for iPads and Android tablets. And it must beef up Office 365, its year-old cloud suite that includes online versions of Office, Lync, SharePoint and Exchange.
These aren't easy moves for Microsoft, in part because they risk affecting the sales and margins of what has been a cash cow product.
However, Microsoft has indicated that it intends to be bold with this new version of the suite, which will be called Office 2013, according to people familiar with the plans.
When it announced a limited "Technology Preview" of the new version in January, under the code-name Office 15, Microsoft said the upgrade would evolve not only the suite's productivity applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but also Office 365 and the on-premise versions of collaboration and communications products like Exchange, Lync and SharePoint. The refresh would extend not only to PC interfaces, but also to tablets and smartphones.