The new version of Microsoft Office, unveiled this week in a consumer preview, has an awful lot riding on it. The strongest claim Microsoft can make for Windows 8 tablets, including the Microsoft-branded Surface, is that they will deliver the full Office experience. This probably won’t mean much to consumers, most of whom can do perfectly well with with the Office alternatives available today for the iPad. But it is a very big deal in the enterprise, where Office still rules and advanced features are routinely used.
To an extent that technology writers on the web often ignore, enterprises live and die in Office and its back office companions, especially Exchange and SharePoint. Support for these technologies in both iOS and Android is limited by the lack of support for full-featured Office applications. Windows 8 delivers that, at least in part, but there are major questions about the usability of the apps without a keyboard and mouse. Based on preliminary experience with the new Office, it looks like the software could give Microsoft a competitive edge, but it is very far from being decisive.