Microsoft is on a bit of a roll at the moment, everyone sat up and took notice of their innovative Surface tablet, Windows 8 is getting positive reviews for its forward-thinking user interface and now it’s time for Microsoft to unveil its latest version of Office.
Microsoft is facing some interesting challenges when it comes to Office 2013; it needs to work just as well with a mouse & keyboard as a well as a touch screen and, most importantly, needs to implement SkyDrive cloud features in a simple and easy-to-use manner.
“We’re transitioning Office as a cloud service” said CEO Steve Ballmer, introducing Monday’s launch.
Codenamed Office 15, the core functions of Office haven’t dramatically changed since the last version and this is a good thing as no one wants to re-learn how to use Excel or Word.
On the face of it the main changes come in the form of newly designed ribbon toolbar interface. Introduced in Office 2007, it has now been given a Metro lick of paint across the board and includes more space between the icons to make it easier to use with tablets and phones. That being said your average business user will probably never use the new touch interface – but it’s good to see Microsoft have de-cluttered the toolbar.
There are some major improvements, such as the improved reading mode in Word that lets you reflow PDF document as if they were Word docs. Outlook has a new weather ticker, and Powerpoint has new shape tools, new alignment tools and an enhanced Presenter view that lets you zoom in and out to highlight key points of interest.
A Service Rather Than A Software
Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer claimed that the new Office is the “biggest” and most “ambitious” release in it history. One of the biggest changes is how Office 2013 interacts with Microsoft’s cloud service SkyDrive.
Office 2013 applications now save by default to the cloud, so users can access their documents from anywhere with an internet connection. There’s also a new SharePoint collaboration platform, which businesses can host on their own secure servers – giving users powerful collaboration tools – much like Google docs.
Microsoft wants to encourage both individuals and organisations to purchase Office via a subscription rather than outright. No prices have been given but Home Premium will come with 20GB of SkyDrive storage for families and consumers. Small Business Premium will come with email, conferencing and website tools, and there’s another version for enterprise users. These subscriptions include up to five installations of Office desktop applications for both PC or Mac – so users can use Office on all their computers.
“You’re buying Office for yourself, not for a device,” Office general manager Chris Pratley told TechRadar.
Social Media, Apps And Collaboration
Other key aspects for Office 2013 are its collaboration and social media intergration. Sharepoint has been overhauled and now includes news feeds and sharing tools, which give it a social network feel. Other features include integrating Skype Calls with its existing Lync communication and online meeting service.
“An app for Office is basically a webpage that is hosted inside an Office client application,” says Microsoft.
Two applications that have been given a true Metro-style interface are OneNote and Lync. The OneNote app is an advanced noting taking app and shows that Microsoft sees note-taking as an important part of using Office on a tablet device. Microsoft Lync is an enterprise-ready unified communications platform. It allows you to keep everyone working together effectively, no matter where they are or what device they happen to be using.
It’s probably too early to say how good Office 2013 really is until we get the software running on Windows 8, its true home. But with a move to subscriptions; new OneNote and Lync Metro apps; social enterprise functionality; Skype & Yammer; and a touch-friendly interface – it all adds up to an impressive suite of Office applications. Whether they manage to boil all of those functions into the tablet version remains to be seen – but for the first time, in a long time, it look as if it might be time to leave the laptop at home and use a tablet. Only time will tell whether this is the case, but its a great start for Microsoft.