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A sneak preview of Microsoft Office 2013 – part 1

It seems all the major players in the IT industry are adding their two penceworth with revolutionizing technology – the iPhone 5 and iOS6 from Apple, the new Nokia Windows phone and various offerings from Google and Samsung. One fundamental release expected before the end of the year is Window 8 and Microsoft Office 2013. This two-part article gives you a sneaky insight into what to expect. We start with Microsoft Office 2013 user interface improvements.

As with all software releases, there will be three categories of emotion, depending on your personality:

  1. Curiosity, experimental and excitement;
  2. Nervous, anxious and resentful of changes;
  3. Indifferent – a ‘get what your given’ attitude.

We hope these articles put the mind at rest of those who fall into category two and answer the questions of those in category one, ahead of its main release.

Office 2013

Office 2013 (Photo credit: melenas1414)

On a large-scale – whats changed? Well you can probably imagine there are interface changes, how the user interacts with the software – vendors always try to listen to feedback and make leaps towards providing the best value-for-money and user experience. There are also changes to the installation, the distribution and the licensing which will be covered in parts two and three of this article. These have been changed as we move nearer to the inevitable Cloud technology, as a generation of users.

Overall, Microsoft has proven that it listens to feedback and has come back with, in our opinion, an excellent office suite that is fast, less cluttered and highlights some of its key tools in such a way they’re easier to use. Most significantly, it has been designed with tablet users in mind, as well as regular PC and laptop users. We will go through each piece of the suite in turn.

Office 2013 overall:

Microsoft have adopted their ‘Metro’ interface with the widely anticipated Windows 8 and Office 2013 has incorporated that, meaning your documents stand out from the suite features (such as ribbons and toolbars) unless you need to use them – the design is more contextual than previous office suites. It lends itself very well to touch screen, both ergonomically and physically – Microsoft have designed it with their predictions in mind about how people will hold tablet devices.

The ribbons (toolbars) take up the same amount of room as in 2007 and 2010 but have a more spacious feel and the tab names are in upper case, making them stand out from the detail – IT support will love this, when trying to describe something over the phone! There are of course, tons of useful customizations you can make from the options area in each application too. The best way to discover everything? Explore….!

Microsoft Word 2013:

The most noticeable change with Word is the ability to interact with digital and social media – you can open documents from your SkyDrive, search from your Facebook or LinkedIn accounts, import photos from Flickr and video (with the ability to play). Aligning media is also improved, with the help from guides and outlines while you’re repositioning something.

A fantastic new feature to Microsoft Word is the PDF reflow tool. PDF and Microsoft Office have always struggled to interact accurately – conversions used to be messy in either direction and fonts struggled to match up. However, Microsoft have put a lot of effort into this. The new tool converts bi-directionally and allows a cleaner, higher quality of images and other embedded media…and the icing on the cake? It’s fast!

Now nothing comes without compromise…and Microsoft have tried to strike a balance between a user-friendly and convenient layout irrespective of which device you are using, and making some features slightly less accessible, or less favourably displayed. For example – the side bar is back for spell check, which of course takes up some of the space on the left of the screen – especially difficult to read if you have two documents docked side by side.

Track changes has had a major revamp, which is years overdue. Gone are the days of red and blue artwork all over your document – we welcome the new style involving a side bar. The default display is the final document, and discrete colour coded lines lead to the edge of the side bar, where you can expand for more detail. Comments are vastly improved too – you can reply to a comment instead of over-ruling an existing one. Good job Microsoft.

Microsoft Excel 2013:

The key changes to Microsoft Excel have made Excel 2013 a superior processing tool for endless tasks – pattern recognition, comparing statistics, creating graphics representation of numbers. Of course, this has always been the case with Excel, but with the improvements made to the in-cell spark lines (mini graphs embedded in a cell) and the addition of a fantastic tool called Quick Analysis, you can now do all these tasks in a better graphical manner and much more conveniently – the tool pops up when you select a range of numerical cells. It will even recommend to you which type of chart for the data you have selected, is best and makes pivot tables more accessible to those who don’t understand them as well.

