Microsoft is pushing ever closer to the release of Windows 8 with its new Metro interface. This of course leads to Microsoft having a good excuse for a new release of Office. The problem is of course that most of the functionality that Office has offered in the past can now be provided for free, so is there much need for these tools anymore?
Microsoft of course believe there is, and with integration into the Metro interface and added touch functionality Office 2013 is being provided to us in the belief that we will accept these new tools and agree to give up our hard earned cash for the next new update. One thing is for sure, Microsoft do offer high performance tools in Office, it will be just interesting to see what has been updated.
Look and Feel
The news that will either be welcome to user of Office or be groaned at is that the “ribbon” is still in place as the main user interface of Office. It means when you start using it you’ll have no issues of having to get used to a new interface, you feel right at home. If anything it’s a case of if it’s not broken don’t fix it.
There are of course subtle changes to the interface though in the aim to improve it. One thing that is made evident at the start is that Microsoft is pushing their applications to the Cloud. To use the applications you have to be logged in and you’ll see your chosen image and login name on the top right of the application. You will also find that saving your files is now defaulted to your “SkyDrive” if you have this set up; it’s all very internet friendly. There is no compatibility with Dropbox or Google at the moment which is disappointing.
Of course with Windows 8 and Metro one of the things people will want to know about is the touch screen functionality. As expected there are additions to the user interface to make it touch friendly, like the small arrow on the upper-left corner of the screen, this will open up options for Office. It’s surprising really that Microsoft did not turn Office into something more like the Metro interface, but maybe they’ve realised that Office itself needs to concentrate more on functionality than style.
The applications remain unchanged; you still get Word, Excel, Powerpoint, OneNote and Outlook as your main package. They’ve all been through changes to improve the user interface and this will be obvious the first time you open them up. Word for example has a nice new introduction screen that shows most recently opened documents making it easy for you to open them up again. It also adds the ability to easily add videos to your documents, something that was possible in the past but was hardly the easiest thing to do. Now it’s just a case of a few clicks to get the video pasted into Word. Another very useful addition is the ability to now edit PDF files. This has been something not available in previous versions of Word so is very welcome.
To further the point of Windows 8 being created with touch screen technology in mind is the new “reading mode” for your documents. This is an option where you can view the pages of your document in full screen with an e-book look. Of course this also means that with touch screens you can swipe through the pages to turn them. An on screen keyboard is also included as well.
Excel’s main update is Flash Fill; in theory this makes Excel guess what should be in remaining blank cells based on the data you have already entered. This works for example in that if you have meetings every Tuesday, Flash Fill should notice this and enter these details for you. As you would guess this is very hit and miss but can be useful at times. Other additions are similar to this such as the Quick Analysis option which tries to help you make sense out of the data you are entering; this is very much a preview system that shows you how the data will look based on formatting options.
For Powerpoint the changes made are for presentation, especially with the touch screen technology. There are more animated transitions and overall the process of creating a presentation has been made easier. With the touch screen it’s now possible to write notes onto the presentation itself as well as swipe though the screens. Music options have also been updated so that you can have tracks playing over the whole presentation or just the one slide.
With Outlook it’s actually surprising that Microsoft seem to have streamlined the interface a lot more than the other applications, in fact a lot of the functionality appears to have been hidden. A lot of the options are revealed based on where you hover your mouse (or of course touch on the screen). This includes with your emails or with the options on the bottom of the screen such as Mail, Calendar, People and Tasks. The menus are now called “Peeks” where you hover over the option and get to “peek” at what is on offer such as appointments in your calendar.
OneNote is now a standalone Metro style application for making small notes and jotting down information you want to remember. Of course the expected touch screen functionality is in place with the ability to write notes onto the screen; with auto-save added to make sure everything you type is there for when you want it. It’s like having a notepad on your screen for when you don’t have a real one handy; of course this will be very useful on tablets like the Surface.
Overall this new version of Word will undoubtedly interest people who are buying the Surface or other touch screen computers. For most people it’s questionable whether these changes are needed, and of course the new subscription plans will bring in additional issues.
Most people will choose the Office 365 Home Premium option which is what the average user will use, but with no real pricing options available yet and Microsoft offering the preview downloads it will be a awhile before the full version is available, in fact it will probably be when Windows 8 itself is released, or of course like the title suggest 2013.