Microsoft Office 2013: Cloud at the Core or Cloudwashing?

Microsoft has finally taken the lid off Microsoft Office 2013, letting consumers get its first crack at the completely redesigned suite of industry-standard productivity applications, including new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more, with a publicly available preview.

And to reflect Microsoft’s recent reorientation towards software-as-a-service, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer used a live webcast event to demonstrate how Office 2013 has cloud at its core and multi-device enablement as a priority.

But Microsoft is also spending a lot of time and effort hyping how Office 2013 may have the cloud at the core, but “really lights up” when paired with Microsoft Windows 8. Is it really a cloud service if you need on-device software to really take advantage?

ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley has an exhaustive overview of everything we know about Office 2013 and its cloud focus thus far. But here are the highlights:

  • A new, consumer-focused version of Microsoft Office 365 (Office 365 Home Premium) is the backbone of Office 2013, with the primary pricing plan offering one license for five PCs for a downloadable version of Office 2013 on a subscription basis.
  • Microsoft Office 2013 uses Microsoft SkyDrive for cloud storage, which works not only for document and file storage, but also enabling preferences and templates to roam with users across devices.
  • Skype is now directly and tightly integrated with Office for presence and instant messaging. In fact, Microsoft Office subscription plans include 60 minutes of Skype credit, gratis.
  • Recent Microsoft acquisition Yammer is now integrated with SharePoint and Microsoft Dynamics for status feed updates and social collaboration.
  • A subscription model, termed “Office-on-Demand,” enables the streaming of individual Office applications to different devices.

In other words, as Ballmer puts it, Microsoft Office 2013 is designed as a service, not a product.

But even as it shows off the cloud-friendliness, Microsoft is also reassuring customers that there are going to be Office 2013 desktop SKUs, just as there have been for the fourteen iterations of Office before it.

That’s unsurprising, given Microsoft’s obvious investment in the success of the legacy desktop environment. But when several of Microsoft Office 2013′s coolest features, including scribbling notes for later digitization and new, sleek OneNote and Lync applications, are only available with Windows 8.

So I leave you with this: Microsoft Office 2013 looks slick, and I’m extremely interested to see how the new design goes over with the community. But Forrester Research Analyst Sarah Rotman Epps agrees that as interesting as the product is (I’m especially interested to hear more about the new ability for developers to offer applications on top of the Office web experience), it’s obvious Microsoft still has its spotlight on the PC. Just as with Microsoft Office 365 itself, is it really and primarily a cloud service if you need legacy software to take advantage?