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Office 2013 Public Preview: Office On Demand


If you’re familiar with Windows 8, you know that one of the most incredible things about this new Windows is that it can install from scratch in as little as 15 minutes and can perform a full system reset in about 7 minutes. But what if told you that Office 2013 is even faster? That you can trigger a web-based install of Office 2013 and start using any one of the applications in under two minutes? It sounds incredible, I know. But it’s true.

The key to this engineering feat is a new feature called Office On Demand. It’s really an improved version of the Click-To-Run technologies Microsoft employed in Office 2010, and like Click-To-Run, it uses Microsoft virtualization technologies and Internet streaming to blast Office onto your PC at speeds that will leave your head spinning.

Click-To-Run was pretty quick, too, of course, but it had some issues. Because of the underlying use of Microsoft’s Application Virtualization (App-V) technologies, it dumped weird App-V vestiges on the user’s PC, like a virtual Q: drive in File Explorer that was required for the virtual environment under which Office actually ran. Office On Demand, however, uses the latest App-V technologies, which removes the need for a virtual drive and provides a more seamless experience.

Microsoft also had issues delivering true Aero-style applications virtually in the past, but with the move to flatter, Metro-like UIs in both Windows 8 and Office 2013, these new applications are not visually any different than they would be if installed locally. (And yes, purists/Luddites are of course welcome to install the final version of Office 2013 the old fashioned way.)

Of course, Office On Demand still uses virtualization technologies. And while the Q: drive is gone, the one area in which I’ve seen Office 2013 expose its virtualization underbelly is that there is no file system support for new Office documents. So while you may be used to right-clicking in a folder (or on the desktop) and choosing, say, New, Word Document from the context menu, those choices are not available with Office 2013. (On a clean install. If you install Office 2013 side-by-side with a previous Office version, those commands will still be present.)

Niggling issues aside, Office On Demand, like Click-To-Run, is mostly about advantages. And there are many.

Because you are really installing Office 2013 into a virtualized environment with Office On Demand, you can run Office 2013 next to an existing Office version. This is good for testing purposes, of course, and will help you get up to speed with Office 2013 in a way that doesn’t stomp out whatever familiar Office version you were using. New to this version, I’m told, is the ability to run Outlook 2013 side by side with a previous Outlook version, too, something that wasn’t possible previously. (I’ve not tested this.)


Office On Demand is fast. Really, really fast. From the moment you click the Install software link on the Office preview web site to the moment at which you can actually run any full-featured Office application you choose to use is roughly one minute and thirty seconds. Over wireless. In fact, the slowest parts are the handful of times you actually have to interact with the installer, including a bit where you pick a background pattern.


Office On Demand is also smart. When you get to that minute and a half mark of the install, Setup will jauntily inform you that it’s wrapping things up but that you’re free to just start using Office if you’d like. That wrapping up bit does take several minutes—still about 1/10th the time of a traditional Office install, by the way—but to test it, just run your favorite Office application. You’ll see a little note in the splash window about it streaming necessary features—see? Smart—and then it just starts up, literally single digit seconds later. This is contented sigh stuff, people.


Microsoft points to other advantages of this system—its low impact on system resources, its relatively tiny use of disk space, and so on—but you know what? This is all just icing on the cake. I’ve been doing mammoth, monolithic installs of Office 2010 “slipstreamed” with a service pack—and let’s face it, there’s nothing “slipstreamed” there at all, these updates just install manually after Office and then still need to be updated with a massive Windows Update dump afterwards—and comparing Office On Demand to that little charade is like night and day. It’s like comparing the ecological impact of a Cadillac Escalade to a bicycle.

Put simply, Office On Demand is awesome.


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