As you probably know, Microsoft released Office 2013 Consumer Preview and we decided to do a “test drive” for this new version of Office. It seems that Microsoft has changed the strategy a bit with the new Office suite and now poses a serious competition for Google Apps and Apple iCloud, due to integration in the cloud with SkyDrive.
For installation, you need a Windows Live account, so you can join the Office 365 service and install the suite. This time the instalation is done online, directly from Office 365 account and you will have 5 new licenses that allow you to install Office 2013 on up to 5 PCs. The instalation procedure doesn’t take long and during the setup, you can start using Office 2013 applications without having to wait until it completes the installation. That was a surprise for us, but we didn’t even tried to take advantage of it, fearing that we might brake something during the installation.
The biggest change in Office 2013 is not the appearance or the functions but rather the integration with the cloud. Microsoft promotes at maximum the ability to create a Word document on a PC with Windows 8 and the possibility to edit the same document on a tablet or a laptop. Regular users can store documents in Microsoft SkyDrive and for businesses it’s possible to integrate with SharePoint.
Office 2013 will be available in several versions, including Home Premium, Small Business Premium, Pro Plus and Enterprise. Each of these versions will be available either online as a Office 365 service, or offline (retail, OEM), as a classical suite install from a DVD. Both types can be integrated with SkyDrive. The online versions of Office available with Office 365 has a major advantage over the offline suite, it can be used on monthly subscriptions, making it cheaper than when buying the offline suite. Besides this, Office 365 can also be used as a streaming service, if you want to edit a document on a friend’s PC that has no Office suite installed.
In terms of appearance, there’s not much difference compared to Office 2010. The Ribbon interface is still present and fully displayed by default. The difference is that now it can be hidden, thus bringing a more simple and airy look. All Office 2013 applications use Metro style appearance, although they run in desktop mode. Microsoft has decided to keep the Office suite in desktop mode to maintain compatibility with previous versions. Besides Metro style, now the toolbar can be customized with various style options.
Unfortunately, it seems that Office 2013 is not very optimized for touch, the Ribbon interface is showing the same small icons that are rather optimized for use with a mouse and keyboard. In an attempt to improve the use on tablet devices, the new Office includes a Touch mode, which is hidden in the Quick Access menu from the title bar. But even so, this doesn’t improve the touch experience too much.
Microsoft Word 2013 introduces an improved method for reading documents. The new Read Mode makes the text fluid, making it possible to display it on multiple device types. In Read Mode no menu will be displayed not even the Ribbon interface. It seems that the Read Mode is the only one optimized for touch.
Also, the new Word brings improved support for PDFs. Not only that it’s possible to save documents in PDF format, but now you can also edit existing ones. Practically Word extracts the content from the PDF file that you want to edit and turns it into a normal Word document. After editing, you can save again the document as PDF.
The new Word 2013 comes with a pretty nice feature. If you read a document and for some reason have to leave, Word comes to your help with a new feature called Resume Reading, which allows to resume reading from where you left off last time, on any device you have available (tablet, laptop, etc..).
Another useful feature is the possibility of embeding online video content into documents from sources such as Bing Video, YouTube or by using any embed code. Unfortunately we couldn’t make it work, but considering that this is the Customer Preview stage, it probably wasn’t so functional. Instead, we were able to use this feature in PowerPoint and it went pretty smoothly.
Although Excel is an application with vast functionality and many of you probably use only a small part of it, Microsoft dared to bring even more functionality to this application. Frankly, the new Excel features are very useful in solving problems related to processing large volumes of data. One of these features is Flash Fill. This feature automatically fills the fields of a column, in case that you want to rearrange the data in the table. For example, when you paste the data obtained from a table on a web page and you want to rearrange the fields of that table, or split them into several columns, all you have to do is to start writing on a new column, some of the data you need and, from the second row down, Excel already realizes what you’re trying to do and automatically completes the rest of the data for you.
Another enhancement of Excel 2013 is Quick Lens Analysis, which will automatically suggest you ways to present your data with certain charts, graphs or animation, specific to the data type you use. Microsoft also integrated in Excel a project codenamed “Agaves”, which allows developers to create add-ins for data processing.
PowerPoint 2013 comes with some important improvements. One of these is the support for social networks and multi-display devices. An interesting ability is that now you can insert photos from Facebook, Flickr and other similar services into PowerPoint, without the need to save the image first.
Presentations in PowerPoint 2013 have also become easier. Now PowerPoint provides users with a feature called Presenter View, which enables a second screen for presentation. The tablet or laptop from which you do the presentation, will show you a special interface that has several buttons to control the presentation, a preview of the next slide and notes for the current slide.
Of all the Office 2013 applications, Outlook comes with the most improvements. The new Outlook adds support for Exchange ActiveSync and allows synchronization of the most popular email services like Hotmail or Gmail. Although in the past Outlook had support for POP and IMAP, it was not enough. The contacts and the calendar did not synced automatically. Fortunately this problem was solved in Outlook 2013 with the help of Exchange ActiveSync.
Regarding Outlook’s new design, the navigation bar is now displayed horizontally at the bottom-left of the application and if you hover over any of the menus items, like the Mail, Calendar, People or Tasks, a Peek view will show the content from them without having to open each section separately. In addition to this, the new Outlook seems to have changed its color from orange to blue, which we like very much (you understand why).
And since we talked earlier about calendar, it seems that Microsoft has included weather in this version. You can add more locations, but unfortunately, if an appointment is in another city or another country, Outlook will not show automatically the weather at destination, making this feature useless.
OneNote 2013 will come in two versions, a classical one for desktop mode and one for Metro. It seems that the Metro one can be installed separately, independently of the Office suite. On tablets, OneNote 2013 comes with a quite nice radial menu, which facilitates the use of the touch environment.
On the touch side, Microsoft failed to make any miracles this time, but hopefully the future will bring improvements. For now, the most likely scenario of use for Office 2013 remains the mouse and keyboard. But, if necessary, you can also use the touch. Even if the interaction with the desktop in Windows 8 poses serious challenges in terms of productivity, it seems that Office 2013 improves this.
Overall, Office 2013 is a big step forward from the point of view of integration with the cloud. But probably for the average user, it will not be so important to consider an upgrade. However, the new Outlook and the new Excel convinced us to consider quite seriously an upgrade to Office 2013.
If you want to try Office 2013, you can download it from Microsoft’s official website. Remember that you need a Windows Live account so you can activate your Office 365 account! We hope it will impress you as much as it impressed us. Happy testing!