Updated at 3:45 PM PT: ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley reports that these are just examples of custom tiles, not Office 2013 Metro apps.
Microsoft let many cats out of myriad bags in its whopping 1,817-word reveal of Windows 8.1 yesterday, but it's what the company didn't talk about that's almost more intriguing. Mixed in among all the chatter was a curious screenshot of the Windows 8.1 Start screen, and tucked away in amongst its Live Tiles were four eye-opening squares.
Folks, I think we just got our first look at modern-style Office apps. Or at least their Live Tiles.
Modern Office apps
Check out the image above, from Microsoft's own Windows 8.1 blog post. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote all make an appearance, positioned there next to the SkyDrive app.
So what, you ask? Microsoft owns Office! Indeed it does—but Microsoft does not offer modern UI versions of its core Office programs. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote are only offered as desktop programs as of today. And pinning those desktop productivity programs to the Windows 8 Start screen creates tiles with the same light blue background as any other desktop app—and not the colorful squares shown in Microsoft's blog post.
Microsoft does offer a modern app for its Lync communications software, though, and its Start screen tile bears a striking resemblance to the Office app tiles in the Windows 8.1 blog post, from the simple colors to the "open book"-style design.
In the screenshot to the right, you'll see tiles of Microsoft's modern Lync app alongside tiles for the core Office desktop programs, all from my Windows 8 Start screen. See what I mean?
Now, the appearance of colored Office tiles in Microsoft's blog post could just mean that we'll have the ability to choose background color for tiles derived from desktop programs, which would be pretty cool in and of itself. (Update: And apparently the case, according to Foley's Tweet. Microsoft's blog post and the subsequent coverage said nothing about customizable tile colors, so hey, the appearance of those tiles nonetheless brought something new to light. -Brad)
But consider that no other desktop program was shown in any of Microsoft's Windows 8.1 screenshots... and the four tiles' close resemblence to the Lync app's tile, and the Start screen tiles for Microsoft's other preinstalled such as Video, Music, and Maps... and that those intriguing modern-style Office "Gemini" rumors have been floating around.
Suddenly, the Office tiles in the Windows 8.1 screenshots start to look like a lot more than mere squares. We may know for sure soon. If the Gemini rumors hold true, modern-style Office apps may just land on Start screens around the globe later this year.
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