Microsoft's Office 'Gemini': Windows Blue's twin

Microsoft's Office 'Gemini': Windows Blue's twin

Summary: The Windows team isn't the only one 'reimagining' how to build and deliver future versions of its core product. The Office unit is, too.


Windows Blue, Windows Server Blue, Windows Phone Blue, Windows Services Blue. The one thing missing from this list of next-generation Microsoft releases is a Blue version of Office. Is there one?


There is. But it's not codenamed Blue. It's codenamed "Gemini."

Gemini is a wave of Office releases coming over the next two years, according to my sources. Wave one, which will be aligned with Windows Blue, will be updated versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, which should be out this fall, I am hearing. 

Will these wave-one apps be the full Metro-Style/Windows Store versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, plus a second upate to the already Metro-ized OneNote? I am not 100 percent sure, but I'm thinking this will be the case. If so, will these updated apps include only a subset of the existing feature set of the Win32 versions, rather than every single feature available in the desktop versions? Again, I don't know, but given some recent hints by Office management, I would think it might be a subset.

So far, Microsoft has released only two Metro-Style members of its Office app suite: OneNote and Lync. The other just-released Office 2013 apps are all still Win32 apps that run in the Desktop on Windows 8 and Windows RT. However, as one would expect, the Office team is continuing work that began several years ago to build Metro versions of all the Office apps.

But Gemini is more than just the next, Metrofied version of the core Office apps. In the same way that the Windows and Windows Server teams are having to rethink all their development tools, processes and procedures in order to deliver annual (instead of every-three-year) versions of Windows, going forward, the Office team is remaking itself, too.

But unlike its Windows sibling, Office is refocusing itself from being an organization that builds and sells Windows apps, to one that builds apps and services that run on multiple, heterogeneous platforms.

The Office team already has moved a bit in this direction, with its ongoing Mac Office work, its Office Web Apps (which run on different operating systems in a handful of browsers), and ports of apps like Lync to iPhone/iPad and Android. (Not to mention the long-rumored Office for iPad release.)

The Office 365 subscription model is at the heart of the second wave of the Gemini strategy. Again, this isn't trivial; it's a big change for the Office division and Microsoft as a whole. Building apps that are designed from the beginning to be backed by services like Office 365 and SkyDrive is a real departure for the team -- and one which is already in progress. (Yes, Microsoft really is serious about that devices and services thing.)

The hoped-for end result of Gemini will be that the Office team will be on a track of delivering regular, more frequent releases of both services and apps.

On the Office 365 front, the Softies already are delivering new features and updates to Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online customers on a quarterly, if not more frequent, basis. When Microsoft introduced Office 365 Home Premium, officials said those who bought into the subscription model should expect more frequent, regular updates, too.

Microsoft officials have declined to say how frequently those not buying into the Office subscription model should expect updates to their Office 2013 and Exchange/SharePoint/Lync on-premises client and servers. But it's worth noting here many business users running their software on-prem don't want more frequent updates. For some, even an annual update of SharePoint, Exchange and/or Lync is one too many. That may be why Microsoft seems to be continuing with its established service-pack model for these products.

When I asked the Office team for comment on Gemini, a spokesperson would only say: "We are always improving Office 365, so the notion of a 'next version' is outdated. That being said, we don’t have any information to share about the next set of updates to Office."

The back story: The MOXification of Office

Even with the Office 2013 release, Office is still not very touch-friendly, as a number of Microsoft watchers have noted. Office 2013 also doesn't use the Windows 8/Windows RT app model or integrate with new conventions like the Charms. But supposedly this wasn't for lack of trying.

Most of the Office team was heads-down on Office 365 and the increasing push toward the subscription model. That was priority one with Office 2013. But there is/was a team inside Office known as Modern Office Experience (MOX) that was working on building a Metro Office for Windows 8. One of my sources said that MOX's first priority was to build a Metro version of OneNote, in conjunction with the OneNote team. MOX also supposedly was charged with building out common components to be used by all the Office teams for their Metro versions of Office.

Once work was underway, the MOX and Office teams realized building Metro-Style/Windows Store apps was going to be a lot tougher than building something like Office Web Apps. One of my sources said that the Office team wanted to build "hybrid Metro" apps, which would have been desktop apps that were allowed to "participate" in the Metro environment, which would have enabled the team to port large amounts of existing Office code over to Windows 8 and Windows RT. But that would have resulted in Metro-Style apps that didn't adhere to all the WinRT/Windows 8 rules and regulations. As a result, that plan was scrapped.

So here we are today with Office2013 apps that include some minor touch modifications running in the Desktop on Windows 8 and Windows RT. Let's see if Gemini wave one remedies this by adding Metro-style versions of the core Office apps to the mix.

Topics: Cloud, Collaboration, Microsoft, Windows, Windows 8


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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  • Good in theory, but...

    This is a good idea in theory, but it depends on how they do it. The WinRT-based OneNote strips out all the functionality that makes OneNote actually a compelling offering. If they continue to do that to all the Office products, then really, what's the point?

    And honestly, I don't get the complaints about Office's touch support, other than the fact that it's on the desktop. The touch targets are just as large as those in the WinRT-based OneNote app. The only difference is that it's in a rectangle in Office 2013, and in a circle in the OneNote app. I understand that the radial menu is new and different, but it doesn't make it any more touch efficient.
  • Missing feature in OneNote MX

    The feature that I am missing in OneNote MX is the ability to open and manipulate local Notebooks
  • This makes me think...

