Microsoft slates Windows' touch Office for mid-2015

Microsoft plans to release the touch-centric Office it has long planned to ship for Windows in mid-2015.

Among a blizzard of announcements about Office today, Microsoft also snuck in a loose release date for the touch-centric Office it has long planned to ship for Windows.

"We will deliver touch-optimized Office apps for Windows with Windows 10," Microsoft said in one of several blog posts trumpeting changes to the Office suite on the iPhone, iPad and Android smartphones and tablets.

Windows 10, which is now in a technical preview, will ship around the middle of next year, Microsoft has said previously.

Touch-based Office apps for Windows -- aimed at touch-enabled notebooks as well as tablets and hybrids like Microsoft's own Surface Pro -- have been on the company's to-do list for more than three years.

In September 2011, then-CEO Steve Ballmer hinted that the company was working on "Metro-izing" Office, telling Wall Street analysts, "You ought to expect that we are rethinking and working hard on what it would mean to do Office Metro style."

At the time, Microsoft was still using the label "Metro" to describe the tile- and touch-based interface that debuted on Windows 8 in 2012. Between Ballmer's comment and the release of Windows 8, Microsoft walked away from the term, reportedly because of a trademark dispute with Metro AG, a Dusseldorf, Germany-based conglomerate.

Although Microsoft did create a touch-based version of Office for Windows RT, the offshoot of Windows 8 that has been shoved into the background, if not the dustbin, it was a amalgam of old and new in that it required Microsoft to support a "desktop" mode in Windows RT.

Even after the debut of Office on RT, Microsoft continued to talk up touch for Office on Windows 8.

More than a year ago, Ballmer -- by that time on his way out but still CEO -- promised "what I would call not just a touch-enabled, but a touch-first user interface ... for Windows 8," and set the release order as Windows first, iPad second.

Ballmer's successor, Satya Nadella, flipped the order when he introduced Office for iPad in March. Since then, Windows users have been waiting for word on something similar for them.

Customers should expect that a touch-first Office on Windows will conform to the changes made today to Office on smartphones and tablets -- moving the boundary line between free and paid by upping the feature set for the former -- and be available in a free-of-charge version suitable for most consumers, but require an Office 365 subscription for business users.

Microsoft said today that it would reveal more about Office for Windows 10 at a later date. That could come as soon as early 2015, when the company will issue a more polished, consumer-oriented preview of Windows 10.

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