Calling it the biggest and most ambitious redesign of a software package it has ever done, Microsoft has unveiled the "customer preview" version of its new update of Microsoft Office, a widely-used suite in both homes and the workplace.
The redesign is an abrupt departure from previous versions, in that it makes use of touch-screen features, social networking and the cloud.
"We are taking bold steps at Microsoft," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. "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."
When running on Windows 8, Microsoft says Office will function with touch, as well as the keyboard and mouse. You'll be able to add new content and access features through touch.
You can also use a stylus to create content, take notes and access features. Should the mood strike you, you can handwrite email responses and convert them automatically to text. The stylus may be used as a laser pointer when presenting. It also allows you to color your content and erase your mistakes.
In the cloud
The cloud feature may be the biggest departure. Microsoft says the new Office saves documents to SkyDrive by default, so content is always available no matter what device you happen to be using. Your documents are also available offline and sync when you reconnect.
Once signed in to Office, your personalized settings show up on all your devices, including your most recently used files, templates and even your custom dictionary. Microsoft calls this its "roaming" feature. With a subscription, you can access Office even when you are away from your PC by streaming full-featured applications to an Internet-connected Windows-based PC.
Microsoft said it plans to offer the upgrade as a local version called Office 2013 and the cloud-based version that will be sold on a subscription basis and called Office 365. It will be sold in three packages:
Office 365 Home Premium - designed for families and consumers. This service also includes an additional 20 GB of SkyDrive storage and 60 minutes of Skype world minutes per month.
Office 365 Small Business Premium - designed for small businesses. This service also includes business-grade email, shared calendars, website tools and HD webconferencing.
Office 365 ProPlus - designed for enterprise customers who want advanced business capabilities and the flexibility to deploy and manage in the cloud.
Microsoft said the new Office will be released in the fall, along with Windows 8.