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Microsoft's Office Redo

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Just don't call it "software." It's a "service," and it's the last piece of the company's massive year-long makeover.

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MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL Microsoft (MSFT) has just introduced the final piece of this year's top-to-bottom redesign of its entire product line, a new version of its Office software suite. Only CEO Steve Ballmer says it's not software; it's "a service." That's because it's being marketed primarily as a Web-centered subscription service, though the company won't be giving up the shrink-wrapped version just yet.

So the new Office is cloud-based and tablet-ready. It can take touch commands or keyboard entries, or a stylus is an option-basically anything but a hammer and chisel will work. It's got social sharing features built in, so documents can be viewed and even edited by others.

All the old familiars are there-Word for word processing, Excel for spreadsheets, PowerPoint for presentations-but they've been given a sleek and uncluttered look in keeping with that Metro interface that the company created for its Windows 8 operating system.

Since Microsoft now owns Skype, the Internet-based video calling service, that is built in. Since it just bought Yammer, the business-oriented social site, you can expect that to be popped in any day now.

So Microsoft finally has got all of its little cash cows in a row: The Metro touch-screen interface to take its Windows 8 operating system to the mobile world; the Surface tablet as its own branded variation of a Metro device, and others on the way from various manufacturer; new Windows-based phones with the Metro interface, also from various manufacturers. Meanwhile, Windows 8 is designed as a dual-purpose package, so people who need to use keyboards can toggle from Metro into more familiar functionality.

Office might have been the last piece in place, but it's not least to Microsoft. The Office Suite brought in $22.2 billion in 2011, and $6 billion in the more recent full quarter of 2012 alone. A billion people around the world use a version of it, according to Forbes.

The immediate tech blog reaction followed a pattern now familiar from reactions to Microsoft product announcements all year: Grudging admiration mixed with disbelief. Wired.com says it best, declaring that the new Office is "not inscrutable, soul-destroying bloatware" and is even "borderline cool."

There's also the suspicion among some, notably TechCrunch, that Microsoft inevitably will screw this up, probably by producing so many ill-defined versions of Office that buyers will be too confused to make a purchase.

More valuable feedback is coming soon, when the less tech-savvy masses get their hands on the product. A preview version is available for download. No pricing or release dates have been announced.

After the announcement on Monday, Microsoft stock was up just $.02 to $29.46 in after-hours trading.
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Position in MSFT.
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