Office 2013: A first look at the new version of Microsoft Office

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer introduces and demos Office 2013

Today, Microsoft unveiled the new Windows 8 based version of Microsoft Office via live webcast hosted by CEO Steve Ballmer. Building on the momentum behind the release of Windows 8 OS, Microsoft gave consumers a peek at the coming version of Office 2013 (generally referred to as Office 15), and piecedtogether Microsoft’s cloud-driven vision for how it will tie into the features of Windows 8, and the social integration of other Microsoft products such as Yammer and Skype.

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Screenshot of Office 2013 and Word 2013 preview showing different templates available in Word 2013

Corporate VP, Kirk Koenigsbauer took viewers on a grand tour of some of the new features that Windows 8’s touch-based environment allows within Office 2013 including a radial menu in One Note that allows quick and simple text formatting that deviates from the familiar ribbon found in other Office programs. The highly-criticized ribbon in Office also got a facelift and has been renamed the “navigation bar.” Sure, it’s not the most daring rename in the history of software, but the condensed and streamlined version of the ribbon will be better received than the previous version. Kirk’s demonstration of how simple editing documents within Word on a tablet becomes when you introduce touch features made possible by Windows 8 will make you never want to plug in a mouse again. In addition to a sleeker ribbon display, Microsoft also introduced the ability of using a stylus that can record notes over documents and easily move between stylus and keyboard/mouse without any hesitation.

Screenshot of Office 2013 and its new touch feature with on screen touch keyboard

A New Touch-Friendly Outlook 2013

Arguably Office’s most widely used program, Outlook 2013 introduces In-Line Reply, allowing users to reply to emails directly from the reading pane, eliminating the need to open a new window that clutters up your experience. Microsoft also made it possible for users to take a peek into your calendar, tasks, and contacts from your email pane using “quick peeks” which opens a small preview window allowing access to the most critical information usually partitioned off in separate views. The goal here is to keep everything you need accessible even when you need to glance at other functions of Outlook. Instead of looking at two different windows to match up your calendar to a replying email, you can peek at your calendar while still writing that email.

Office 2013 Goes Social

One of the most exciting features many users will find in Office 2013 has to be the new Social aspect, and now having the simplified ability to share documents across your contacts and social networks. Office 2013 users can now share documents via link with non-Office users that will open inside of a browser, eliminating the headache of working with outside users that don’t possess the same Microsoft assets. Integration with social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are now also found within the same pane of glass, and gives users a simpler way of sharing documents. Clearly a direct advance against the market share Google Apps has fought so hard to acquire, Microsoft has turned its largely “Buy our tools or suffer the consequences” history, and looks to bring users back to the Microsoft table with a more considerate approach.

SkyDrive will also play a much more critical role in Office 2013 as Microsoft uses the cloud storage site to keep Office users connected to their documents from any device. With heavy integration throughout Office 2013, SkyDrive now becomes the place to store documents, pictures, music, One Notes, and anything else normally found on your local hard drive. An obvious push towards cloud connectivity, Office will now bridgethe gap between desktop/tablet productivity and cloud storage options like Apple’s iCloud, and Google Drive. In addition to the 20GB of free storage with SkyDrive, Microsoft is also adding 60 mins per month to user accounts to be used on Skype, a recent pc-to-pc video communication tool that was acquired by Microsoft last year.


Office 2013: First look at Word 2013

As Windows 8 shifts users to more mobile devices, the need to be able to easily view documents in varying windows sizes becomes a growing concern. With the release of Office 2013, Microsoft will also introduce users to a completely new flexible reading mode that adjusts content to fit within any device’s screen, and eliminates the problematic issue with formatting content per device. PDFs also become easier to deal with for the first time with the introduction of PDF reflow which allows users to download a PDF and edit it on the fly after converting it to Word. This feature finally includes the editing of charts, lists, and tables which have been a vocal want for many users in the past.


Office 2013: First look at Excel 2013

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Many users would be considered Excel novices even after years of Excel experience if they have regularly used the same repetitive features of the Microsoft spreadsheet and chart program. Now with the Quick Analysis button, users can choose from recommended PivotTables to create charts from templates based on the data tables they create. Excel 2013 recognizes patterns and offers auto-complete options that aim to allow users to spend less time learning Excel features, and more time for productivity.

Office 2013: Now Offered as a Subscription through Office 365

When Office 365 launched last summer, it came with the bundled or a la carte option of adding Office Professional Plus. Office Pro Plus is currently the subscription version of Office 2010, and is available as 5 downloadable instances for each user licensed within Office 365. With the release of Office 2013, Office 365 users will be able to download the new version at no cost; this opens the door to non-Office 365 customers to also enjoy the benefits of a subscription model for purchasing the Office suite. Office Pro Plus and the coming Office 2013 release both incorporate deep cross-integration between other Office 365 products such as SharePoint Online, Lync Online, and Exchange Online giving the whole suite a unified user experience.

The overall message from Microsoft was a resounding commitment to Windows 8, and the coming shift to more flexible programs that easily morph between desktop, mobile and everything in-between. Ballmer noted, "We've transformed Office to embrace some of the design concepts and principles in Window 8, Windows Phone 8, and Metro… It’s still a product, but focused on Office as a service.” Its biggest service may seem, to some, that this new version of Office may be the push some users need to adopt Windows 8 faster than expected, even if only to to get some of the more exciting features that come with Office 2013.

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