Microsoft’s bet on the cloud—and thus on its data centers, built to handle the combined load of millions of customers—just grew a lot bigger with the unveiling of the latest version of Office. (The customer preview is available here.)
Indeed, the new Office is decidedly cloud-centric: it saves documents to Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud-storage hub by default, allowing users to access their files on a PC, smartphone or tablet. Personalized settings (including templates and custom dictionaries) will “roam” across virtually all devices. Tangent to that, screen sizes and markups will adjust for large and small screens.
The new Office also incorporates the results of Microsoft’s recent acquisitions, including Yammer—a business-centric social network with SharePoint and Microsoft Dynamics integration—and Skype. It includes the People Card available in Windows 8 and Windows Phone, which features individuals’ contact information and social-networking activity.
In a nod to Microsoft’s increasing focus on touch-screens—as epitomized by Windows Phone and its recently unveiled Surface tablet—Office has been designed to support touch controls such as pinch, zoom and swipe. Microsoft will include versions of the new Office with Windows RT, its upcoming version of Windows 8 for ARM-based devices.
In addition, Microsoft has introduced three new Office 365 subscription services: Office 365 Home Premium (with 20GB of SkyDrive storage and 60 minutes of Skype world minutes; aimed at families and consumers), Office 365 Small Business Premium (business-grade email and other tools for SMBs), and Office 365 ProPlus (more advanced business capabilities and management tools, for enterprises).
Ever since it announced an “all in” cloud strategy a few years back, Microsoft has focused on making some of its most important platforms more cloud-centric. In addition to more consumer-focused products such as Office, Microsoft has developed more cloud services for developers and IT administrators; earlier in July, for example, the company announced that it would bring Windows Azure Web Sites, Virtual Machines, Service Management Portal and APIs to Windows Server—essentially, setting up a platform through which its partners can start offering Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).
Such moves put Microsoft on a firm collision course with cloud-centric tech titans such as Amazon and Google. But it’s a move the company feels it needs to make, lest it tumble into obsolescence. With more of its customers in the cloud, the pressure on Microsoft’s data center infrastructure to deliver services will only increase, especially if the newest version of Office proves a massive hit.