Yes, Even Microsoft Office Has Apps Now

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With Office 2013, Microsoft is changing its main productivity software in a big way. Not only is the entire interface changing to make it more in line with Windows 8 and touchscreen devices like tablets, it’s also changing the way users can customize Office, bringing apps into the picture.

Wait a second — isn’t Office already an app (actually, a suite of apps)? Yes, the concept of Office apps is a little weird, but the idea is applying the app model to things users have been doing for a long time; for example, writing their own macros and designing add-ons.

Apps change the picture in three key ways:

  1. Users and developers will be able to more easily create customizations, and Microsoft has set up a whole site to walk them through it.

  2. They’ll be able to share them with all Office users (who Microsoft says number at 1 billion).

  3. And they can now easily make money by selling them in the Office Store (which opened yesterday).

One example of an Office app would be a heat map for Excel. Say you have some geographic data, such as the number of waterslides in every U.S. state. With a mapping app installed (surprise, Bing has one), you can plot that data on a map — with colors or different-size circles graphically representing the data — right in the spreadsheet.

The question then becomes: What happens when I share that spreadsheet? The app actually travels with the document, and it’s up to the developer what the recipient will see when they open it. They’ll either have the option to download the app from the Office Store for free, start a free trial or be shuttled to a payment screen.

With Office’s cloud abilities, it’s also easy for an IT department to create a set of apps for everyone at a business. When those employees go to the Office Store, they’ll see their company’s apps under My Organization. The apps that you personally have downloaded will appear under My Apps.

Microsoft sees this as an easy way to build up a catalog of Office enhancements as well as being another way for developers — or even people who may have created customizations and never thought of themselves as developers — to make some money. The revenue split is more favorable than other app models, with an 80/20 split (the devs take 80%).

Among the new apps, the most impressive ones are for Excel since there is no end to creative ways to graphically represent data. Microsoft has created an extensive Medal Tracker app for the Olympics to showcase what Office apps can do. Accessing Olympic data that’s continually updated, the app can render it in many ways, including showing world countries as bunch of bouncing circles of varying size.

How do you like Microsoft’s approach to apps in Office 2013? Do you think you’ll try any? Do you have a customization like a Word macro that you’re excited to share? Let us know in the comments.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Vertigo3d

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