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MS Office 2013 customers will have to wait until January for the code

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September 14, 2012

Microsoft has revealed additional details about the version of Office 2013 for ARM-powered devices running Windows RT, including the fact that some customers will have to wait until January 2013 to get their hands on the final code.

Microsoft has explained that the version of Office Home & Student 2013 RT that will ship when Windows RT hits General Availability status will indeed be only a preview version, as we previously reported.

The software behemoth further confirmed that all customers would eventually receive an upgrade to the final version of the suite, but it added something we didn't know already-- that the upgrade will be delivered automatically via Windows Update at no cost.

Exactly when customers will receive the update seems to depend mostly on their language. Microsoft says it will start shipping the first updates in "early November", with subsequent updates for other languages rolling out through January.

The full schedule won't be announced until October 26, but presumably an English-language update will be among the early priorities.

But what we still don't know is exactly what "preview version" means when it comes to Office 2013 RT. It could simply mean that the applications are buggy and crash-prone, or it could mean that the suite will ship with certain features disabled, or even entire Office components missing.

But Microsoft did confirm something else we had suspected which is that even when the final version of Office 2013 RT ships, it won't be 100 percent feature compatible with Office 2013 for desktop Windows.

For starters, it definitely won't ship with a version of Outlook. And in fact, Microsoft says "Windows RT does not support Outlook or other desktop mail applications." The only way to check your email in the touch-centric OS will be to use a Windows Store app, such as the mail app that comes bundled with Windows RT.

What the Office 2013 RT suite will include however are versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote compiled for ARM. Although these apps are "built from the same code base as other versions of Office," a number of features have been rejiggered or outright disabled in the ARM-processor versions.

Some of those changes are designed to make the applications more user friendly to touch-based UIs or to improve battery life. For example, Microsoft says it has reduced the amount of power the Office applications consume when the user is idle by 95 percent.

Microsoft also added that it expects to see many Windows RT devices using cellular data modems for wireless connectivity, and to that end it has designed the Office RT apps to detect when a customer is using a metered-rate data plan and throttle their network usage accordingly.

In some cases, features were dropped from Office RT because they were legacy capabilities that would weigh down the suite with unnecessary complexity. For example, playback support for some older media formats was dropped from PowerPoint.

But other omissions are less easy to explain, however. The fact that the Office RT apps won't support ActiveX controls is understandable. Existing controls are all built for Intel architectures anyway, and won't run on ARM-based systems.

But Microsoft's decision to drop support for its own Visual Basic for Applications macro language leaves Redmond's new Apps for Office as the only way to script the suite, and so far they're less than an ideal substitute.

Also missing from Office RT will be the ability to create Data Models in Excel although PivotTables, QueryTables, and Pivot Charts will still work, and the ability to record narrations in PowerPoint is the same.

OneNote 2013 RT will lose a number of features, including the ability to search embedded audio and video files and to import from an attached scanner. Neither will it allow users to record audio or video notes, one of the note-taking app's most beloved features.

It may be that many of these features are simply impractical for an underpowered device based on an ARM processor, but losing them seems like a shame, nonetheless.

On the other hand, the fact that Microsoft's Surface tablets and other Windows RT-powered devices will ship with a full-fledged office productivity suite could be a major selling point, even if the ARM versions don't include every feature of their Intel-based cousins.

Most consumer Windows 7 PCs shipping today only include the limited, Starter version of Office, if they bundle it at all. Chances are that most vendors will bundle Office with their Windows RT hardware as well.

Microsoft hasn't said whether there will be a "Professional" version of Office RT, but it has confirmed that Office Home & Student 2013 RT will not be sold as a standalone product.

If that's true for all the versions of Office RT that eventually ship, then not bundling it would effectively be telling customers "you cannot run proper office apps on this device" and what software maker would want to risk that?

In other IT news

Acer is about to revamp its whole line of Xeon-based tower and rack mount servers. Last year, the Taiwan-based company targeted Europe at first as the flag bearer for Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron 6100 CPUs in its F1 series of servers, which were eventually expanded to include Intel Xeon servers. But now with its F2 servers launched by Acer America concurrently with the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, Acer is starting with the Xeon E3 and E5 chips from Intel. The launch of the F2 servers in the United States is also timed to come in the wake of Microsoft's launch of Windows Server 2012, and all six of the new products are certified to run the new operating system, among Linux and most other operating systems.

With the new servers, Acer is going for the bottom-line of the market, with three of the new F2 machines based on the Sandy Bridge-EP Xeon E5-2600 server chips that were announced in March by Intel and three others aimed at the S in SMB market using the Ivy Bridge-HT Xeon E3-1200 v3 processor.

To be sure, the two-socket Xeon E5 machine is the workhorse of the data center the world over, so it's no surprise that Acer is concentrating on just that. It still remains to be seen what other Xeon or Opteron chips Acer will use in future servers, but as an upstart, trying to take on the incumbents in the North American, European, and Asian markets all at the same time, Acer has to choose its targets and its partners carefully.

And the one thing that it cannot afford to do is spread itself out too thin. The Xeon E3 chip is designed for customers who need modest and low cost computing, essentially being a server variant of the Core i7 chip for desktops, so this is also not a surprising move.

As a player in desktop and laptop PCs, Acer has just as much of a chance as any of the other players to gain some market share in the server business as well, particularly since the company isn't interested in selling directly and relies solely on channel partners to push its server solutions.

Source: Microsoft.

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