They have created a neat subtle feature that alerts you when you change information in a cell – the bigger the change, the more significant the emphasis is – in the form of highlighting a cell. It could get annoying after a while but we think its subtle enough to be useful and not aggravating.

There are several other tools too, including a Timeline tool, allowing you to easily filter through large amounts of data, by date, much improved error messages and incredible pasting and importing of data using the new Flash Fill (Excel is MUCH more intelligent in this respect)…we all know that scenario….import employee time records into Excel then spend the rest of the morning splitting it into the right columns…not any more!

Microsoft PowerPoint 2013:

When PowerPoint 2013 first opens, you are invited to choose what to create from a choice of templates or existing documents…luckily the first option is ‘Blank Presentation’ so you’re not forced into anything! There is a convenient tool to search online for more templates, which has a lovely preview available before you choose a particular template.

On opening a document you had previously worked on, you can click to the slide you were working on before you closed it and as with Word 2013, you can interact with a number of digital and social media tools to import items to your presentation. The interface for this is really intuitive and user-friendly.

‘Quick Formatting’ tools allow you to efficiently edit the current shape or other item, and is placed conveniently for tablet users too…also, as with Word 2013, the new green guides allow all your items to be aligned with respect to other items on the page, but don’t limit you in any way.

A cutting tool allows an easy combination between two shapes – Visio has had this for years but not everyone is lucky enough to have access to it. So if you want to draw a stereotypical ice cream, you can neatly combine a triangle and a circle (and an angled rectangle if you want a flake!) – hey presto.

Those familiar with paint packages will know that the new eyedropper tool is really helpful, being able to click on a colour anywhere in your existing presentation and use it to format other objects.  The new commenting feature mentioned in Word 2013 is available in Powerpoint too.

Finally, PowerPoint 2013 has really lent itself well to tablet and conventional users and presenters with sophisticated presentation tools such as previewing the next slide along with the slide notes (good when you have two screens or using a projector), an elapsed time counter to help keep track of your presentation time and even a screen pointer to be more interactive with the audience.

Microsoft Outlook 2013:

Outlook 2013 has managed to redesign itself for where people hold tablets, meaning its quick access to various outlook areas such as calendar, tasks, mail etc. You can preview each of these too, by hovering over each one and seeing a pop up appear.

It has also changed to allow you to write emails in a similar pane to the preview pane – of course this, and other pop-up or preview panes can be maximised and minimized to suit your needs. If drafting an email and you need to click away from it, the draft is already saved too. This is especially useful for tablet users.

Social networks are easy to connect to with Outlook, so you can add your contacts and manage them via all your social and digital media groups. Outlook has an incredibly accurate contact manager too, combining all your contacts together which are for the same person – we haven’t seen it fail yet!

Weather forecasts for your current location and future locations, based on your Outlook calendar, are a really neat addition to Outlook 2013, really responding to how much we all travel these days.

One thing we aren’t too keen on is the Outlook notifications – one appears for each item received and there is no group closing of them…this could get very irritating, but I’m sure this will be ironed out in the main release.

Other improvements to Office 2013:

Microsoft OneNote, Publisher and Access all have various improvements but we aren’t going into them here – but it has to be said, OneNote is hugely under rated and especially when it comes to taking notes on a touch screen device. Incorporating hand written notes (directly on to the tablet) and other media, is going to be a powerful way to run meetings and minutes thereafter.

Overall impression:

We LOVE it! Welldone Microsoft, we cannot wait to get using it. 5/5 for innovation, listening to feedback and honest improvement.

Come back later this week for part two where we cover distribution, licensing and installation…there’s more to distribution than meets the eye…even for the individual consumer.


About theithandbook

Reaching every day people and businesses with simple, effective and modern IT advice.

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