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A week ago at TechEd New Zealand, I was able to spend a couple of days with a Windows RT tablet and one of the things I was curious to investigate was how, if it all, Office 2013 RT differed from the version I’d been using on Windows 8. I couldn’t see any differences. But a nice blog post today from Microsoft details the very minor differences between Office 2013 and Office 2013 RT, and discusses a few interesting details about the latter product’s development.

“People wanted a complete Office experience; not just a viewer,” Microsoft’s David Brodsky writes in an Office Next blog post. “However, they also wanted a version of Office that was optimized for the tablet form factor – most importantly supporting touch and providing long battery life. Office Home & Student 2013 RT is Office running on the ARM-processor based Windows RT OS. It is full Office built from the same code base as the other versions of Office, with small changes that were required as a result of differences between Windows 8 and Windows RT.”

Microsoft had two simple goals for Office RT: It had to be the equal of the x86 versions, with the same look and feel and same levels of reliability and polish. And it had to provide stunning battery life, performance, and responsiveness.

Of course, Windows RT devices are architecturally quite different from Windows PCs. Microsoft notes that all RT devices will be touch enabled, and most will include just 2 GB of RAM and SSD storage with just 16 to 32 GB of capacity. So Office RT needed to be optimized for this environment.

There’s a lot of good info in the post about how they made this happen. But what I’m most interested in, still, is how Office 2013 RT differs from Office 2013. And that information is provided as well.

“Differences between the versions are subtle,” Brodsky writes. “Office Home & Student 2013 RT includes the vast majority of Office Home & Student 2013 features available on PCs, and the features customers use most. Windows RT tablets have special requirements for security, reliability, and battery life, and we’ve worked to ensure that the RT version is well-suited for the platform. Beyond the differences listed below, Office for Windows RT is fully-featured Office with complete document compatibility.”

Listed differences include:

  • Macros, add-ins, and features that rely on ActiveX controls or 3rd party code such as the PowerPoint Slide Library ActiveX control and Flash Video Playback
  • Certain legacy features such as playing older media formats in PowerPoint (upgrade to modern formats and they will play) and editing equations written in Equation Editor 3.0, which was used in older versions of Office (viewing works fine)
  • Certain email sending features, since Windows RT does not support Outlook or other desktop mail applications (opening a mail app, such as the mail app that comes with Windows RT devices, and inserting your Office content works fine)
  • Creating a Data Model in Excel 2013 RT (PivotTables, QueryTables, Pivot Charts work fine)
  • Recording narrations in PowerPoint 2013 RT
  • Searching embedded audio/video files, recording audio/video notes, and importing from an attached scanner with OneNote 2013 RT (inserting audio/video notes or scanned images from another program works fine)

And while this isn’t news, you can’t buy or download Office 2013 RT: It will come preinstalled on new Windows RT devices only. As previously revealed, the initial release of Office 2013 will be a preview release and Microsoft will update customers to the final version when it ships between November and January, depending on language.