Universal Office apps to be preinstalled on Windows 10 devices

The first demonstrations of new universal Office apps made clear that these would be separate from the desktop versions.

Upcoming "universal" versions of Microsoft applications will run on PCs, tablets and small devices including smartphones, and will be different from the desktop version of Office.

During Wednesday morning's Windows 10 preview event, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Joe Belfiore demonstrated for the first time the most recent test builds of the universal versions of Office 10 applications. Microsoft plans to preinstall universal versions of apps on retail devices, such as future versions of Surface tablets.

The universal apps amount to "a version of Office for Windows 10," Belfiore said, built for touchscreens and predistributed on small devices.

Universal apps will likely be a little more limited than the desktop versions. In a desktop app using the .NET Framework, developers can, for example, tap the full functionality of features like the Ribbon. In a universal Office app, functions in the ribbon have to be adaptable for repositioning on multiple devices

However, one demo Wednesday showed a very fully functional version of Outlook on a Windows Phone 10 device, presumably a Lumia 1520. The demo included background syncing of calendar entries, including color-coding attached to those entries. This is an important point for Exchange veterans, who will note that when syncing fails to take color-coding into account, not all the metadata attached to calendar information is being synced by ActiveSync.

Belfiore showed how Cortana, the voice-driven personal assistant presently deployed in Windows Phone 8.1, can help Outlook users on both smartphones and touchscreen devices pull up e-mail messages from the server, check calendar entries, and assess the current state of completed tasks.

How the licensing of universal apps was not immediately clear. If the Universal app versions of Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel (which was not ready for prime time Wednesday) are distributed to Windows Phone 10 owners for free, and those apps can run on PCs, are users' licenses to those apps limited to use on smartphones only? It's an important question, because if licenses are indeed limited in this way, it implies the resumption of per-processor licensing for Microsoft software -- which may not be popular for many Windows users.

However, attendees did see for the first time how Universal apps would be able to take advantage of runtime features built into Windows Phones, enabling them to adopt familiar functionality like swiping an entry to dismiss it, or swiping it in the other direction to open it in a new panel.

Wednesday's demonstrations come amid news of Windows 10 eventually being presented to existing users of Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 as a free upgrade. As one reporter in the room was distinctly heard whispering to his colleague, "Apology accepted."

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Scott M. Fulton, III

IDG News Service
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