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Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), the world’s biggest software maker, unveiled the next version of its Office software with social and cloud features that will work with touch-screen devices powered by its Windows 8 operating system.
“We are taking bold steps at Microsoft,” Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer said at an event today in San Francisco. “The new, modern Office will deliver unparalleled productivity and flexibility for both consumers and business customers. It is a cloud service and will fully light-up when paired with Windows 8.”
Revenue in Microsoft’s business division, the company’s largest, increased 6.4 percent to $17.7 billion in the nine months ended March 31, the company said. Microsoft is trying to sell customers Web-based versions of its Word, Excel and e-mail programs and add social features to its marquee software suite to stave off competition from Google Inc. (GOOG) and Jive Software Inc. (JIVE)
The updated Office will save documents to Microsoft’s Internet-based cloud storage service SkyDrive, enabling access to files via tablets, computers and phones. Customers will also be able to buy the software as a subscription, which will let them use the cloud to stream applications to any Windows-based PC. Subscribers also get future upgrades automatically.
“We are seeing Microsoft update almost its entire product line this year with laser alignment around touch interfaces built into Windows 8,” said Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC, in an e-mail. “This is clearly a process that is several years in the making and should be seen as a huge bet the company is making to usurp the disruptive innovation brought about by touch screens and cloud services.”
Besides touch controls, the program will also allow users control programs and take notes with a stylus.
Social features will include tools Microsoft is gaining from its $1.2 billion purchase of corporate social-network operator Yammer Inc. last month. Yammer offers a Facebook-like experience that enables employees to collaborate in the workplace.
Another tool, called People Card, lets users see their contacts anywhere in Office, including photos, status updates and information on whether they are online. The Office suite also comes with Skype Internet-calling, which Microsoft gained in its $8.5 billion purchase of Skype Technologies SA last year.
“This is the most ambitious release of Microsoft Office we’ve ever done,” Ballmer said.
Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, has said it will provide the touch-enabled versions of Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint available on its upcoming Windows RT operating system, which will be released in late October and is designed for tablet computers to rival Apple Inc.’s iPad.
A test version of the Office 15 programs was shared with select partners and customers starting in January.
The company updated its online corporate-software offerings a year ago to include a full Web-based version of Office 2010.
Microsoft’s Business Division, which is largely made up of Office revenue, contributed 32 percent of total sales during the nine months through March 31.
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