July 17, 2012
Hands On: Microsoft Office 2013 Consumer Preview
Derek Walter for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The newest version of Office substantially steps up Microsoft´s game in the cloud storage space. While you can still use Word, Excel, PowerPoint and the rest of the family to save files to your desktop, file sharing and syncing is built into the application´s DNA.
Version 15, which will be known as Office 2013, is in public beta for those who want to give it a go. It has some enhanced visual polish along with the heavy emphasis on Microsoft´s cloud services. Perhaps most importantly for the company´s future, it seeks to make Office mobile-friendly for forthcoming Windows 8 phones, tablets, and Surface devices.
By default, Office wants to save all of one´s files to SkyDrive, Microsoft´s cloud storage service. It is a very solid syncing service for those who want access to files from multiple devices, offering 7 GB free for new users. Microsoft is building a cloud-based platform that will allow users to move between devices without disrupting workflow. There are also many other improvements targeted at the company´s bread-and-butter: businesses who rely on Windows and Office for their productivity needs. Given that Office has over 1 billion users worldwide, keeping the software fresh and poised for future changes in computing without alienating current users is a monumental task.
Word 2013 has many visual and feature improvements. The polish is rather impressive, as the Metro-style interface is very clean, minimalistic, and a pleasure to look at.
For the first time in what seems like forever, the familiar "save" icon has been refreshed. The familiar floppy disk icon now features two rounded arrows, indicating that clicking there will update you to the latest version wherever it may be saved through the cloud.
The cursor glides smoothly across the screen while writing, which is a surprisingly welcome effect. The rest of the interface is very familiar to the current version of Office, but has fonts and other visual touches that are consistent with the company´s move to the Metro interface for Windows 8.
Word suggestions and corrections seem to be more advanced with even some rather gruesome misspellings getting an automatic fix. For further word research, such as through the Word dictionary or thesaurus, you are then prompted to download a dictionary from the “Office Store.” This could be a hint that other applications or tools could be added to further tweak one´s Office experience.
Given its Beta status, there are of course some minor hiccups. For example, closing a document without saving provides a popup box that says it will be temporarily available. However, when clicking that link for more information it only leads to a generic help box. On Windows 7, moving the window around the screen sometimes was a bit jittery.
If you have still been lukewarm to the ribbon, this edition of Office may change your mind. There is almost limitless customization available for both the Ribbon and Quick Access Toolbar.
The day-to-day Office user will probably not find a tremendous amount here that will transform one´s experience. But those who are in a business environment or are looking forward to a Surface of Windows Phone 8 will certainly love the deep integration hinted at here.
Just like Word, Excel feels familiar yet has some updated features that data whizzes will love. For example, Flash Fill will reformat data automatically based on your usage patterns — no need to mess with those highly annoying macros.
A new feature called Quick Trend is designed to rapidly analyze data and incorporate historical and recent trends. There is also Quick Analysis Lens, which suggests methods for presenting the data. A recommended charts feature also suggests the best kind of charts to use based on patterns observed in the data.
PowerPoint 2013 has some improvements that make it a stronger offering, particularly for those who use it with multiple monitors or split-screen presentations.
Presenter View allows you to control what is being shown to viewers while also monitoring your own notes or the next slide.
Also, the Metro-style new start screen is included, with a large selection of themes to choose for presentations.
When it comes to tablets, OneNote most clearly has this interface in mind. OneNote debuted in as an application for Tablet PCs in 2003. It was a good application for the stylus era, as it organized one´s hand-written notes.
You can also draw, annotate, or of course type into a OneNote file. When launching the app there is a clipping tool available for snipping anything you want on screen. However, it is a little annoying given how much screen real estate it eats up.
The most refreshing revamp comes to Outlook. The 2013 version includes Exchange ActiveSync account support, which means push notifications will work for Hotmail or other popular email services.
Given its beta status, I had some issues connecting to a Google account, though another Exchange account worked just fine. Those who rely on Outlook for contacts, calendars, to-do lists as well as email should like the cleaned up interface. It also has promise as a singular place to hold all of your email.
Office 15 is the best-looking version of Microsoft Office yet. Yet is there enough here to compel someone who is using Office 2010 to upgrade? For the average user, probably not. Outside of the extra visual polish, the preponderance of features from Office 2010 (or 2011 on the Mac) will suit your productivity needs just fine.
If you want to try it for yourself, the free download can be found at: http://office.com/preview. In order to take advantage of the cloud-based features, you will need to sign in with a Microsoft account (formerly known as a Windows Live login.)