In depth Office 2013 review: Metro GUI, touch, and cloud powered

The latest version of Microsoft’s Office 2013 (Consumer Preview) has been released and it is available for download on Windows 8 PCs and Windows 7. Microsoft is making Office 15 — this is how it will be commonly known as — modern and more beautiful, clearly very different to what we’ve experienced before. It is Cloud ready, personalized, and it is built to work great with touch-enabled devices, like the upcoming Windows 8 tablets.

Office 2013 focus on allowing users to seamlessly work, share and collaborate with friends, family and coworkers, anywhere on any device. Now documents, settings, and even the applications are always with you wherever you go, making it easier to get things done quicker, which makes it the ultimate competitor to Apple’s iCloud and to Google Apps.

Overview

The new Office offers:

  • Look and feel: New Metro style, fast and fluid, designed with good touch and stylus capabilities.
  • Cloud-connected: Home users can save files to SkyDrive by default, this means that users can access their documents from any computer (Windows or Mac), tablet and smartphone, at any time when an Internet connection is available.
  • Social: Easily view emails, chats, status, updates, pictures, etc. and with integration with Facebook, LinkedIn and other social network services.

Office 2013 powered by the Cloud

SkyDrive logo blue

It isn’t just all about the look and feel, Microsoft is pushing the boundaries to stay competitive and to make Office 13 an end-to-end work and personal solution to create, share and edit documents in real-time. This being on a Windows PC, Windows Phone, or in one of the new Windows 8 tablets, always of course, with an Internet connection. Users can save all their Office documents right in SkyDrive (Microsoft’s online storage solution, same as Google Drive and Apple iCloud) and businesses have the option to use SharePoint and other various solutions.

Cloud-powered also means being able to get the full suite of Office 15 applications on any computer. This is the first time that Microsoft will give the users the ability to stream on-demand a full copy of Office to any Windows 7 or Windows 8 PC with all personal settings — Applications virtualization technology that probably comes from Softricity, company acquired by Microsoft back in 2006 –. Take this as an example, you’re at your friend’s house, you need to finish a PowerPoint presentation for your morning meeting, simply signed in to your Microsoft account, stream a full-featured version of the app you need, finish your presentation and then when you are done, close the application to remove it — Just note that you’ll need an Office 365 Home Premium subscription for the stream on-demand capability, but you can always choose to purchase and install the standalone version of Office 2013 (Desktop version), use SkyDrive to store your documents and use Office Web Apps to finish your work from any computer.

New user interface

Word Start Screen Web

When you launch any Office 2013 application for the first time, don’t be surprised finding out that they look almost identical to Office 2010. The Ribbon menu, which now is fully integrated into Windows 8, still part of the new suite of applications, but with a touch of Metro style design that makes them blend with the upcoming release of the new Microsoft’s operating system. All the applications now feel that belong in Windows 8 with a clean and chromeless user interface, even though they are Desktop applications.

There is a new Start screen experience for each application that is pretty much the same as the 2010 version, but now elements are easier to navigate, better templates and a list of recently opened documents in the left hand side.

One feature that you’ll notice right away is the new account sign-in option in the top-right corner of every Office 15 app, which will provide you the ability to linked supported third-party accounts such as LinkedIn, Flickr and others, and of course, the option to enter your SkyDrive credential and save documents in the Cloud.

Office 2013 offers touch capabilities, but it seems to be in the early stages. When in touch mode elements in the Ribbon menu becomes a little bit larger, which makes it somewhat easier to edit and navigate a document, but still doesn’t feel natural. You’ll probably need to use the keyboard and mouse as your primary method to work with Office.

Word 2013

Read and edit PDF files is built at its core

Word 2013 iconMicrosoft is stepping up and improving various aspects on how people interact with Word documents in 2013. The new Read Mode in Word reflows automatically in columns to fit the screen of any device and make reading more compelling. Microsoft has removed distractions created by elements and options, and there is a new feature to zoom in, create charts and tables, and image that beautifully fill the screen.

If you like reading ebooks, you’re also familiar with the bookmark feature that resumes where you left off. Well, Word 2013 has a similar feature called Resume Reading that does the same thing, but it works in documents — Awesome, right? Simple and super useful feature –. Here is the little catch, Resume Reading does require you to have an SkyDrive account to sync the bookmarks between PCs, phones and tablets, but that will be all you need, no extra configuration required. Also when signed in with your Microsoft account, you’ll be saving your files, by default, to SkyDrive (this is the same for all Office 2013 applications).

Word with PDF support

There are some other miscellaneous enhancements like new alignments to help correct photos, charts, and diagrams in text to make them look just right.

Last but not least, Word 2013 brings an improved support for PDF files, allowing users to read and edit PDF documents without extra software or plugins. When you first open a document of this type, it will start in a Protected View, just clicking the enable editing button will grant you the ability to edit the document and save changes right-back to PDF — Editing isn’t perfect, but it works and you don’t have to convert PDF to Word and back again to PDF or install Adobe Reader.

Embed video right into Word. The days of clicking links to watch videos from a file are over!

Embed video Word 2013

The Office team has also added support to embed video right into Word 2013, so you don’t have to click a link to open your web browser to simply watch a YouTube video — Of course this is just a pointer, you’ll still need an Internet connection to play the video. I did noticed that you cannot use the URL to embed the video, you actually need to copy the embed code from the video service, e.g., YouTube embed code, to watch the video.

Other features in Word 2013 are:

  • Viewing documents as if it was a presentation
  • Expand and collapse paragraph options in reading mode
  • Present a document online to other people in their web browser — They can follow you scrolling, even though they don’t have Word installed in their computer.

