Microsoft released the next version of its productivity suite today. Developed under the name Office 15, it is officially branded as "Office 2013".
At first glance, Office 2013 does not appear to be all that different from Office 2010. The layout of the apps is a bit cleaner, and on a tablet, most items are spaced well enough that the app is easily navigated by fingertip. Still, familiar touches remain. For instance, the ribbon of menu options introduced in Microsoft Office 2007 was rumored to be on the way out, but it's still alive and kicking in Office 2013. And, at least in the preview apps Microsoft supplied us, it's not hidden by default.
When you begin to dig into Office 2013's various applications, however, you'll soon notice that Office 2013 boasts a number of improvements that make creating, editing, reading, and sharing documents quicker and easier. A large part of it has to do with Office 2013 embracing the cloud and touch interface. Collaboration is made easier, whether it's sharing documents via Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service or the ability to reply to comments in a document to form a productive, targeted conversation. And Office 2013 applications feature Touch Mode, which adds a little more space around buttons and icons.
Microsoft isn't talking about pricing yet, but it did send us a preview of Office 2013 on an Intel-based Samsung Series 7 tablet running Microsoft Windows 8 Release Preview, which we used for this review (this is not Office for Windows RT). When we installed Office 2013, it dumped 10 tiles on the Metro start screen: Word, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, PowerPoint, Publisher, Access, Lync, InfoPath Designer, and InfoPath Filler.
During the setup process, Office 2013 asks you to sign into your Windows Live ID. This allows you to save documents to SkyDrive, which means you can access your documents from a variety of your Internet-connected devices. And from the Account screen of the applications, you can add other Connected Services in addition to SkyDrive, such as Flickr, YouTube, and LinkedIn.
After testing out the preview of Office 2013 for the past few days, here are the biggest changes and improvements to a number of the more widely used applications. First stop, Word.
Launch Word 2013 and you'll be greeted with a two-pane start screen, which contains some Metro design elements. On the left is a list of your recent documents and on the larger right pane are large tiles of the various templates. Select a template and Word opens. On the preview application we've been using, we were greeted by the large ribbon of menu options, which was expanded by default. You can collapse it by clicking or tapping on the small upward arrow on the very right edge of the ribbon. (If you hide the ribbon and close Word, it will remain hidden when you reopen Word.)
A new menu item has been added to the seven that carry over from Word 2010. In addition to Home, Insert, Reference, Page Layout, References, Mailings, Review, and View, you also get Design. The Design tab lets you select different document themes, page colors, borders, and watermarks.
Word is also more flexible with images and graphics. It features a Live Layout view. With it, you can drag images, charts, and other graphics around on the page, and text flows and wraps around it. The Format menu tab appears when you add a graphic. It has alignment guides, which help you line up graphics and offer various layouts wrapping text around your graphics.
Two new menu items are listed under the insert tab: Online Pictures and Online Videos. This duo saves you the step of having to save an image or video from Facebook, Flickr, YouTube or another online source to your computer or tablet first before embedding in a document. And Word lets you view embedded videos instead of simply adding a placeholder graphic. Word can also edit PDFs now, which is a huge time saver.
Read Mode, available from the View tab, removes the distraction of all of the menu items, giving you a full screen view of your document. It is particularly welcomed when working on a small tablet. Read Mode still gives you some tools; you can highlight text and add comments. And with comments, you can now reply to another's comment, and you can mark comments as done, which grays them out.
When you save a document, you can save it to your computer, to your SkyDrive, or to SharePoint (if your office has a subscription). And perhaps as a nod to its embrace of cloud computing, SkyDrive is listed above Computer on the Save As screen. You can share documents on social networks, including Facebook and LinkedIn, and you can send invites to people for documents stored in your SkyDrive account. If you share a document with someone who does not own Word, they will still be able to view it by opening it in their browser.
Microsoft Excel 2013, Outlook, and PowerPoint are covered on page 2 of the Microsoft Office 2013 review.
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