Volume Customers Start Getting Office 2013

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Large Microsoft accounts subscribing to the Software Advantage program can now upgrade to the new version of Office, Exchange, SharePoint and Lync. General availability of Office 2013 may come as early as January. Microsoft may find that Office 2013 is a bigger hit than the release of Windows 8.

Large Microsoft Corp. customers that buy products in bulk and subscribe to the Software Advantage program can now upgrade to the new Office 2013, as well as new versions of the popular Exchange e-mail server, SharePoint collaboration server, and Lync communications manager.

General availability of these applications could come as early as January, at which point Microsoft may see a greater lift in sales and revenue than through the launch of Windows 8.

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Microsoft blogger Mary Jo Foley first reported the volume licensing availability of Office 2013 yesterday, after several large Microsoft accounts started chatting about gaining access to the new apps. Microsoft later confirmed the volume licensing release, as well as the ability for users of Microsoft Surface RT to upgrade their current Office 2013 Home & Student trial package to the new suite.

Office 2013 and related applications have been available to developers in the MSDN and TechNet communities for more than a week. And Microsoft was touting the development opportunities for the new versions of Office, Exchange, SharePoint and Lync at its Build developer conference in Redmond, Wash., earlier this week.

The coming of Office 2013 may prove more significant to Microsoft sales and channel opportunities than Windows 8. Prior to the launch of the new operating system, Microsoft noted significant declines in Windows sales, while sales of Office and productivity applications held steady or increased. Microsoft shrugged off the dip, calling it a reflection of a market holding back prior to the new version. Perhaps, though, it’s more about the declining significance of the operating system.

For two years, Microsoft has lauded Apple Inc.’s market-leading iPad tablet as an excellent device for “information consumption.” At the same time, Microsoft jabbed at the iPad as a terrible device for “information creation.” True enough, most tablets are not used for creating documents and materials as the interface isn’t conducive to volume data entry the way desktop and notebook PCs are.

The Surface tablet, Microsoft’s first foray into computing hardware, is designed for information consumption and creation. Its optional snap-on keyboard provides users with native ability to enter information into applications much the same way as they do on a conventional PC with all the benefits of a touch interface.

Microsoft PC partners, most notably Acer Inc., have not been happy about their operating-system provider getting into the hardware game. Some believe Microsoft will dilute the market and channel opportunities by fielding its own tablet device. At the same time, Google Inc. is marketing tablet and ultrabooks running its Chrome and Android operating systems, and Samsung Electronics Co. and other PC manufacturers are thought to be developing their own conventional and mobile operating systems.

On the rise is demand for content creation applications, such as Office 2013 and its cloud cousin Office 365. If these applications, particularly the cloud version, are decoupled from the underlying operating system, they may find new markets and users on non-Microsoft platforms. In this scenario, Microsoft could recapture some of the ground lost to Apple, Google and other software developers through its Office franchise.

Unclear is if and how Microsoft will embrace the Office 2013 potential. Channel partners do not have access to the Surface tablet and OEM partners have released a limited number of Windows 8 models and are still fielding the legacy versions of Office. Exchange, SharePoint and Lync – all best sellers in Microsoft channel – will definitely find their place among resellers in the coming year. It may take the channel’s success in syndicating these apps to sway Microsoft to shift its emphasis away from Windows and toward the application universe.

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