July 16, 2012 – The next phase of Microsoft Office is “designed as a service” with deeper functionality for mobility and social collaboration, according to a preview Monday from CEO Steve Ballmer and corporate VP Kirk Koenigsbauer.

Office 2013, the 15th iteration of the productivity suite that includes Word, Excel and SharePoint, will be offered as software or as a registered cloud offering for business and personal use, which Koenigsbauer said is part of “transitioning the Office business as a cloud service.” Ballmer emphasized the cloud’s new role in Office, featuring storage through Microsoft’s cloud document platform, SkyDrive, as an element of modernity and a vital aspect of working on multiple devices outside of the office.

The new edition is also touch screen friendly. Working largely from a tablet –  given out to in-person attendees at the presentation in San Francisco – Koenigsbauer tapped and dragged through demos of new features. Along with a fresh look, Office features efforts to make loading and brief analysis easier in Excel, and ways in which personal contacts could be quickly connected with via internal and external social networks, in part though features from Yammer, the social network provider Microsoft acquired June 25 for $1.2 billion. View of Office programs are tailored to better fit various mobile device screens. Office business apps can be developed in a cloud sandbox through Microsoft’s Azure platform or other providers like Amazon.

Microsoft introduced a customer preview edition on its site starting Monday, though no general availability date or price guidelines was given. Windows 8, which provides the backdrop to some of the interface and usability features with the new Office, is expected to be rolled out in October.

In reviews of briefings on the Office updates, Aragon Research's Jim Lundy tweeted on faster features for things such as "track changes" with documents and a more in-depth SharePoint activity stream. Constellation Research's Ray Wang lauded Office's efforts for widespread business user connectivity, but still put some social enterprise elements behind those of much smaller SharePoint specialty provider NewsGator.

The Windows presentation came soon after Microsoft updated the general availability of SQL Server 2012, which Ballmer touched on briefly among other announcements supporting the new Office edition Monday.

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