touch-optimized versions of Microsoft Office are in the pipeline. The news initially spurred speculation about Office on the iPad, but according to a new report, Microsoft isn't just transitioning existing Office software to touchscreens; it's also creating an entirely new application.
The new Modern UI app, codenamed Office Reader, was demonstrated Thursday in front of thousands of Microsoft employees during a meeting in Seattle, according to a report in The Verge. Microsoft VP Kirk Koenigsbauer presented the multimedia tool, which supports Web pages, Office documents, PDFs and interactive e-books. The app reportedly will be able to recommend content and include several methods for organizing information.
Office Reader also will include stylus support, making it a potentially ideal companion to the Surface Pro line, which comes with a digital pen included. Stylus users should be able to circle, underline and highlight text, and to jot down notes in a right-hand column. The app will also have baked-in hooks to Bing.
[ Is a mini version of Microsoft's beleaguered Surface tablet on the way? Read Microsoft Surface Mini Rumors Grow. ]
Koenigsbauer reportedly referred to Office Reader as part of Office's "Gemini" phase. Rumors have referred to a "Gemini" update for months and suggest the apps will appear sometime in 2014.
It's not clear how Microsoft plans to bring Office Reader and the other apps to market. It goes without saying that Windows devices will get immediate access to any new apps, but Microsoft has been more reserved with machines that run competing platforms. A version of Microsoft Office is available for iPhones, Android smartphones and Windows Phone 8 devices, but only Windows Phone owners can use the apps without an Office 365 account.
Microsoft could enhance the appeal of its own devices by temporarily keeping new apps exclusive. But competing options such as Apple's free iWork for iOS are also vying for touchscreen users, which means Microsoft will continue to hear calls for a cross-platform approach.
Koenigsbauer reportedly demonstrated other new technologies as well, such as an Office "lens" for Windows Phone, a tool that lets the user snap a picture of a whiteboard and then automatically uses optical character recognition to convert it into a document.
In addition to showing off the new Office apps, the meeting also served as a sort of farewell for Steve Ballmer, who will be retiring sometime in the next year. According to numerous online reports, Ballmer teared up as he concluded his remarks, telling the thousands in attendance that they worked for "the best company in the world."
The meeting also coincided with a report by the website All Things D that Ford CEO Alan Mulally is now the frontrunner for Ballmer's job. Mulally guided Ford back to profitability after the company was forced to take out a $23.4 billion loan to avoid bankruptcy. Microsoft customers and shareholders would no doubt like to see a similar turnaround as Microsoft continues its reorganization effort. But Mulally has frequently insisted he has no plans to leave the automaker, a point Ford exec Mark Fields reiterated to Bloomberg in response to the new speculation.
Prior to the Mulally rumor, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop had been widely seen as the leading contender, especially after Microsoft purchased Nokia's device business for $7.2 billion.