Microsoft's Office 15: To Metro or not to Metro?

Microsoft's Office 15: To Metro or not to Metro?

Summary: Will Microsoft make Office 15 a Metro-style app on Windows 8? Inquiring customers and partners would like to know.

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The Verge posted on January 31 what author Tom Warren concedes is a rumor -- at least at this point -- about Office 15 not being a "Metro style" app/suite, but, instead, incorporating some Metro elements to varying degrees in different Office apps.

Whether Microsoft would make Office 15 a Metro application is something Microsoft watchers, partners and customers have been wondering about for more than a year. Metro -- in case you need a refresher -- is a design language and style that Microsoft is using in a number of its products, from Windows Phone to Windows 8. Metro-style apps, in Windows 8 parlance, are "modern, immersive" apps which are developed using the WinRT Windows runtime that was introduced with Windows 8.

Despite the fact that the Technical Preview of Office 15 for select customers and partners kicked off yesterday, we still don't know for sure which way(s) the Softies have decided to go with Office 15: Metro, non-Metro or partially Metro.

At the Financial Analyst Meeting (FAM) in September 2011, CEO Steve Ballmer told attendees that Microsoft was "thinking hard" about what it would mean to make Office 15 a Metro-style app. But Ballmer never actually said that Microsoft's plan was to go this route.

Some folks have assumed that Microsoft would have to go Metro in order to make Office 15 more touch-centric and suited for Windows 8 tablets and touch PCs. But Microsoft design director Steve Kaneko told the Verge late last year that this wasn't necessarily the case.

From a synopsis of the Kaneko interview on the Verge:

"(The large Metro style interface, designed for touch interaction, doesn't scale in an obvious way to software like Office that has a lot of dense information. While Metro attempts to eliminate what Microsoft calls 'chrome' (superfluous design elements), he says that chrome has traditionally served a functional purpose in crowded applications, and the design team now has to express grouping and visual hierarchy with composition, layout, font scaling, and contrast ratios."

There's also, obviously, the need for speed in terms of rolling out the next version of Office. Microsoft officials haven't said when to expect Office 15 to be generally available (the public beta is due late this summer), but I continue to hear the target is end of calendar 2012. That's not a whole lot of time to redo Office and all of its many piece parts as Metro-style apps -- even if you give the Office team a generous head start and say they potentially could have begun working on a Metro-style Office back in January 2011, when Microsoft first showed off early Windows 8 prototypes.

If Microsoft isn't redoing Office 15 as a Metro-style app, this means at least the Windows 8 version of Office 15 will be a Desktop app. Desktop apps are "legacy style" Windows apps that are designed to work on x86-based versions of Windows 8. Last we heard officially, there also would be support for Desktop apps on ARM-based Windows 8, but Microsoft officials have declined to confirm this remains the case, after some rumors to the contrary. (Hopefully once Microsoft gets some Windows 8 ARM tablets into the hands of testers, we'll know for sure.)

Also, last we head, non-Metro-style applications would work on Windows 8 on ARM. However, legacy Windows apps would need to be recompiled/rewritten in order to run on the Windows 8 ARM platform.

So here are my questions after trying to piece this all together:

  • How many different versions of Office 15 for Windows will there be? In other words, will there be an Office 15 for Windows 8 (x86 and/or ARM); plus some kind of Office 15 update SKU for Windows 7 (and maybe Vista)?
  • What about Apple support? Will there be both an Office 15 equivalent for Mac OSX and iOS (the rumored iPad version)?
  • Warren's Verge piece today mentions a "radial dial" as providing a way for Office 15 users to more easily access the product on touch devices. Whatever this thing is, what does it mean for the Office Ribbon? Is it a replacement? A supplement? Will the dial only work when it senses Office is running on a touch device? Update: Thanks to reader Matthew Miller, we now know that Microsoft has been tinkering with the idea of the "radial dial" since 2007. Here's a transcript of a Convergence speech by CEO Steve Ballmer where they showed off the dial, a navigation concept from Microsoft's Center of Information Work. (Miller also found a YouTube video where the radial dial makes an appearance at around the 5:10 mark.)
  • What about Office Web Apps -- those Webified versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote? Could Microsoft be (at least) Metro-fying those apps?
  • When, if ever, will Microsoft make Office on PCs/tablets a fully Metro-style app? I'd guess this answer is dependent on when/if Microsoft pulls the plug on Desktop support in Windows itself....

What do you still want to know about Office 15's "Metro-ness"? Do you think Office 15 be a Metro-style suite? And does it matter if it's not?

Topics: Operating Systems, Collaboration, Microsoft, Software, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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35 comments
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  • All In or Hedge The Bet?

    We don't know yet if the public will accept Metro. I have personally heard more critics than users sing its praises.

    Windows and Office are two key pillars for Microsoft. Will they bet both on Metro at once?

    Personally I'd like to see a "lite" version for Metro and a full version for desktop.

