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Microsoft is launching a new version of Office for Windows PCs and Macs today, with a new twist: Families and home users will have the option to subscribe to the productivity suite for the first time — skipping the one-time licensing cost and instead paying a recurring annual fee of $99.99/year. Previously Office subscriptions were available only to businesses.

It’s a major change for Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and related products — part of a broader effort by the company to adapt the Office suite for a new world of online services, tablets and devices at a time of increasing competition from Google, Dropbox, Evernote and others.

Underscoring the global reach of the longtime Microsoft product, the company is launching the primary Office 365 Home Premium subscription in 162 countries and 21 languages today. The $99.99/year subscription comes with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook and other Office apps for up to five machines, plus an extra 20 GB of SkyDrive Storage, and 60 minutes of Skype world minutes per month.

The software is available for download via Office.com. Microsoft is also offering a 30-day free trial.

Microsoft has optimized the new Office software for touch-screens, and made upgrades throughout the Office applications including an improved Presenter Mode in PowerPoint, a recommended charts feature in Excel, and new features in Outlook for faster navigation of email messages and calendars.

Users will have the ability sign in with their Microsoft accounts to save preferences and settings, share content among their different devices using the SkyDrive cloud storage service, and manage their Office installations via a central hub at Office.com.

This central hub is a nice improvement, and clearly an area where Microsoft is putting a big focus. Testing a version of Office 365 Home Premium this week, I was able to enter the product key just once, and then install the software across multiple Macs and PCs by logging into Office.com on each machine and downloading the installation from my account page.

Microsoft is touting OneNote for the ability to access notes and saved content from virtually any device, but Mac users will be disappointed — although there is an existing version of OneNote for iOS, there’s still no version of the Microsoft note-taking software for OS X.

Office 365 University, targeted to students, will cost $79.99 for a four-year subscription, with the ability for one user to install the software on two PCs or Macs.

What happens if people let the subscriptions expire? Office 365 will shift to a reduced functionality mode that will let users view or print documents but not create or edit. They can, however, still use Office Web Apps for basic editing, and Microsoft says they will retain access to files.

The company will also still sell a traditional version, Office Home & Student, for a one-time-licensing fee of $139.99, with the ability to install word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote on one PC. Office Home & Business 2013 will sell for $219.99, and Office Professional 2013 will sell for $399.99, with extra programs including Microsoft Publisher and Access.

An upgraded version of Office 365 for businesses will launch Feb. 27.

Here’s a gallery of images from Microsoft showing some of the new features in the updated Office applications.

 

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