Microsoft retools Office for touch screen, Web use

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Microsoft is aiming its redesigned Office software at the growing number of people who expect their favorite applications to be at their fingertips, wherever there’s an Internet connection.

In an attempt to extend a lucrative franchise beyond personal computers, the world’s biggest software maker is selling a retooled version of Office as an online subscription service to consumers for the first time. It’s a departure from Microsoft’s traditional approach of granting permission to install Office on solitary machines for a one-time fee.

Tuesday’s release comes six months after Microsoft previewed the new-look Office, which includes popular word processing, spreadsheets and email programs.

“This is a fundamental shift in our business that began a several years ago,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer wrote in a blog post.

The revamped Office boasts touch controls, just like the redesigned version of the Windows operating system that Microsoft Corp. released three months ago. The company, which is based in Redmond, Wash., is trying to ensure that its products retain their appeal at a time when people increasingly rely on mobile devices instead of personal computers.

To tap into that trend, Microsoft is promoting Office 2013 as a program tailored for use over the Internet. All information is automatically stored in Microsoft’s data centers, allowing for access to the same material on multiple devices. The content also can be stored on the hard drives of devices.

But Microsoft still isn’t trying to get Office on the largest number of devices possible. Office 2013 doesn’t include an option that works on Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPad or smartphones and tablet computers running the Android software made by Google Inc. That leaves out the majority of smartphones and tablets sold in the past two years.

Microsoft is offering Office 2013 in a $100 annual subscription package, called 365 Home Premium, which includes online access on up to five Windows devices or Apple’s Mac computers.

The company believes Office 2013 is currently best suited for Windows devices, said Chris Schneider, Microsoft’s senior public relations manager for Office. Microsoft is limiting Office’s reach as it tries to grab a bigger piece of the mobile market with its own operating system for smartphones and tablets.

Office will still be sold under a one-time licensing fee that allows the software to be installed on a single machine. Prices for that option start at $140 and range up to $400. People who don’t need the entire Office bundle can buy individual programs such as Word, Excel and Outlook for $109 apiece. Microsoft outlines its pricing options in its online store, http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/buy/.

Office 2013 is the first overhaul of the software suite in three years.

The bundle of programs has become a staple on desktop and laptop computers, providing a rich vein of revenue for Microsoft.

The Microsoft division anchored by Office generates about $24 billion in annual sales, accounting for nearly one-third of the company’s total revenue.

Revenue in the Office division fell from the previous year during the three months ending in December, partly because many prospective buyers have been awaiting the latest version.

Microsoft’s stock gained 10 cents Tuesday to close at $28.01. The shares are up by less than 1 percent since Microsoft released Windows 8 to great fanfare three months ago. Meanwhile, the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 index has climbed by about 7 percent.

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