Excel 2013

Excel 2013 icon

Although Excel already have tons of features, almost hard to keep up with, Microsoft has yet added a few more to help you get the job done quicker — Hopefully! –. Excel 2013 shares the same look and feel as all other Office 2013 apps. It also has been optimized for touch-enabled devices, but primarily will work best with the keyboard and mouse.

Flash Fill may be one of the most important improvements inside this widely used application. This is an option that makes a lot simpler to reformat and rearrange data automatically.

Quick Trend is a new feature that scan historical data and it can provide future prediction analyzes. There is also a new Add-in that can look for errors in a spreadsheet, any sort of inconsistency, and also typical, broken URLs.

Excel Start screen

Quick Analysis is a new simple to operate visualization tool for Excel spreadsheets. This tool provides various ways to present data visually, and charts feature can automatically present the most optimized type of chart based on the data on the spreadsheet. This is also accompanied with chart animations that can suggest richer ways to view where the data has been moved in a chart when modifications occur.

One cool feature that the software giant is also implementing in Excel 2013 is the ability for other apps to integrate with Excel, that way data can be combined with web information. Lastly, Office Professional Plus will also include Quick Explore for cross-tab analyzes of big datasets, and  Power View, a feature for data exploration, presentation and visualization in single view.

Outlook 2013

Outlook 2013 icon

If you are an Outlook users, prepare to be amazed… Outlook 2013 is by far the single application in the Office 2013 suite to bring the most improvements. To start there is a new Exchange ActiveSync that better supports and makes easier to add your favorites email services like Hotmail and Gmail. In previous version of the popular email client, POP and IMAP account support was present, it was enough for email, but other elements like contacts and calendars didn’t sync automatically. Now with the new Exchange ActiveSync you can have all 3 (email, contacts and calendar).

Microsoft is making this version of Outlook more social by bringing Facebook and LinkedIn into the game to grab all of your contacts from one place. Like in all the Office apps, the Ribbon menu still present, but you can always hide it easily to gain more real-estate on the screen. By default when you launch the app for the first time the navigation bar is in the compact view, with only some important options visible such as flag, delete, move, respond, and mark as unread on the right side.

Menus Outlook 2013

Peeks provides you the ability to look at your appointments, schedule or the contacts without moving between sections on Outlook 2013.

Inline replies is another feature that allows you reply to an email really fast. MailTips is another interesting feature that informs you about common mistakes such as missing an attachment file, if the person you are trying to send an email is out of the office, etc.

The next time you open Calendar in Outlook 2013, you’ll notice that Microsoft has also added a new section for weather, and like Weather apps, you can add multiple locations to the bar. This will be more useful when you are setting up a meeting outside.

PowerPoint 2013

PowerPoint 2013 icon

PowerPoint is probably one of the most widely used presentation app for work, home and school, and like its brothers, it is also getting some Metro makeover and some new interesting features related to multi-screen capabilities and social network integration. Starting a presentation in PowerPoint 2013 is a lot simpler than ever before, thanks to a much better Presenter View, with this option you can control what it’s being displayed to your viewers while checking what is coming up next. People will only see what you show them. Furthermore, there is a Auto-extend feature that is capable of detecting all the available displays connected to the computer and it makes sure that the Presenter View gets to the desired screen without any configuration.

School users may like this one: The new version of PowerPoint also incorporates a new nifty feature that adds the ability to directly insert images from Flickr, Facebook, and various other online services to a presentation — What’s good about it, is that users don’t have to save the images first, just sign in to your Microsoft and to the account where the image you want is in and insert. Also adding images from SharePoint, Clip Art from the Office website, and from SkyDrive are supported.

PowerPoint 2013 presentation

PowerPoint 2013 also share the same new user interface like the rest of the Office 2013 apps, when signed in with your Microsoft account, you also will be saving your presentation in the Cloud by default. You can share and collaborate with others by just sending a link, which also will allow you to grant permissions. There are theme variants that provides you with the ability to change how your presentation looks. The company has also added more video format support to PowerPoint 2013. Although, all the changes are toward the right direction, some features presented in the new Word 2013 aren’t part of the new PowerPoint like embedding online videos or Resume Reading.

OneNote 2013

OneNote 2013 icon

OneNote is a very powerful notebook like application that is getting popularity and it is also getting some changes in this new update. OneNote 2013 is part of the Office 2013 suite, but it won’t be released as a desktop application until next year. Having said that, the software giant has already revealed what you can expect in the new version.

For starters the desktop version looks identical as all the other Office 2013 apps and it has been optimized for touch devices. There is a new full-screen mode that removes any distractions and it converts into a really nice note taking application. Perhaps one of the noticeable addition is the new radial menu that allows you to get quick access to different common tasks like font, color, insert, etc. The OneNote radial menu will change its elements depending on what you are doing at that moment. For example, if you are working with a pen, the pen accessories will be displayed. Other features include: one-tap search, simple touch gestures for sharing features, pen input capabilities, and more.

Radial menu OneNote

OneNote page

Versions

Office logo Orange solo

There still no pricing set for this new upgrade, but the software giant will offer the new Office as standalone client installation and as a subscription based service, that the company calls Office 365 which should be inexpensive. Anyone can give it a try right now by signing up for the Office 365 Home Premium Preview with this link, and IT Pros can use this link to download Office Professionals Plus 2013.

Office 365 Home Premium includes:  It allows home users to access all Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access, OneNote and Publisher, moreover users will also benefit from:

  • Free upgrades
  • Set up Office on up to 5 devices including PCs or Macs
  • 20GB of SkyDrive storage to save your documents on the cloud
  • Office on-demand, even if the apps aren’t installed on that computer

This is the Microsoft approach to offer Office on demand and it is a subscription based service.

As a standard installation you’ll get access to Word, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher, and PowerPoint. Plus the benefits of the Cloud with a Microsoft account and SkyDrive.