Microsoft steps closer to redefining PC

Ben Rossi, sub editor at Computer News Middle East.

Journalism can be a rather spontaneous trade to be in. Take a couple of Wednesdays ago, when we were invited to San Francisco for a Microsoft event.

We frequently receive invitations to technology events around the world – however this one was slightly different. It required me to embark on a 16-hour flight just three days later for only a one-day event that we were given no information on other than that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was leading it, we were the only Middle East publication invited, and that it was “shrouded in secrecy.”

You may not think that tells you a lot, but in a journalist’s eye it satisfies several story requirements. Steve Ballmer leading it and an international invite indicates it must be big news. Being the only Middle East publication invited makes it an exclusive. And, if that wasn’t enough, telling any journalist they are invited to something that is “shrouded in secrecy” always gets their undivided attention.

So off I was to the Golden State, and the mammoth journey gave me plenty of time to think about what I would be attending.

Microsoft had already been a big talking point this year. With the launch of Windows 8 looming and the announcement of its intention to enter the ever-growing tablet market with its Surface product, I wondered what else would garner this much attention.

Then, just as I was catching up on some writing on my laptop, using Microsoft Word, it hit me. Microsoft Office. Microsoft’s flagship product. It’s biggest revenue earner. Microsoft, of course, needed an update of its widely adopted suite of business and processing applications that was not only fully supported by the new operating system and tablet on the way, but also a selling factor for both.

And so it was, a packed room at the Metreon watched as the ever-animated Steve Ballmer beamed about the new Office suite – or as he frequently called it, “modern Office” and, owing to its cloud capabilities, “Office-as-a-Service.”

I was given a preview of the new Office operating on a Windows 8 preview on a Samsung Series 7 Slate 700T tablet, and have to say I was extremely impressed with how slick and functional it was.

We are constantly being told that a new era of personal computing is on the horizon with the advent of the tablet. However, for the tablet to completely replace the PC, it needs to do something that no tablet or operating system has yet managed to do – become a 100% functional and productive tool to work on.

This may be a bold statement, but having spent some time on the Samsung 700T testing Windows 8 and Office 13, I would put myself out there and say I would happily replace my laptop with this combination.

Windows 8 with Office 2013 is indeed a winning combination, and now Microsoft needs to complete the hatrick by delivering with the Microsoft Surface. If it gets that right, it could just have that golden trio of products to beat Apple in the vital battle of who will lead the redefinition of the personal computer.

And it’s the mention of Apple that brings me onto perhaps the most important question of all. Will Microsoft make Office 13 available across all operating systems?

It’s a question that Microsoft dodged at the event in San Francisco and it is very much a double edged sword. On the one side, not allowing iPad users to download the application will probably shift more of its Surface tablets when they come out. But on the other side, doing the same would mean sacrificing sales of the new Office suite in a tablet market that Apple currently dominates.

The answer could come down to which product it wants to succeed more – the Surface or Office 13. As mentioned before, Office is the company’s biggest revenue earner.

Word on the journalist grapevine at the event was that Office 13 WILL be available on iPad and other operating systems – but it must also be said that “word on the journalist grapevine” is not always the most conclusive source!

One thing is for sure, the new era of personal computing presents a wonderful clash of the titans among the IT giants. And the victor could well dictate the shape of the technology arena for years to come.

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