Whether it is the increasing market penetration of its famed Office software suite and its new line of surface tablets, or the announcing of new specialty store openings, or all its seducing of gamers fervently fixated on the soon-come Xbox One, May has been a busy for month for Microsoft. The tech giant has created gargantuan buzz, largely compelled by this month’s unveiling of the new Xbox, but there’s been other significant news.
Software Soft-sell Ceasing
For those who haven’t purchased, but preferred to take advantage of the free trial period associated with the launch of Microsoft’s Office 2013 suite, it is time to pony-up. Office 2013 offers sufficient advantages over previous offerings. In the new version, Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook have been modified to better function with computers deploying touch-screen technology. Office 2013 works with smart-phones, tablets as well as PCs that don’t have Office installed thanks to cloud-computing capabilities which are providing some hardcore benefits to this particular software package. Office 2013 enables users to readily access important files regardless of where they are or what device they’re using. The cloud enables one to have file storage in the obscure ether of “out there” – a sky drive as it is called, accessible to users anytime they’re online. Users receive up to 20 GB of SkyDrive storage, enabling them to save word documents, to-do lists, presentations, spreadsheets or other material on their own personal SkyDrive as well as a home or office computer. Then again, one doesn’t need to be in front of their personal computer to use Office. As long as one is connected to the Internet, Office on Demand can be used to temporarily stream full versions of applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, or Publisher to any PC running Win 7 (or later). This way, one can create new documents or continue working on documents already saved to SkyDrive.
With the addition of an Office 365 Home Premium subscription, Office can be installed on up to five PCs or Macs, enabling an entire family to have their own respective files and customized settings. Office 2013 also accommodates integration with Skype, providing users with 60 minutes Skype World services to contact family, friends or frenemies in more than 40 countries even if they don’t already have a Skype account. Shared meetings allows user to join online meetings and convenient share PowerPoint slides, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, or OneNote notes. Meeting attendees can actually see the files even if they don’t have Office installed. A File>Share feature provides convenient options with the way documents are shared with others.
Microsoft has also tweaked other aspects, for example, when starting off, instead of seeing a blank file, users can now readily chose between recently saved files or a preferred template. In OneNote, users are able to sign-in and open notebooks from the web or from their own computer. The Save-As and Open features no longer require browsing or scrolling from dialog boxes as the most-used folders appear right from the start. These can also be pinned to a location such that they’re always available.
Sales of the Office software suite have traditionally represented a significant portion of Microsoft’s annual revenues. Microsoft’s Business Division, creators of Office, generated almost $24 billion last year which was close to one-third of the company’s total earnings. Analysts predict Office 2013 will actually help bolster sales of the surface tablets and Window 8 platforms due to its interfacing with touch-screen.
More in Store
This month, the company also announced the opening of four new Microsoft Specialty Store locations. These stores offer consumers a retail experience that can be both entertaining and educational as they engage and interact with the assortment of Microsoft products. The May opening of a new location at Westfield Galleria in Roseville, California will be followed by June openings at The Parks at Arlington, Texas, Twelve Oaks in Novi, Michigan, and Pacific Place in Seattle, Washington. The openings reflect Microsoft’s resolve to increasingly expand its retail presence in the national market.
X Marks the Spot
Microsoft has also just unveiled its new Xbox console and touted a few the treats it will impart. Though no official word as the actual release date, or price, what is known offers plenty to entice consumers feverishly waiting to connect with its second generation of “Kinect” functionality.
The company has described the Xbox One as “the ultimate all in one entertainment system” for a new generation of gamers and entertainment enthusiasts. It integrates live television programming, games, movies and web services such as Skype, which can now all be controlled through voice recognition applications deployed by Kinect. Suppose one wants to turn the console on, a voice command will make it do so – Kinect actually listens (and isn’t that all any of us desire in our relationships with technology devices). Voice commands will similarly direct users to other applications, simply by saying “Xbox Watch TV” or specific networks by saying “Xbox Watch ESPN.” During a recent demo, the system also responded to hand gestures. Microsoft reports that this new generation Kinect is powerful enough to detect motions in 13-billionths of a second. Its camera has a field-of-view 60 percent wider than the original Kinect, meaning users don’t have to be so confined to one spot, and it also uses infra-red applications enabling Kinect to function in absolute darkness.
As for other specs, there’s the x64 8-core AMD CPU, 500 GB hardrive, USB 3.0 ports, and 8GB DDR3 RAM, Wi-Fi connectivity, HDMI-in and HDMI-out ports. A Blu-ray drive has also been added.
And yes, gamers, more thrills to come. As Xbox Live has proven to be the world’s most popular online gaming platform, there is substantial back-system overhauling to prepare for the new generation, which includes expanding servers from the current 15,000 to an audacious 300,000, thereby allowing for faster access to games and content.
The system also allows users to run multiple apps at the same or add a split TV screen into other varying functions. Suppose you want to actually see your friend’s reaction as you blast his avatar away in a game, you’ll be able to do that. Suppose you want to watch a streaming movie while you Skype your dear Aunt Wilma in Winnipeg, you’ll be able to do that.
Microsoft Game Studios Vice President Phil Spencer indicates Microsoft is investing at least $1 billion into new generation games, with at least 15 exclusively prepared for release with Xbox One’s first year of operation. Microsoft Game Studios has opened offices in Washington, London and British Columbia. As of yet, Microsoft hasn’t released details as to the look or nature of these new generation games, nor has it elaborated on plans with indie developers which prompted ire and speculation after this month’s unveiling. Microsoft President of Interactive Entertainment Don Mattrick has reported the company will have an independent creator program to support Xbox One, adding that Microsoft is going to sponsor it and also provide developers with tools, but that still leaves plenty room for explanation.
For more details, gamers will have to wait until June’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles as Microsoft has assured that it will release more information about Xbox One gaming options during this iconic industry tradeshow. Last year’s event amassed more than 47,000 video game professionals, industry analysts, journalists and retailers from more than 100 countries. Anticipate a lot of activity around the Microsoft displays. For all the headlines they generated this month, look for Microsoft to make even more in June.