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Office 2013: first look

Office 2013: first look
Our Holly takes a look at what's new in Office 2013

Office is the last of the Microsoft core products to have the full Windows 8 facelift. There are lots of new features, a new look, a new pricing structure, as well as a push towards working "in the cloud". Here I'm going to test drive the four main components; Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint and tell you about my favourite ( and least favourite) features.

Licensing

Office 2013 can be purchased in a number of different ways. Home users can choose to buy it once as a boxed version, or pay a yearly subscription with added benefits.

The four boxed options are; Office Home and Student 2013 with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote and is priced at £109.99; Office Home and Business 2013 which also includes Outlook and is priced at £219.99. Office Professional 2013 includes all the Office programmes; Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access and Publisher and is priced at £389.99, these are all licensed for one user only.

Subscription licenses are not a new thing when it comes to operating systems but this is the first time Microsoft have introduced them for Office. The Office 365 Home Premium subscription can be shared with up to 5 people in the same household and each user can have their own installation of Office on their PC or Mac (yes, I did say Mac, although they will get Office for Mac 2010 until a new version is released). Each family member will also get an additional 20GB of Skydrive storage and 60 minutes of Skype calls a month. This is all priced at £79.99 per year, which all in all is pretty good value.

Buying for business?  Office 365 is available in a variety of packages.  We're happy to discuss which would be the right fit for you.  You can even try it free, by clicking here.

 

Office On Demand

OoD cropped 2

 

Office 365 users have access to a new 'Office on Demand' service which allows subscribers to stream office software to their machine when they need to work on a document. When the user opens an Office document and signs into their Office 365 account, the computer and file is intelligently scanned to see what software is available and if necessary, an Office application is streamed from the web. The application is ready to use within a few minutes of the download starting and the full array of features are available. For complex documents like advanced Excel spread sheets and professional PowerPoints, this is much more useful than the web app versions that users had to deal with previously.

What else is new in Office 2013?

There are a few new features that work across all of the applications that are worth mentioning. The first thing that you won't fail to notice is the big push towards the "cloud". When you first install Office 2013 you are asked if you would like to sign in with your Microsoft account and this is used to ensure all of your devices look the same. All of your layout preferences and quick links are synced across all of your devices. In Office 2013 the default location to save to is your Skydrive account, rather than 'My Documents'. This is not a problem for home users, particularly if you signed up early and have plenty of storage, but network users in particularly might find it irritating.

Office 2013, like Windows 8, has been designed to be used on both traditional PCs and tablets. This of course was always going to be a challenge and hasn't been entirely free of glitches. However, the touchscreen mode in the final consumer release has seen a big improvement over the preview versions where some of the buttons were a little too small to be easily usable.

The layout of Office 2013 has been designed for high resolution widescreen monitors. Windows have been placed with plenty of space around them by default, but the whole space can appear cramped when you view this on an older low resolution monitor. PowerPoint templates have all defaulted to widescreen 16:9 ratios, although these can be adjusted.

Outlook 2013 Message list previewOutlook

Outlook is probably the Office application I spend the most time in, so I'm particularly interested in the changes that have been made here.

Apart from the Windows 8 looks, and bright white background, the first thing that users will probably notice is the message preview on emails in your message list. Both read and unread emails will show one, two or three lines of the message text underneath the subject line, a useful tool to help you sort the urgent emails from the office banter.

Outlook 2013 has also added improved folder search, allowing you to search for all outlook items, including calendar events and contacts.

The addition of keyboard shortcut commands to Outlook 2013 will be welcome news to many. As a native Mac user, I'm a big fan of keyboard shortcuts for fast actions. However, I've seen the long list of available Outlook commands and it might take me a while to get up to speed!

There are some changes to Outlook that users might find frustrating, such as no longer being able to delete a message or accept a message directly from a notification. 

Mobile users might also have to get used to some functionality changes. If you use a mobile dongle or tethered phone connection to connect to the web then Outlook will automatically stop sending and receiving emails to save you bandwidth. To reconnect and start receiving messages again, just click the notification at the top of the screen.

Word

The granddaddy of all Office applications, Word, has the most notable new features.