    I can't warm to Metro on the desktop, I'm afraid. On a tablet, maybe, but not on a desktop.

    As a Windows Phone user, I can say I appreciate the concept of Metro and the thought that went into it far more than the actual experience of using it...

    For me it is like a joke that needs explanation: I see the internal logic, but that doesn't make it funny.
    jeffa00
    • RE: Microsoft's Office 15: To Metro or not to Metro?

      @jeffa00

      "Personally I'd like to see a "lite" version for Metro and a full version for desktop"

      My thoughts exactly. Great idea.
      smulji
      • RE: Microsoft's Office 15: To Metro or not to Metro?

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        In A, B, C, Beta Carotene containing high levels of vitamins and African mango, as well as the effect of form meets guidelines, also contribute to hair and skin beauty. Beta Carotene, to ensure the beauty of the skin, strengthen the immune system against disorders of night vision, a substance that helps to eliminate a variety of infections.
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        yilmazx
      • RE: Microsoft's Office 15: To Metro or not to Metro?

        Many men and women to stay in shape with the problem of the problem, turns out being a problem with African Mango.
        In A, B, C, Beta Carotene containing high levels of vitamins and African mango, as well as the effect of form meets guidelines, also contribute to hair and skin beauty. Beta Carotene, to ensure the beauty of the skin, strengthen the immune system against disorders of night vision, a substance that helps to eliminate a variety of infections.
        http://www.africanmangosiparis.com/
        yilmazx
    • Clearly different markets

      It would be a brave decision to make desktop / mobile / tablet apps identical. They are used in very different ways.

      MS adopting of touch for desktop screen, a bizarre view IMO, may indicate they'd like to head down this path. Hopefully they've a few people with enough sense to recognise the risk (or maybe bring someone in from Apple).
      Richard Flude
      • RE: Microsoft's Office 15: To Metro or not to Metro?

        Many men and women to stay in shape with the problem of the problem, turns out being a problem with African Mango.
        In A, B, C, Beta Carotene containing high levels of vitamins and African mango, as well as the effect of form meets guidelines, also contribute to hair and skin beauty. Beta Carotene, to ensure the beauty of the skin, strengthen the immune system against disorders of night vision, a substance that helps to eliminate a variety of infections.
        http://www.africanmangosiparis.com/
        yilmazx
    • Please run this quote to Bill Maher or Jon Stewart....

      "(Windows Phone 7 and/or Windows 8)...(is/are) like a joke that needs explanation:...(you can) see the internal logic, but that doesn't make (it/them) funny. "

      @jeffa00... but before that run to the copyright office and then ask for royalties... or better yet... create and submit an app to the iOS AppStore and Google Marketplace... called... Funny WP7 Quotes... don't port it to WP7 as to make it funnier...
      cosuna
  • RE: Microsoft's Office 15: To Metro or not to Metro?

    I think this answers the question of just how "legacy" the legacy desktop app will be. It's looking more and more like most of us will continue business as usual, staring at the same old desktop under Windows 8.

    If we don't get a metro version of full-on Office, it raises the question of what market advantage Windows Arm-based tablets will have. The main reason for choosing a Win-8 device over an iPad is, I thought, that you can run the real apps on your tablet, not some lite version with restricted functionality. If they don't have real Office, I'm not sure I'm seeing much advantage for Windows 8 on Arm.

    I'm beginning to get this sinking feeling that Win 8 on tablets is going to be a lot like Windows Mobile 6.5, with a beautiful touch-centric upper layer, but where you are constantly dropping into non-touch legacy apps.
    Mel Ware
    • All or nothing vs. something?

      Don't worry about eliminating "desktop" apps and making everything look just like the Metro Start Screen. Yes, Windows 8 includes wonderful new usability and delivery capabilities with Metro, but it would be petty to force complex dense applications to adapt to Metro's fundamentally simplistic purpose. Let each environment play to its own strengths, and be happy that we no longer have to force fundamentally simplistic apps into the cluttered and disconnected desktop environment any more.<br><br>Office will still need to advance in terms of touch, but Metro probably isn't the right path.
      scH4MMER
      • RE: Microsoft's Office 15: To Metro or not to Metro?

        Many men and women to stay in shape with the problem of the problem, turns out being a problem with African Mango.
        In A, B, C, Beta Carotene containing high levels of vitamins and African mango, as well as the effect of form meets guidelines, also contribute to hair and skin beauty. Beta Carotene, to ensure the beauty of the skin, strengthen the immune system against disorders of night vision, a substance that helps to eliminate a variety of infections.
        http://www.africanmangosiparis.com/
        yilmazx
  • RE: Microsoft's Office 15: To Metro or not to Metro?

