Microsoft launches new Office for consumers

Microsoft Corp launched new Office software for home users on Tuesday, featuring constantly updated, online access to documents from all kinds of devices as the world’s largest software company attempts to tailor its most profitable product to a mobile generation.

The new Office suite of applications – including desktop staples Outlook email, Excel, Word and PowerPoint – is aimed at home users rather than businesses, and is designed to extend Microsoft’s domination of the workplace to the home office and beat back growing competition from Google Inc’s free online apps.

“The notion of an always up-to-date streaming version of Office comes directly from how people are using devices today,” said Kurt DelBene, head of Microsoft’s Office unit, in a phone interview. “You really want all your content to roam with you. We see that as an opportunity to deliver what customers are asking for.”

The version of the new software launched on Tuesday, called Office 365 Home Premium, is the first major overhaul of Office since 2010. Big companies, which generally buy Microsoft’s software under multi-year contracts, already got the latest features of the new Office in December.

Tuesday was the first look for individual customers, and initial reactions were positive at Microsoft’s flagship Seattle store.

“It looks badass. And that whole touch-screen thing now,” said Kouichi Armga, 25, who works at Trader Joe’s grocery store and studies at the University of Washington in Tacoma, after seeing the new Office run on touch-screen hardware.

“It was actually very impressive,” said Jeremy Payne, 26, from Olympia, Washington, who works in retail and is studying public relations at the local Evergreen State College. “The biggest thing was the new PowerPoint. I was really excited to see the new PowerPoint.”

Payne, an avowed Apple Inc enthusiast, said the new Office was “really rad,” but it might be hard to drag Mac users away from their Apple-centered world.

“They have their work cut out for them pulling people from Apple,” he said. “The Apple system is so integrated to my way of thought.”

After downloading the basic programs online, users can access the latest versions of all Office applications from up to five devices on a subscription basis for $100 a year.

The software will be updated online, marking a change from the past where users had to wait years for upgrades to installed software.

It is the latest step in what Chief Executive Steve Ballmer called Microsoft’s “transformation to a devices and services business,” making the company more like Apple.

The new Office largely adopts the look of last year’s Windows 8, with a cleaner, more modern-looking design and includes touch-screen capability.

The “ribbons” showing commands in Word and Excel are mostly unchanged. For the first time the package includes online calling and video service Skype, which Microsoft bought in 2011.

Users’ work can be stored on their devices but also in remote data centers – known as the cloud – and the latest version of a document can accessed from any licensed device with a browser.