The ability to edit PDFs has been at the top of most wanted feature lists for longest and Microsoft have responded. PDFs can be opened in Word as fully editable Word documents, which can then be saved as either Word document or PDF files. In fact, Microsoft has added an "export to PDF" function to the whole Office suite. Say goodbye to Adobe Reader and all those niggly little PDF writers, Microsoft has provided all the functions you need in one piece of software. Bellissimo!

Word Simple Markup ToolMicrosoft have made big improvements to the way you mark changes on collaborative documents, which is really handy when multiple users are working on several versions of a document. Microsoft have added something they called 'simple markup', which basically adds a red dash to highlight where changes have been made. These can be expanded to see more details on what has been changed, who made the changes and any comments they left. You can also leave a comment back or contact them directly using the details in their contact card e.g. email or Skype number. This would come in particularly useful for larger businesses working across multiple sites or for organisations where people are in and out of the office a lot.

Microsoft has also added some new templates, alignment guides and the ability to insert videos and pictures straight from the web. This could be your own SkyDrive account or a Google Search, there is also increased selection of royalty free clipart images. The combination of these mean that it is much easier to make professional looking posters, mailshots and newsletters from within Word without having to venture into Publisher.

Office 2013 has been designed with tablets in mind as well as desktops, and reading mode is a feature that will be very useful on a tablet but will probably never be used by a desktop user. Reading mode essentially strips all the inessentials from your screen to make more room for your document. It simplifies text, expands the document to full screen and removes toolbars, although you can still access useful features such as the thesaurus by right-clicking.

 

Excel

Excel has always been a very powerful tool, but only as powerful as you make it. Microsoft look to be addressing this issue by getting Excel to give you a little helping hand, and thankfully it isn't in the form of a paperclip!

The Quick Analysis tool can be used to help you decide the best formatting, charts, tables, totals and sparklines to add based on your data. For example; if you highlight a selection of data and click the quick analysis tool that appears in the bottom right, click formatting and you will see the following options;

Excel Quick Analysis

Point to an option to preview it or select it to apply.

Excel will use a similar data analysis to recommend charts to you. Select your data and select insert, click "Recommended charts" and Excel will show you a list of recommendations based on your data set.

Flash Fill is a new feature that data entry specialists will love! It's like autofill but works by recognising patterns in your data. It won't get it right every time, but it will make most Excel related tasks quicker.

 

PowerPoint

Easily customise new Powerpoint themesPowerpoint has been treated to some new themes and templates as part of the upgrade. The colour schemes and fonts can be changed on all the themes which gives you lots of flexibility. The templates have all been made widescreen 16:9 by default. This ratio can be changed quite easily, but it's worth noting if you are planning to present on an older display.

Placing objects on slides is made easier with the introduction of smart guides. These lines show you when the object you are inserting is inline with existing images or texts on your slide. Microsoft have also introduced new fixed master guides, which can be set in a fixed position and can be viewed across all slides in a presentation. This is a very useful tool for ensuring all text boxes line up across all slides, making your presentations look ultra-professional.

Presenter view has been improved in Office 2013. Firstly, presentations can be practiced on one screen, quite handy for the commute to your big show! Slides can also be viewed in any order using the slide navigator, useful for reviewing items or speeding things along a bit when necessary. PowerPoint has also added an automatic setup feature which will choose the correct monitor settings for you, which is one less thing to worry about before you get on stage.

Conclusion

Microsoft have completely revamped the office suite and I have only really touched on some of the key changes that really stood out. The most obvious change is the look. Office 2013 is well and truly Metro'ed, and although it might seem a little alien at first, it will grow on you. Microsoft have squished a lot of good features into Office 2013, some of which have been a long time coming.

Veteran Office users may find that some of their favourite features have been moved, but on the whole the changes make for a more intuitive experience. Office 2013 seems to be aimed at making more advanced features more accessible and I think they have achieved this. We will have to wait and see how subscriptions will be priced for businesses, but they are likely to be attractively priced. The big question is; would I update just yet? Yes, I think I would.

Already using Office 2013? Why not Tweet us @ResolveIT and share your thoughts. Or for more information on upgrading to Windows 8 and Office 2013, give us a call on 0114 299 4050.


 

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