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Office 2013 & 365 Review and Overview

In this article I'm going to be looking at the latest design features in the newest version of Microsoft's Office application suite.

Introduction

In this review / overview of Office 365 I’m not going to be going into too much detail explaining the different versions and packages available however Steve did a news article a while ago that should give you a little more insight into some features and the different versions, you can find this here.

Another Office Product?

Well, yes, but this one fits in with the emerging touch market as well as giving some well over due updates. Clean lines, totally configurable settings, views and styles make this quite a tailored product. You can add or remove ribbons, put useful windows docked where you can get to them all for the ease of the end user. The Metro-esque outlook is certaily visible right from the get go! In this review, I’ll be looking at the different versions and how to get them, what makes them better than before and are there any pit falls.

There’s more than one version?

For our home user, there are four ways to buy:

1. Office and Home Student 2013 comes with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote and comes in at £110.
2. Office Home and Business 2013 comes with the all of the above plus Outlook and weighs in at £220.
3. Office Professional 2013 add Access and Publisher to the above and comes in at £390.
4. Office 365 is a subscription based service costing £80 for 12 months or £8 per month.

So, you can still opt to pay for the single licence copy of Office 2013, allowing you to install on one machine only. This is probably suited to businesses or enterprise organisations who want to deploy this way. Alternatley, option 4 sees Microsoft’s new Cloud based installation and subscription based service. They dub this Office 365 which is all of the same products, but you have to pay a subscription to use them. This installation is allowed on upto 5 devices including any mobile devices such as Windows 8 phones and tablets, laptops or desktops. What’s more, all your settings are stored on the cloud (more on this further down) so the idea is you can work seemlessly on a document at work, re-open on your tablet on the train and finish off at home on your laptop. I have actually tried this and it does work very well. Having used this on a laptop, tablet and phone, the software does seem to be aimed at tablet or “touch users”.

Both Office 2013 and Office 365 will only run on Windows 7 or 8 and NOT on XP or Vista.

Someone in our house has a Mac

Lucky them! Well, you won’t be left out if you opt for Office 365. You will currently get the latest version of Office to use until a new one comes along and then this will be on the same subscription.

But I already have Dropbox…

Well now might be a good time to migrate then. All five users on Office 365 get 20 GB of SkyDrive storage to keep all those documents and setting safe. The subscription also comes with 60 minutes of Skype calls per month which, seeing as Microsoft own that and are dumping Messenger, it is probably a good thing to have! I have used this when away on business trips to call back home. Other than that, I usually use my tablet on Wi-Fi with Skype for video calling.

But my Internet is slow, will it eat my allowance?

Not so much. Unlike many downloadable purchases these days, there is a very minimal install file to start with. The program actually streams from the cloud so you will need an always on connection. That said, there is the ability to temporarily download a program to your machine should you be offline at all and need to edit that all important document. This cloud based install also comes with lifetime updates so when Office 2014 comes out, it’s yours as long as you keep up the subscription!

Some larger companies can participate in the Microsoft Home User Program which allows individuals to type in the company code and their email and have access to Office 2013 for £8.95 all in. This is for either the Windows version or Mac version but sadly not both. Well, not on one email address anyway ;-)

That’s the buying done, how about the programs then?

If you have downloaded the beta or “Customer Preview” version, you will notice some changes. This new version certainly does seem to be aimed at the Surface users. The interface has been designed for your fingers. I suffer terribly from “fat finger syndrome”, dialling Samantha when I should be dialling “Star of India” for my tea! I digress. The icons are larger and less prone to you squinting and aiming your finger at your intended target icon but rather it flows and “rolls” with your finger.

The ribbons also differ slightly from Office 2010 in the fact that the Design tab in now in between the “Insert” and “Page Layout” tabs which is a far better place.

All of the programs have features that you can dock or undock if you don’t have the screen estate. For tablet users on a smaller screen, you can hide your Tasks or Calendar preview in Outlook, spelling and formatting in Word and Excel. However, as soon as you start on your 1920x1080 device, you will be putting all of the options back on! That said, it is entirely up to you how you want your office to run. My Outlook for instance has a calendar preview with an upcoming agenda and a tasks pane on the right, a folder browser on the left and all my email and full preview in the middle. As quick as a flash though, I can rid of all excess stuff and just see the list of emails and my preview window. This is a really nice touch.

Collaboration

If you save your document to SkyDrive or SharePoint, you can have multiple edits on the document. Others cannot change the paragraph you are working on and you won’t see their changes until you have saved the document again. All changes are highlighted so you will always know what is going on. This is a far better way than the horrible “Cannot open, object is locked” message of old.

Word

Right off the bat, you have far more options to tempt you to create your new document. There is a very brief overview on the “Take a Tour” document but that really doesn’t teach or give you much. You really have to play around or even open up some of the more elaborate looking designs for more information. I have on a number of occasions said to myself “ooh, didn’t know you could do that!”.

Here you can see all of the available ribbons at the top in the edit mode. With a click of the up chevron just above the scroll bar on the right, the ribbon bar goes away.

A final click on the boxed arrow in the very top right will hide the lot. Fabulous for touch devices where screen space is a premium. You may also notice that the scroll bar has gone when you are not using the mouse. This may seem a little trivial but does allow you to zoom in that little bit more. Very hand for smaller devices. Tapping or clicking anywhere on the top will auto reveal the ribbon bar.

