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Microsoft’s Surface offers a new way to buy and use Office.

After the super-secret prelude, Microsoft announced what most commentators said they would – a tablet device made by Microsoft to rival the iPad – called Surface.

Surface with Windows and Office in one bundle represents a new way to buy Office and a new way to use it on the Windows 8 tablet interface.

Surface is essentially an iPad-like touch screen device with some important differences:

  • It will run Windows 8 – either the special ‘RT’ version or Windows 8 Pro.
  • There’s a single standard USB socket (v2 or v3 depending on the model) meaning there’s more expandability than Apple’s proprietary connector.
  • It comes with a ‘type cover’ which is a physical keyboard integrated into the screen cover.

Surface%20with%20blue%20keyboard - A new way to work with Microsoft Office

Don’t let the bright blue cover put you off, there are a range of colors including black and white.

Both models are just called ‘Surface’ though they are different pieces of hardware. One is ‘Surface with Windows RT’ and the more expensive one ‘Surface with Windows 8 Pro’. Microsoft spent a lot of time coming up with names for parts of Surface like the grating ‘VaporMg’ but didn’t bother to give simple names for the two models? Surely ‘Surface’ and ‘Surface Pro’ would be enough?

The cheaper Surface will include a cheap version of Office 2013 (without Outlook) and either 32B or 64GB of disk drive.

The Windows 8 Pro device is heavier, thicker, doesn’t include Office with either 64GB or 128GB versions.

No specifics about network connections but the mention of ‘MIMO antenna’ suggests there’ll be Wifi plus some form of 3G/4G connection.

The iPad, Kindle Fire and other tablets are primarily consumption devices – for reading, viewing, listening and watching. While you can type and edit document on an iPad, it’s clumsy and unsuitable for longer work (see the CloudOn effort to shoehorn Office onto an iPad.)

With Surface, Microsoft recognizes that a physical keyboard is necessary to make a tablet device work for err, work. Not only is a real keyboard (hopefully) more responsive but it means there’s more room on the screen to see what you’re doing.

The proof of Surface will be in regular use. Battery life will be a vital issue for starters. The Zune was dynamite on paper but rightly failed in the hands of people. Microsoft needs to focus on excellence in the device (like Apple and Google do) not put their hope in catchy names (‘VaporMg’ indeed!).

Office 2013

As already announced, Windows RT (the special version of Windows 8 to run on ARM devices) will include a version of Office 2013.

This was the first official confirmation of the Office 2013 name.

Office 2013 Home and Student

We now know it will be the lowest/cheapest version of Office – the Home and Student bundle – with just Word 2013, Excel 2013, PowerPoint 2013 and OneNote 2013. No Outlook.

Only the cheaper Surface

Only the cheaper, Windows RT version of Surface will have Office 2013 included.

The more expensive (and later released) Windows 8 Pro version will NOT have Office 2013 – you’ll have to pay extra. It’s very likely Microsoft will include an Office 2013 trial version in the hope of selling Office directly.

OneNote 2013

It will be especially interesting to see on the Windows 8 tablet. OneNote has been waiting for a decent touch interface ever since it was released back in 2003.

There’s already an OneNote for iPad however the Windows 8/OneNote 2013 touch interface is likely to be different — at least we can only hope so.

Microsoft will be hoping, yet again, that OneNote will be the ‘killer app’ to drive sales of Windows tablets. Alas, it might be too late now that ‘device agnostic’ options like the wonderful Evernote have proved more useful.

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