Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer today unveiled the next version of Office as the company launched previews of the suite for consumers and businesses.
"This is designed from the get-go for Office as a service," said Ballmer as he kicked off a news conference held in San Francisco. "It's Office as a service first. [And] it's the most ambitious release of Office that we've ever done."
As expected, Microsoft named the new edition Office 2013, although during the new conference, Ballmer and others called it "the new Office" or "the new Office 365," the name of the suite subscription program that it's been offering to small businesses.
Microsoft also debuted previews of several editions of Office 365 today: Office 365 Home Premium, Office 365 ProPlus, Office 365 Small Business Premium and Office 365 Enterprise.
All the previews include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access.
The Home Premium Preview lets users install the sneak peak on up to five devices -- Microsoft said PCs or Tablets -- running either Windows 7 or Windows 8. Although the latter has not yet been formally shipped, users can try out the Office preview on the Windows 8 Release Preview that launched May 31.
Apparently, Windows Vista and Windows XP users will be out of luck. The latter came as no surprise, since the 11-year-old operating system is due for retirement in April 2014.
"The new Office is available as the traditional suite of client applications and as an always up-to-date subscription service called Office 365 Home Premium," said Microsoft in a supporting document. "Today, consumers can try the new Office by signing up for the Office 365 Home Premium Preview."
At release, Baller said that Office would also be available in the traditional disc-based packaging for local-only installation and operation where customers pay a one-time licensing fee.
Microsoft did not reveal prices for the new Office -- that, the company said, would come "later this fall" when it nears the launch date -- or define an on-sale window. Most analysts, however, have pegged the latter at early next year. If Microsoft follows the same development pace it used three years ago for Office 2010, the new Office will reach retail and most customers the last week of January 2013 or the first week of February.
When Office 365 Home Premium officially launches, it will include an additional 20GB of SkyDrive storage space and 60 minutes of Skype credit each month. Also included: Future upgrades, which will be free to subscribers.
Computerworld's just-published review of the preview can be found here.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.