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Is Microsoft hinting at a fully fondleslab-friendly future for Office 365?

New (slightly) cheaper cloud subscription points to touchscreen tablet fate

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Microsoft will soon debut a new formulation of its Office 365 subscription service aimed at individual consumers, the company said on Thursday, and in the process it hinted that new, touch-centric Office apps may be coming soon.

"We recognize that there are households of all shapes and sizes and we're committed to delivering the right Office for everyone – whether that be one person or an entire household," Microsoft marketeer Chris Schneider said in a blog post.

So far, Redmond's only consumer subscription offering has been Office 365 Home Premium, which launched last January. That version allows each subscriber to install the desktop Office application suite on up to five PCs or Macs and use Office Mobile on up to five mobile devices.

The new Office 365 subscription offering, dubbed Office 365 Personal, costs a little less but only bestows a license for "one PC or Mac and one tablet."

That's an interesting bit of language, because the current versions of Office Mobile for iOS and Android – which are available exclusively to Office 365 subscribers – only work on phones, not tablets.

We asked Microsoft for clarification on this point and were told: "This version allows a user to install the latest full desktop version of Office applications ... on 1 PC or Mac, in addition to 1 Windows tablet so you can use all the features offline as well as online."

Yet what is meant by "Windows tablet" still isn't clear, since x86 Windows tablets run the same OS as Windows desktops and run the desktop suite of Office – there's little distinction between a touchscreen Intel-powered Windows 8 laptop and an Intel-powered Windows 8 Surface tablet, for example.

Meanwhile, ARM-powered Windows RT slabs all come with a fully licensed version of Office that's just like the desktop suite and not very touchscreen-centric.

So this support for one PC and one "Windows tablet" is intriguing because, well, what's the difference? Why the distinction between the two form factors? Microsoft wouldn't say. It's possible that this is leading up to a new set of "touch first" Office apps that run in The Interface Formerly Known as Metro on Windows 8.x and Windows RT, which is something Redmond has been hinting at for ages.

Significantly, however, our Microsoft spokesperson gave no further hints that a new, fondle-friendly version of Office for iOS and Android would be coming soon, saying only, "For iPads and Android tablets we recommend Office Online."

Otherwise, Office 365 Personal confers all of the benefits of Office 365 Home Premium. Subscribers can install the full Office application suite – including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, and Publisher – albeit only on one PC or Mac (and there are no OS X versions of Access, OneNote, or Publisher).

They also get 20GB of cloudy storage on the newly renamed OneDrive, 60 minutes of Skype calling per month, and access to the Office on Demand application streaming service.

Funnily enough, Office 365 Personal subscribers won't really be saving much money. A subscription costs $6.99 per month or $69.99 billed annually. That's compared to $99 per year for Office 365 Home Premium – which, again, allows subscribers to use Office on five times as many devices.

A strict launch date for Office 365 Personal wasn't given, but it will debut this spring. When it does, the current Office 365 Home Premium offering will be renamed Office 365 Home, although it will retain all of its current features. Schneider said Redmond would have more details to share about Office 365 Personal closer to when it launches. ®

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