    I'd be pretty surprised if they were able to go "full" metro, but I can definitely see navigation elements in apps such as Outlook where a partial metro skin would make sense. Having attended //Build and chatted with the Metro designers, there isn't much mind share yet on how to take a "dense" application (the other Pillar that will be interesting is the Dynamics team and their Metro plans) and truly convert to a Metro perspective. The focus of Metro is on highly granular use cases, not complex use cases such as an ERP / Business Productivity tool provide. The general consensus at //Build was that you would lose an exhorbitant amount of efficiency and functionality to get to a Metro theme. in a couple years though... look at some of the Photoshop competitors on the iPad. They aren't even close, but they are getting to the point of compelling at a fraction of the cost.

    Sean
    selliott80919
    • I believe there will be full WinRT Metro Apps, later

      @selliott80919,

      [i]???(The large Metro style interface, designed for touch interaction, doesn???t scale in an obvious way to software like Office that has a lot of dense information. While Metro attempts to eliminate what Microsoft calls ???chrome??? (superfluous design elements), he says that chrome has traditionally served a functional purpose in crowded applications, and the design team now has to express grouping and visual hierarchy with composition, layout, font scaling, and contrast ratios.???[/i]

      Based on the above and other info (see link below) my guess is that MS will be coming out initially with a Win32 Office 15 that is Metro themed, then will later come out with full WinRT Metro Office apps. The quotation above appears to me to strongly indicate that a lot of work is now taking place converting Office into Metro apps. Another thing: MS has to convince ISVs to convert their rich apps (e.g. Photoshop, Autocad) to Metro, and if MS releases Office under the desktop only, these are going to say, "Why should we do it, when MS isn't even doing so?"

      Converting Win32 Office apps to WinRT Office Metro apps will take time, and businesses aren't expected to be rushing towards the new apps. My guess is that about 1 to 2 years after Windows 8 is released, we will be seeing WinRT Office Metro apps - beyond OneNote and the Lync client which we will likely see sooner.

      theverge. com/microsoft/2012/1/31/2676211/microsoft-office-15-for-windows-8-rumors
      P. Douglas
      • RE: Microsoft's Office 15: To Metro or not to Metro?

        Many men and women to stay in shape with the problem of the problem, turns out being a problem with African Mango.
        In A, B, C, Beta Carotene containing high levels of vitamins and African mango, as well as the effect of form meets guidelines, also contribute to hair and skin beauty. Beta Carotene, to ensure the beauty of the skin, strengthen the immune system against disorders of night vision, a substance that helps to eliminate a variety of infections.
        http://www.africanmangosiparis.com/
        yilmazx
  • RE: Microsoft's Office 15: To Metro or not to Metro?

    I think it's safe to assume they will implement legacy and metro equally. I don't see Msoft missing an opportunity as big as Win8, and ignoring it's biggest addition of touch.
    charlesdjones1
  • RE: Microsoft's Office 15: To Metro or not to Metro?

    I strongly doubt there will be a regular full office for ARM anytime soon. For x86 there should not even be metro, implying a touch based interface, other than some theme elements that have nothing to do with functionality. Then they will probably release a simplified touch edition of office, full metro, that's similar to the numerous mobile office apps that already exist for other platforms. There will be no benefit to using MS's touch office over the others, ditto for their tablets in general. I think MS will eventually have to (or should) release mobile office for iPad and android, but the metro functionality may be a problem, as they likely tie the metro stuff tightly to their OS. I see the whole thing as a looming disaster, but will be interesting to watch. MS should have a full top notch touch office suite for ipad and android right now. But they can't because as usual they have to worry about selling windows, which is like half their revenue source and in decline.
    deathjazz
  • RE: Microsoft's Office 15: To Metro or not to Metro?

    This story strongly demonstrates the underlying problem with Microsoft's strategy. Ideally you want to give full desktop power to users that need it (especially when docked with a keyboard and external monitor) but protect users from legacy UI when in tablet mode (because that just causes a repeat of Windows XP Tablet Edition).

    The ARM version of Windows 8 has to be about more than just longer battery life, it has to be a new vision of how Microsoft expects people to interact with computers.
    Jeff Kibuule
    • RE: Microsoft's Office 15: To Metro or not to Metro?

      Many men and women to stay in shape with the problem of the problem, turns out being a problem with African Mango.
      In A, B, C, Beta Carotene containing high levels of vitamins and African mango, as well as the effect of form meets guidelines, also contribute to hair and skin beauty. Beta Carotene, to ensure the beauty of the skin, strengthen the immune system against disorders of night vision, a substance that helps to eliminate a variety of infections.
      http://www.africanmangosiparis.com/
      yilmazx
  • This is what it needs to look like

    Its not a complete idea, but just something I whipped up in Microsoft PowerPoint.

    http://www.freeimagehosting.net/jmw7k
    adacosta38
    • RE: Microsoft's Office 15: To Metro or not to Metro?

      @adacosta38

      It looks so old win 3.1 or a old Apple app and ugly
      Randalllind
      • You could say the same thing about Windows 8 too

        @Randalllind Remember, the contrast in Windows 8 metro apps is very flat in appearance.
        adacosta38