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Office 2013 to offer one-off apps on demand

Close your file and the application vanishes

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As part of its ongoing bid to convince Office customers to switch to a subscription-based pricing model, Microsoft has announced that Office 2013 subscribers will be able to access temporary copies of the desktop Office applications on any computer, delivered via internet streaming technology.

Office 365 subscribers already have access to the Office Web Apps, web-based versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that are hosted on Microsoft's servers (or, alternatively, on a customer's own on-premise SharePoint Server). But these are stripped-down gadgets designed mainly to compete with Google Docs.

Under the new program, called Office on Demand, customers will be able to download full-featured temporary versions of the Office applications that run on the local PC, simply by logging into their accounts on the Office 2013 website. When they're done using them, the applications will in effect disappear.

"What if you could use all the powerful features of the Office applications without doing an install at all?" writes Microsoft lead program manager Paul Barr on the Office team blog. "Wouldn't that be the ultimate 'installation experience'?"

Barr writes that Office on Demand applications must always be launched from the Office website. They do not install shortcuts or register file extensions on the host machine, and although they do leave cached files on the local hard drive "for performance reasons," the applications cannot be launched except through the browser.

Customers do not need to enter a serial number to begin using the applications and they do not need administrative rights on their PCs to download and launch them.

The applications will launch and be ready for use in at least a minute and as little as 15 seconds, Barr says – obviously depending on the speed of the user's internet connection – thanks to "a new architecture" based on Microsoft's App-V application virtualization technology.

Barr says Microsoft is using similar technology, which it's calling Click-to-Run v2.0, in the new Office installation process that debuted with the Office 365 Home Premium Preview in July. Office 365 subscribers don't need to enter a serial number to download and activate copies of Office 2013, because the entire licensing process happens behind the scenes.

According to Barr, installs using the new Click-to-Run technology have a higher success rate than Windows Installer based packages, and it also makes installation more straightforward. For the first time, Office 2013 will install alongside an older version of Office, and users can even run two different versions of Outlook at once, although mixing 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the suite is still not possible.

An added  bonus of the Office on Demand version of the applications, Barr writes, is that the Office website will always deliver the latest versions of the apps, reducing the amount of software maintenance required.

Subscription customers will be able to access Office on Demand versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, Visio, and Project, beginning when Office 2013 ships (probably in early 2013). ®

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