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Office, SharePoint 2013 Previewed

July 23, 2012
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Public preview versions of the Office 2013 desktop applications (formerly code-named Office 15), SharePoint 2013, and other key Office servers and services were announced at an event in San Francisco, CA, on July 16, 2012. The previews enable customers to test the products and provide limited feedback to Microsoft. The public previews follow a private preview release among selected customers that began in Jan. 2012. If the upcoming versions follow the pattern of Office 2010, they should be released for general availability in early 2013.

Office 2013 Focused on Touch, Synchronization, Social

The Office suite, Microsoft's most widely used client application for business, enables document editing, data access and manipulation, e-mail, presentations, and collaboration. It ships in multiple editions that include combinations of the following applications:

  • Word (document creation)
  • Excel (spreadsheet)
  • PowerPoint (presentation)
  • Outlook (e-mail, calendar, and contacts)
  • OneNote (note-taking and collaboration)
  • Access (database management)
  • InfoPath (forms design and forms-based entry of XML data)
  • Publisher (small-business document publishing)
  • SharePoint Workspace (offline SharePoint access and peer-to-peer collaboration).

The suite received a previous update in June 2010, which, among other things, took advantage of new versions of SharePoint server products for collaboration and reporting. SharePoint Workspace, known as Groove in Office 2007, appears to have been retired in favor of broader SharePoint synchronization integrated directly into the Office 2013 applications and Windows.

Office 2013 has been redesigned with an interface that supports touch and is intended to be easier to use than previous versions, while exposing more social network functionality and direct integration with Microsoft's online services. It also adds a new extensibility model and continued support for more mobile and Web-enabled scenarios.

Mobile devices and Web Apps. Office 2013 has a redesigned user interface that runs on the Windows desktop but features Metro-style elements intended to increase ease of use and integrate well with Windows 8 and Windows RT, Microsoft's upcoming OSs. Microsoft has also worked to touch-enable the Office user interface, although some dialogs remain hard to target with a fingertip. (For an example of what the new user interface looks like, see the illustration "Word 2013 User Interface".)

A stand-alone preview of Office Web Apps was also announced at the Microsoft event. The Office Web Apps enable browser users to edit Office documents stored in SharePoint, SharePoint Online, and Microsoft's SkyDrive online storage service. While much more limited than the Office client applications, the Web Apps can be helpful for occasional use on computers where Office is not installed. The versions coming with Office 2013 will have a larger implementation of the full suite's capabilities; for example, the Word Web App features a new Page Layout Ribbon tab and enables more layout options. Microsoft did not announce any native Office apps for non-Windows devices, such as iPads or other competing platforms, although the new Office Web Apps could serve those users.

Settings and data roaming. Office 2013 includes a number of features that enable a user's Office data and settings to roam across multiple devices, even if the user is not a member of an Active Directory domain and therefore cannot leverage Windows roaming user profiles. For example, an Office 2013 user will be able to close a document on one computer and open the document on another computer or in an Office Web App, and the document will open at the place where the user left off. Office 2013 files and customizations (such as custom dictionaries and templates) will also roam with users. The roaming relies on online storage and security account services, including Microsoft's SkyDrive and Microsoft Account (Windows Live ID).

Online deployment. Microsoft will deliver Office 2013 subscriptions over the Internet using its Application Virtualization (App-V) technology, which enables faster initial installation and updating than the current Office installation technology and allows multiple Office versions to coexist on a single computer. In particular, the company will use App-V to deliver Office to customers of Office 365, a set of service plans that combines the Microsoft-hosted online services (such as Exchange Online) with optional subscription licenses to Office Professional Plus.

Social networking and voice. Facebook and other social networking sites continue to handle an increasing share of communications. Office 2013 will use a People Card interface (like that currently used by Lync 2010) to provide at-a-glance information about contacts. The planned People Card, which is different from the Windows 8 Metro-style People application, will include status updates and other information from public social networks Facebook and LinkedIn, a function currently performed by the Outlook Social Connector plug-in. Presence and communication features in the Office applications that currently require the Lync 2010 client software will work with the Skype client and service; for example, users will be able to see Skype presence, send instant messages, and start Skype calls from Outlook. Lync will still be available with Office 2013. Metro-style Lync and OneNote applications are planned that will be the first Office applications to use the new WinRT application platform included in Windows 8 and Windows RT.