The “File” menu does take some getting used to. Rather than the typical New, Open, Print on the top of the ribbon, it’s now tucked away on the left under File. The new interface again seems to be aimed at touch as you can see here from the Print option.

All of the settings are here, choose your printer and margins, page size etc. and it all comes complete with a preview as well.
From here, you can also review and change your account settings. You can see from this screenshot that I have connected my Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and multiple SkyDrive accounts into this version of Office.

Excel

This also gets the same interface makeover but the major changes here are when you get going with your data. If, for example, you have manage to create your list of items, added your pie or bar chart and when you change the figures, the whole thing comes alive. Subsequent cells reliant on a formula seem to spin like a fruit machine and draw your eye to say “hey look, I changed”. Any chart you have also grows and shrinks according to the data you feed it. It makes the whole thing more exciting to use. If you use the built in family budget template and start messing with the data, you will see what I mean!

There are lots of new features bundled with this version also. There is the auto fill cell which will use some sort of Intellitype where it will try to learn from previous cells if there are any matches and suggest the repeat without you having to retype.

PowerPoint

I think this application is where the minimalistic approach works really well. As you frequently preview slides, it’s good to have the overview without launching the actual slide. As a PP junkie, I have used this to some extent and, like the other applications in this suite, I keep finding useful shortcuts, I have only edited documents and not actually created one from scratch yet. There are some very nice touches with this such as the pop out media insert tool where you can easily browse YouTube or SkyDrive (or anywhere for that matter) to quickly insert your chosen media. It feels very much the same as Word but you will find yourself hiding the ribbon bar quite a bit!

Something that is on the Word Introduction Template is the “Live layout” where you can drag a box of content and watch the effect the new location has whilst still holding down the mouse (or your finger). This prevents multiple annoying mouse clicks when re-arranging content which is the bane of PP design! This really cuts down on the repositioning time, it’s a very good and welcome addition.

Outlook

By far the most used, Outlook 2013 is my favourite application. There are some very nice additions here. For me, the look of my Outlook main page is something I have come to know and love. Everything is right where I left it, and it changes by the day. My calendars, my tasks, a list of mails and my all-important offline folders to store my many gigabytes of documentation. Very hand if like me, your admin only gives you 5 GB of storage!

My favourite feature so far is a lifesaver. How many times have you sent an email and forgot to attach the all-important file. Well, if you type “please find the attached document” or similar, if you try to send without the attachment it will pop out a message saying that there is nothing attached, do you wish to continue? What a life saver! 

My second favourite feature is the advanced warning you get when someone on the distribution list is Out-Of-Office. This will notify you right away if someone has their out of office on so you don’t’ send it to them. The message they use also comes up in the top window so you can get advanced warning without getting a disappointing message straight away. Very cool.

Other elements allow you to reply to an email without another window popping open. In the preview pane, you can start typing your message from there. If you stop, an orange [Draft] element in the adjoining window is noted so you can come right back to it. If you prefer to have the pop out window, this is but a click away.

Continuing on with the connected feature, any of your matching email addresses are checked against Facebook and LinkedIn and a picture of that person or contact is shown right on your email! No matter if you are not connected to them, it will still show. You do have to be connected to the internet for this to happen and it does not cache any images, but why would you be in outlook if not connected to the internet (yes, there are some good reasons)!

The last feature that has helped with my production is the linked messages. In the footer of the email preview, there is a chevron button that when clicked will show you all of the associated emails with the same subject and even mails from a particular contact. It is very handy for tracking down items when you need to without using the search function.

Sticking to the minimalistic look, you can hide the ribbon as per the other applications, hide any of your docked elements and even better, the Quick Steps bar is another shortcut heaven cutting down the tie needed to compile a note. It can prefill in all your team members names and what not saving you those vital seconds. Yes, this is my favourite!

OneNote, Publisher and Access

These programs are still running strong. They have had the same updates to the UI as the rest of the suite and work in the same fashion as they always have done.

If you have OneNote, it still uses Win+N for a new note and Win+S for the screen grab which is brilliant. This program is used by myself and my wife for syncing, of all things, a shopping list. We both have our Windows phones and a shared area on our family page. Here we keep adding things to the list and then slap it all in the website for our delivery! It is quite hand for collaborating lists and notes.

Access was supposed to be killed off with 2007 being the last version. Patriots to the cause seem to have given Microsoft something to think about as the software makes yet another appearance in 2013. It is still essentially a database tool with a front end creator but I have stopped using this long ago favouring a SQL Compact DB and C# front end.

As for Publisher, I have yet to see what this can do over a good Word document. The two should merge in my opinion but my dad seems to like creating awards and flyers on it! I can see the differences but to be honest, I just use Word as it is as good these days. For the professional media creator, there is an obvious advantage but for everyday use, I have yet to see the benefits.

Verdict

It’s good. I thought that this would be tagging onto the Windows 8 back legs with “another version” but there does seem to be some thought, care and love gone into this and you can see it. I do love using my touch device with this version, it is built for it that is for sure. The seamless syncing with SkyDrive is yet to cause me bother and the Office.com is great for accessing your Office from other computers anywhere.

The Good

Clean, configurable, many new features, made with thought

The Bad

Takes some getting used to if you have used office for a long time and I'm not sure where Visio or Project are in the 2013 suite?