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Microsoft continues its massive revamp with new Office software

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TORONTO - It's been a massively busy last few months for Microsoft, which saw the computer giant release new operating systems for PCs and mobile phones and its first-ever tablet, the Surface.

Now it's the industry-standard Office software suite getting a major update, including a new option to purchase an annual subscription instead of buying a permanent copy.

There are multiple options for consumers, starting with buying Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher or Access a la carte for $119 each. Office Home & Student 2013 for use on one computer — which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote — goes for $139. Office Home & Business 2013 adds Outlook and sells for $249.

Then there's the subscription-basedOffice 365, which encourages users to save documents online and edit them across up to five different devices, including Microsoft smartphones and the Surface. It's $10 a month or $99 a year.

"The proliferation of devices and the new requirements of (how people use) technology is why the new version is so important," said Microsoft Canada president Max Long in an interview.

"You'll be able to have it across five different devices, you choose which devices you want, you'll be able to have the data follow you. I can take my notes on my tablet and when I'm going out to see customers I can see the same document, the same information, on my mobile phone as well.

"The ability now to have it across multiple devices really makes it an attractive proposition and we do expect quite a large percentage of Office users when they buy the new version will go to that subscription version."

Unlike Windows 8 — which has polarized PC users with its radical new interface that many found unintuitive — Long promises Office users will need no adjustment period for the new software.

"If you come in and look at (the new) Office you'll see a lot of similarities and you'll be able to go in there and be comfortable from the first usage," he said and insisted PC users are getting over the initial shock of Windows 8 and adapting.

Windows 8 got rid of the familiar Start button and hid the traditional Desktop interface. Instead, users are first presented with a layout of tiles that resembles a tablet or smartphone home screen. Users must click through that home screen to get to the Desktop.

"People got used to the different interfaces and certainly we found people have migrated very much to the live tiles as they've got more used to it," Long said.

Microsoft is an underdog in the mobile world, a long ways away from challenging Apple and Google's Android. But it is within striking range of Research in Motion's share of the market and Long said Microsoft's strategy is to convince consumers of the merits of having a Windows operating system on all their computers and mobile devices.

"If you're used to using Windows 8 on your laptop or you're using a Surface device or an all-in-one (computer) at home, to have that same experience and have the connected look and feel when you go to a Windows phone is really important to a lot of folks," Long said.

He'll be paying attention to RIM's big BlackBerry 10 launch on Wednesday, which is seen as a make-or-break moment for the Waterloo, Ont.-based company.

"They're a good Canadian company and it would be totally remiss of me not to pay attention to what they're announcing and be engaged and understand what's going on," he said.

"So yeah, I'm looking forward to seeing what they announce and seeing what they're bringing to market."

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