Portable devices like tablets and smartphones now dominate the so-called post-PC era. But with productivity tools still the most-used applications in the workplace, do these need a refresh, too?

Microsoft earlier confirmed that Explorer in Windows 8 will get a UI refresh, particularly with the “ribbon” interface currently found in Office 2007 and 2010. This is supposedly meant to make Windows 8′s native file manager more intuitive for touchscreen interfaces. But it seems Office itself is also about to get a major UI overhaul. CEO Steve Ballmer hinted that Microsoft is overhauling the next iteration of Microsoft Office to feature the Metro user interface.

`You ought to expect that we are rethinking and working hard on what it would mean to do Office Metro style.'

Metro currently features on Windows Phone 7 smartphones, and is the driving force behind the touch- and tile-based interface of the device, although the “Metro” design concept dates back to earlier efforts by Microsoft to have a clean, unified look and feel for its software and services. As such, the design concept has made an appearance in Encarta, Zune, Live and other services, focusing mainly on typography and layout.

The “Metro-ization” of Microsoft office will mean an even bigger change and adjustment than the ribbon interface introduced in 2007. Microsoft envisions the Metro-style office to unify the Office interface in both desktop computers and portable devices, which should make Office more functional than current online Office web apps.

Microsoft has not given any indication as to the planned release date of the next Office iteration, but the company’s product cycle indicates that this might be either 2012, when Windows 8 is released, or 2013, three years after the Office 2010 release. Earlier rumors about Metro implementation in office surfaced, with Outlook screenshots supposeedly sporting a Metro UI. But with the computing industry leaning towards mobile and touch lately, we figure this should be the expected direction from Microsoft.

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