    WinRT will remove the desktop. The main reasons this can't be done today are Office and a file manager. Both of those are apparently coming with Blue.
    Win8 Pro will keep the desktop.
    • ????

      Office is just a few of the millions of desktop applications businesses rely on that are critical to their business. So lets stop the (%$#$) talk about Microsoft even thinking about obsoleting the millions of applications without going out of business themselves.
      • Did you read what he put?

        Windows RT only has the desktop in theory, it is mainly there for desktop IE and Office. It has already made the millions of x86 programs unable to work on it.
        Michael Alan Goff
  • Too Long Wait...

    There is no way the "Modern" ecosystem can wait up to 2 years to get its "native" version of the Office apps.
    It should have been there on launch day.
    • The target date is two years out

      because the "Modern UI" is so limited. How are they going to replace the ribbon and it's hundreds of tiny controls, check boxes, drop down options with the meager controls available in Metro? It may not be possible.
  • Windows Blue :) Office Gemini :(

    Windows Blue :) Office Gemini :(
    Anant Malik
  • As is...

    The biggest problem with the MOXification of Office is the lack of Windows. Power users use multiple windows.

    As long as it continues in the OneNote vein, with a Modern UI and a desktop version, I have no problems with this. In tablet mode, a version of Word, Excel and co. which works well with touch would be great, but working on the desktop, I don't want to cripple my productivity by only having one or two windows visible...
    • Amen

      "Power users use multiple windows."

      That's the biggest problem I have with Metro, in general - lack of windows. Windows 8 should be renamed "Twindows" since the current release limits you to two windows, side-by-side. I can't work that way. I've invested a lot of money in high end equipment to make full use of Windows 7 and can't see myself taking ten steps backward to Metro. The biggest reason I love Windows 7 is because it is the perfect and most logical interface for hosting a dozen application windows open across three large displays while displaying my "info-at-a-glance" widgets simultaneously next to my app windows. So, when the current way I do things is far superior to the way Microsoft wants me to do things from now on, I stop buying Microsoft products. When my Windows 7 equipment finally needs replacing, I'll be looking for something else.
      • wait

        soon we will have a 4 way vertical split and possibly other window sizing abilities
        • Even 4 is limiting.

          Especially for those with multiple monitors. I think it's time folks face it...Microsoft is tired of Windows and wants to go mobile only.

          Can't say that makes me sad in any way since I ditched all MS warez in 1999. Windows is so Why2K.
          The Danger is Microsoft
          • It is limiting

            But it's a lot better than what we've got now. And it is pretty easy to run Modern apps in an actual window on the Desktop. These tools are coming.

            It will take some time, but I wouldn't declare Windows and MS quite dead yet.
            x I'm tc
          • Better than what we've got now?

            The desktop is "what we've got now".

            Being able to say "well, Metro now sucks a bit less" does not make it any better (or worth buying/using) than that proven interface it's supposed to be replacing.

            Why should the new interface need to improve to simply get feature parity with Windows 1.0? It should have been there from the start (it's absurd to see people claiming that it's "better than ever" when the thing that it's replacing is far superior).
      • Multiples monitors & W8

        Have you tried how Windows 8 works with more than one monitor? We have some users with more than one monitor, and their experience has been better than W7. To have the taskbar in both screens is very nice.
      • Multiple monitors in Win8 so much better

        Personally I will stick with the way Windows 8 handles multiple monitors over Windows 7 any day. It is the perfect and most logical interface for hosting applications across multiple displays and far better than what was available in old Windows 7. The current way I do things with Windows 8 is far superior to the way it worked in Windows 7 with the ability to have taskbars in each window (and in different locations on the screen if I want, plus the ability to run metro style apps on a single monitor while the other two or more monitors run in desktop mode. Thank you Microsoft for not sticking with the OLD way of doing things and moving forward and offering people choices on the best ways to be productive.
      • Windows 1.0

        MS has announced a new name for Windows 8 - it's called Windows 1.0. The new "Blue" version will now be named Windows 1.1. There is talk that future versions of Windows will allow multiple applications to be opened in their on windows at the same time. Re-sizing of these windows is also speculated. But, this will be far into the future.
        • It is so obvious

          It is so obvious that you don’t really have any true experience working with the platform and are only basing your response on a start screen you don’t like and the opinion of bloggers with agendas. I can live on the desktop when needed and on occasion enjoy some of the Windows Store Apps for recreation. I have the best of both worlds and don’t understand what the problem is here. It was also stated that these “Gemini” apps will more or less be “companions” to their desktop counterparts. Again I can stay on the Modern GUI if I only want to view and make some quick edits but I am sure there will be a button similar to the one in IE where I can open the document in the desktop version if needed.
  • Forget the ribbon

    Forget the Office ribbon...can you imagine the outcry when everything is moved to the radial menu?
  • windows 8 was smart

    one window, removal of start button, forced metro screen are all good ideas because that now insures years of innovative new features for future windows release, like
    *MultiView(tm) (several windows in view at a time)
    *FreeView(tm) (overlapping movable windows)
    *EzStart(tm) (original start button restored),
    *ClassicView(tm) (start right in desktop mode, no metro screen)
    and much more!