Application extensibility. While versions of Office 2013 for use on Windows 7 and Windows 8 will continue to support the existing Visual Basic for Applications extensibility model, the version of Office 2013 included in Windows RT and the Office Web Apps do not. However, all three support a new extensibility model, referred to as Apps for Office, known in earlier previews as Agaves. Using HTML5, XML, CSS3, JavaScript, and server-based Representational State Transfer (REST) APIs, Apps for Office provide Web pages hosted within Office client applications or Office Web Apps. These Web pages can function much as an ActiveX control may have in the past, but use more common Web technologies and pose less of a security threat than ActiveX controls do. They should also work on any platform where Office 2013 and Office Web Apps are available.

SharePoint 2013 Tightly Integrated with Office 2013

SharePoint 2013 promises document sharing enhancements, more extensive social networking, improved deployment and management for hosters, integrated search and discovery, and easier application development. It features a user interface that has been redesigned in a similar manner to the Office 2013 applications, including a simplified design with minimal user interface chrome and improvements for access from mobile devices. With SharePoint 2013, Microsoft appears to be emphasizing the out-of-the-box use of SharePoint, and de-emphasizing large-scale, complex branding and customization of sites, as mentioned in the SharePoint Team Blog introducing SharePoint 2013.

Document sharing and collaboration. SharePoint 2013 offers an out-of-the-box option for synchronizing user content. Where consumers will use SkyDrive to synchronize Office 2013 content, enterprise users can synchronize content using SkyDrive Pro, a service built directly into SharePoint Online and SharePoint 2013 which synchronizes directly into Windows folders. This service can synchronize a user's own content as well as SharePoint document libraries and is managed directly through Windows Explorer as SharePoint Libraries, in the same manner as SkyDrive integration.

Social networking. SharePoint 2013 features social networking functionality integrated directly from Microsoft's recently acquired Yammer technology, aggregated outside feeds including Facebook and LinkedIn, and a significantly redesigned My Sites and team sites. Users can specify they like certain content in a similar manner to Facebook and elect to follow updates on other content or contributions from specific users.

Search and discovery. Search and content discovery are key to SharePoint 2013, and SharePoint will take advantage of social networking content and suggest content based on results from social networking features. The acquired FAST technology is now directly integrated, providing search of documents, sites, users, and multimedia content through an extensible query framework. Previously, FAST required development integration into SharePoint in order for an organization to be able to benefit from it and required secondary administration. This has likely been integrated directly into SharePoint 2013's administration interface.

Content management. SharePoint's features for managing content retention and destruction have been extended to manage across content from other sources (such as Exchange mailboxes and Lync) without requiring copying of content into SharePoint.

Development. Easier development of workflows and a new, simplified application model, called the Cloud App Model, should enable more customization of SharePoint Online and easier customization of SharePoint 2013 on-premises. The SharePoint Cloud App Model is similar to the Apps for Office model and includes development using HTML5, XML, CSS3, JavaScript, and REST APIs, as well as support for OAuth for authentication and OData for data interchange. Microsoft has provided a preview release of a new toolset, code-named Napa, for development of SharePoint Cloud Apps and Apps for Office moving forward.

Availability and Resources

Microsoft has not announced general availability of Office 2013 or SharePoint 2013, but both are expected during the first half of 2013. Microsoft has also not provided any pricing or licensing information for Office 2013, SharePoint 2013, or Office 365 services. Office 2013 will require Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Server 2008 R2, or Windows Server 2012. Special versions of Word 2013, Excel 2013, PowerPoint 2013, and OneNote 2013 will be included within Windows RT on ARM devices. SharePoint 2013 will require Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2012 and SQL Server 2008 R2 or SQL Server 2012.

The Office 2013 Preview page for IT pros is at technet.microsoft.com/office/fp160948.

The SharePoint 2013 Preview home page is at sharepoint.microsoft.com/en-us/preview/sharepoint-benefits.aspx.

The SharePoint Team blog introducing SharePoint 2013 is available at sharepoint.microsoft.com/blog/Pages/BlogPost.aspx?pID=1012.

Apps for Office 2013 and SharePoint 2013 are discussed at msdn.microsoft.com/en-US/office/apps/fp160950.

The development tool code-named Napa for Apps for Office is introduced at blogs.msdn.com/b/jasonz/archive/2012/07/17/introducing-napa-office-365-development-tools.aspx.