Microsoft is building another Office Windows 8-style application. Sources familiar with Microsoft's Office plans have revealed to The Verge that the app, codenamed Office Reader, is designed to be a cross format tool for consuming different types of content. During yesterday's employee-only company meeting, Microsoft's Kirk Koenigsbauer demonstrated the tool alongside a number of updates coming to Office in what he described as the "Gemini" wave.
Office Reader is a new modern Windows 8-style app that supports web pages, Office documents, PDFs, ebooks, and textbooks. At first launch it includes library, sources, and recommendations sections. Koenigsbauer demonstrated PDF support and the ability to reflow text to navigate through PDFs easily on a touchscreen. During a textbook demo, the ability to look at tables and interact with various parts of the content was also shown.
Perhaps the most interesting part is Microsoft's work with stylus support for Office Reader. Koenigsbauer showed a number of tools activated via a Surface Pro pen that allow users to circle, underline, highlight, and make notes on any document.
When I first read about this story I didn't believe it. You see, Microsoft already has a reading app for Windows 8.
It's called Reader, and it already supports PDF and XPS. That last format is MS's own funky ebook format that no one actually uses. What's more, the list of features for this app mention that you can use it to
- Fill forms, add notes (with a keyboard or stylus), highlight content.
- Share and print files.
- Quickly open recently used files.
I don't know about you but those features and the ebook format support would seem to have a lot in common with the "Office Reader" app which was demoed.
A PDF is a PDF, and if you squint just right you might mistake XPS for an ebook format. The textbooks might have been in either XPS or PDF, and the annotation options don't sound too different from what the current app can already do.
Sure, the newer app has support for office formats, but I can't help but wonder if this "new" app which everyone is so excited about is really just a new version of the existing app with new features. I don't have Windows 8 (thank FSM) so I cannot confirm my suspicions, but at this point I would bet that I am closer to being correct than The Verge.
Update: Or maybe not. I just conversed with Tom Warren, the blogger who broke the story on The Verge, and he says that the new app is separate from the existing app. And yes, there is a Nook connection.
P.S. I think we might be reading about one of the reasons that Microsoft invested in Nook Media last year. Along with a Nook app for Windows 8, MS might be getting technical assistance with this new Office Reader app. Of course I can't prove it and it really doesn't matter much, but I do wonder if there's a connection.