The next version of Microsoft Office is expected to arrive later this year. We don't know for sure what new major features will be added to its individual applications (i.e. Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint, Word), but several tidbits about the overall suite have been subtly revealed or officially announced by Microsoft. Plus, there's been plenty of speculation by the tech news media.
1. "2012" (or maybe "2013") not "15"
Although the next version of Office has been referred to as "Office 15" (even the official Microsoft Office blog calls it that), "Office 2012" will probably be its final release name, provided that things stay on schedule and the next Office is released this year. The "15" refers to the version number of the overall Office suite.
2. Technical preview
Microsoft announced on Jan. 30 that a "select group of customers" had been granted access to a "technical preview" of the next version of Office to test it, and provide feedback to Microsoft. These people are under NDA, but on March 6, a number of details about the individual applications (Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word) were leaked, which reveal clean layouts that emphasise the use of white space.
3. "Office 15" leaked?
A year ago, a very early look at the next Office was leaked to the Internet. But this version very likely has little in common with the more recently released Technical Preview. Although it features a media management tool codenamed Moorea, it looks to be a pretty much Office 2010 relabeled as "Office 15," considering that its UI, applications and tools are essentially the same.
4. Teaser video
On February 9, Microsoft released a video that discusses the development of Windows 8 for devices running the ARM processor, but which also teased a few screenshots from the new Office. It gives sneak peeks of how the next versions of Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word will look.
5. Is the Ribbon UI gone?
The Windows 8 ARM video appears to show that the Ribbon UI has been dropped from Office 2012, and the suite will return to a more traditional desktop application GUI. But the Ribbon could have just been minimised or deactivated for this video. Either way, this suggests that maybe the Ribbon won't be emphasised as a selling point of Office 2012.
Microsoft stated that the Office 2012 applications will have user interfaces designed for them to be used with touch screens. It has since been leaked that there will be a touch mode button, which, when activated, will enlarge the ribbon interface and other elements of an Office 2012 app to make it easier to access through a touch screen.
7. Will it be Metro?
Based on what is shown in the Windows 8 ARM video, Microsoft won't be fully replacing the Office user interface with the one the company will be implementing on a massive scale into the next version of Windows: the swipe-heavy, panel-centric Metro. Office 2012 will probably stick with a traditionally functioning GUI similar to Office 2010's (which will be reassuring to enterprise and business users loathe to change).
8. A separate Metro version?
That said, there's speculation that a separate, completely Metro'd version of Office 2012, perhaps with scaled down features, could be released for the general consumer market.
9. Cloud integration
This one's a no-brainer. You'll be able to save your documents to the cloud from Office 2012, most likely to a user account on SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage service. Office 2010 already has a few integrated features with SkyDrive.
10. Uses less power
Microsoft made it a point to mention that Office 2012 will use less memory and processing resources, compared to recent versions of Office, in order to save on the limited power of tablets (and this would also benefit notebook computers running Office 2012).
11. Runs on ARM
The processor used in most tablets and smartphones will get a version of Office 2012 for it. This naturally ties in with the tablet-centered features (touchscreen interface, and lower memory and processing) that the next Office will have.
12. Not for Windows XP
There are many, primarily business and enterprise users, who still have not upgraded from this two-generation old OS. First, Microsoft took away IE9 from XP users (actually, that was no big loss). But now it's unlikely that the new Office will work on XP, since this OS is set to be retired in April 2014. So it's time for you stalwart XP faithful to get on the Windows 7 (or Windows 8) bandwagon if you want to get working on Office 2012.
13. Connects with Kinect?
This is the wildest speculation, but you never know considering the various UI changes that are in store. Microsoft recently released a Windows version of its Kinect, the motion-sensor control unit originally created for their Xbox 360 game console. Its intent is to encourage the development of non-gaming uses for the sensor.
So could Office 2012 let you interact with it through a Kinect, where you would flip through PowerPoint slides by sweeping your hands through the air, for example? We hope so, might as well get some exercise when having to go through lengthy business presentations that already feel like a workout.
14. Public beta
Sometime this summer you'll get to download and try a beta of Office 2012. This could happen between May and July. This try-out period will probably be like how the Windows 8 Developer Preview has been handled; sign up on a Microsoft website, then download and install the software which you will get to use fully for a period of time until the suite is officially released for sale.
15. Final release date
Office 2012 will be released by the end of this year, or at the beginning of the next. Microsoft has pegged December or January, which leads us to consider that the Technical Preview version could already be close to what the final release will be like.