Minus any comment from Microsoft, the pricing and licensing of the Office Modern apps was unknown. The company could charge for each app, but its current practices make that a longer shot than the alternatives: Tying the apps to an active Office 365 subscription, as Microsoft did when it released Office Mobile for the iPhone earlier this month, or bundling it with its own in-house hardware, as it does now with Office on the $499-and-up Surface RT tablet.
But analysts applauded even the glimpse Microsoft gave today.
"Microsoft left a huge vacuum when they announced Office 2013 without any mention of when they'd make a Modern version," said Gillett. "It was as glaring a gap as not offering Office on the iPad. One down, one to go."
Wes Miller, of Directions on Microsoft, called it "just a tease" because of the many unanswered questions. He did note, however, that, "It's good to know they're making some progress on [Modern Office]."
Miller was willing to speculate on the likeliest path Microsoft would take.
"Look at the way they make Office Web Apps work," Miller said, talking about the free, online versions of Excel, PowerPoint and Word. "They can be used for editing, but at a certain point you need a feature that's not available, and you have to turn to the desktop. I think the same thing will be true for Office on Modern. A set of features that they decide are key will be there, but you're not going to want to write a book with Word."
Gillett had a slightly different take. "I would never expect Microsoft to use this in their marketing, but I think you could call it 'Office Lite,'" He acknowledged he was in the dark as much as anyone outside Microsoft, but still argued for that moniker. "It needs to be something more streamlined and straight-forward," said Gillett, describing apps that "would let you work all day" but not get users bogged down in the complexity of Office on the desktop.
Moorhead saw them as closer to Office Web Apps than either Miller or Gillett. "I think they'll be good for viewing and some light editing, but still viable productivity apps on a smaller tablet," Moorhead speculated.
As for a release timeline, only Gillett offered an opinion. "If I had to guess, I'd say the second half of 2014," he said.
Microsoft will introduce at least one new Modern app before that, however: The company has already promised that Outlook will make it to Windows RT this fall when the final release of Windows 8.1 launches.
Windows 8.1 can be downloaded today from the Windows Store. Users must first download a small 9MB setup file from the Microsoft website, which will in turn reboot the PC or device, then redirect to the Windows Store for the public preview.
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