Word 2013 sports a range of new features which make it easier to read and share documents. Most notably, the new “read mode” which opens documents in a full screen viewing mode with easy scroll commands. This horizontal viewing experience is manipulated by swiping on a tablet, and the mouse wheel on a PC.
Read mode also allows for easy zooming via right clicking a table or chart. On tablets the normal commands work to quickly zip and zoom around the document to read exactly what you need. If needed, the ribbon can still be pulled with a swipe or click at the top corners of the screen.
Next, sharing and co-editing features are richly enhanced. There is a new editing mode called “Simple Mode“, this makes it easy to review changes and suggestions others have made to a document. Rather than seeing both the old text lined out and the new text in red or green (IE: 2010 track changes), you will instead see a clean version of your document with the edits incorporated, but with subtler indications of where the changes were made.
Users will also be able to “lock” a document into track changes mode, so you’ll always be able to see any changes and no sneaky edits can get by unnoticed (as was possible before). There are similar tools introduced into PowerPoint 2013.
Perhaps the most awesome and needed feature in Word 2013 is the ability to edit PDFs in Word. While older PDFs and many image based PDFs will only be editable as an additional layer on top of that image, this is still a cool feature. I’d also expect it is one they will continue to develop and may become more useful as time continues.
The changes in Excel cater to both extremes of the spectrum. The Excel junkies who go nuts on data analysis as a primary function of their job will find a variety of new features aimed at power users. Also, occasional users will find simplified new “Quick Analysis” tools. The group left out is that chunk of people in the middle who use Excel modestly 1-5 hours a week, unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of new goodies for halftime Excel users in Excel 2013.
One particularly useful feature for Excel power-users is the add-in called Spreadsheet Inquire and Compare. This add-in examines spreadsheets for problems. This includes inconsistencies that indicate fraud, broken links, etc.
Newer Excel users will find the Quick Analysis features greatly simplify the process of pulling together graphs and more common rudimentary level Excel functions. This is addressing the common complaint among newer Excel users of: “I know exactly what type of chart I want, but I can’t find the buttons!”. Now you can highlight any group of numbers, tap “Quick Analysis” (yes it is tablet friendly), and select between quick cell coding options, quick graphing options, totals, tables, and sparklines. (see image below) To be honest, even though I consider myself a mid-level Excel user, I love this feature for the quick number conditioning. (Such as in the image, in two quick taps I color coded the variance cell to show the extremes of output by color gradient, nifty!)
The first change in PowerPoint is the way you start off, Microsoft has your application open up into a quick launch screen which throws thousands of template options at your disposal. You will see visual representations all of these options as a sort of forecast of what your final product might look like. The Office 2010 built in themes weren’t very impressive (IMHO) and I constantly felt compelled to tweet and adjust them till I was happy. I can already tell I like some of these new styles much more. Given that the number of options has exponentially increased, everyone will find a template or two they love more than Office 2010.
Integration with Bing also allows for simpler adding of a diversity of image content. No more going online, saving your image to your desktop, then moving it onto the PowerPoint. Microsoft has just eliminated several points of that chain (formally referred to as “the chain of pain in the butt manual picture adding”).
There are also new sharing features with change tracking controls similar to those implemented in Word 2013 (discussed above).
Outlook 2013 is definitely the least stable portion of the beta. Clearly they will fix this before general release, but I’ve been enjoying solely using 2013 apps, but for productivity purposes may need to switch back. I had an attachment error when sending direct from the email command of snip-it, I’ve also had it freeze twice on me while trying to access secondary account folders.
Other than the instability issues, I really like new interface and there are a few features that I’ve been waiting for since 2007. For example: There is now an easy “unread” button at the top of your email scroll zone, clicking it brings all unread emails to the top (yes this could be done with sorting in 2010, but that’s an extra 5 seconds of my time multiple times a day, everyday. This one feature alone will save me a lot of time.
Also, the navigation screens have been streamlined so they take up less space. They will also scale intelligently based on screen and device concerns. There is also a full screen Metro mode for tablet devices.
Users of Exchange and SharePoint will find much better integration including special email folders for group projects, calendar and task list functionality can also be built into these.
The tabs to and from calendars to mail, etc. Are now moved off the left bar and down to a bottom area, this leaves more room for viewing email folders (good for hyper organized fools like myself, all you one mailbox for everything users won’t care though). There is also a new “peak” feature that allows you to hover over zones and get a little pop up window of hidden content without having to actually click into it.
The Bottom Line
In general, tasks feel simpler, the interface feels simpler, and there are a number of handy new quick function options. Moving from Office 2010 to Office 2013 will feel very natural to users (unlike the switch from Windows 7 to Windows 8, which still feels wrong even after playing with it for months…).
The best parts of Office 2010 for power users and light users are still there, you are essentially just getting some new productivity enhancements. While I’m sure some will discredit Microsoft for that decision, I disagree. Office 2010 was a great product, why re-invent the wheel. Their approach is to simplify the interface, integrate it better with mobile devices and the cloud, and then stop. That is definately the right approach, they’ve modernized a great product and kept it great. No complaints from this corner.