It’s been a while now since the last iteration of Microsoft Office was released. We’ve been waiting for some solid information about Office 15 (now known as Office 2013) for a while now. The closest thing to a preview that has been revealed was the briefest of glimpses at the new Excel interface on an ARM tablet during a presentation that involved no real explanation. As of Monday, however, everything has become clear.
Obviously the biggest thing that needed to be done was a bit of optimization for touch interfaces. Since Office 2013 is apparently going to be an integral part of marketing Windows RT tablets it would make little sense for the software to be difficult to use on a tablet. They’ve got that covered.
We’re also going to be seeing a move to the cloud. How many people didn’t see that coming? Shared account settings and custom dictionaries make up just some of the many features Microsoft is pushing to make the transition more appealing. SkyDrive naturally takes on great importance.
Visually, Office 2012 will be quite familiar. The Ribbon is back and it remains the foundation of the interface. It seems to be generally collapsed by default, but can be pinned open to provide full access whenever you might need it.
Users will also notice that no matter where they are in the new Office suite their account name and photo will be present. This serves two purposes. It can simply be a reminder that you are properly connected or it can prompt an account change on a multi-user machine. More useful than it looks at first glance.
As mentioned, touch is now far easier to use with Office. Specifically, there is a Touch Mode interface option. Enabling it is as simple as selecting the “touch” icon (a circle inside a dotted circle) from the downward pointing arrow in the upper left corner that expands to reveal your currently hidden icons (located here by default). Surprisingly, very little changes. Everything gets spaced out a little bit better, making it far simpler to hit what you are aiming at, but there are no sudden Metro-like additions popping out of nowhere. The most extreme difference is a flattening of assorted menus to allow for easier access.
Everything Microsoft is doing with Windows 8 has some ties to the cloud, it seems, and Office 2013 is no exception. The effects and implications are fairly widely spread across the whole of Office and some are more game-changing than others.
SkyDrive is now the default location for all of your file storage. Now, it isn’t exactly exciting to say “You can save to SkyDrive now!” since that option has been around for a while. What has changed, aside from the fact that it is a default now, is that there is some integration. You get a progress bar to let you know that your most recent changes have been uploaded successfully. It’s likely that somebody will come up with an add-on that allows users to enjoy this sort of thing with Dropbox or Google Drive, but for now only Microsoft services are compatible.
Sharing has also been stepped up. Assuming you have saved to your SkyDrive, you can open the File menu, Share, and either “Get link” or “Invite people”. The first option shares a document that you want to offer a copy of while the second gives the recipient editing privileges. These will be possible to make use of even if the person you are sharing with lacks their own copy of Office 2013, thanks to the web apps. For more generic sharing, you can output your document to the social network of your choice or attach it to an email from the same Sharing menu.
Going in the other direction, you can more easily integrate content off the web into your documents now. Microsoft Word is now able to pull pictures in directly from your Facebook and Flickr accounts, for example. Adding online video, such as that available through YouTube, is now as simple as copying over the HTML embed code. The new Live Layout feature will wrap your text naturally around any such pictures, videos, charts, etc. that might be needed in a given document.
Syncing is also handy. You will always have access to your custom dictionaries now that some information is stored by account rather than only on your local machine, but it goes beyond that. Similar to what you might find on Amazon’s Kindle platform, a document will now maintain its position right down to cursor location when you close it. This means that if you are editing a long document and find yourself having to shut down halfway through, there is no chance of losing your place. The same holds true in Powerpoint presentations. Should you be forced to abandon what you are doing, you can pick up right where you left off.
Those interested in trying out Office 2013 can get a trial version from office.com so long as they are running Windows 7 or 8. Anybody on Vista or XP is out of luck now that Microsoft has decided against offering the latest software for those systems. This is probably meant to push people into upgrading to Windows 8 when they might otherwise be inclined to hold off, making that pretty much unavoidable for people who want to stay current. The actual release is expected in October at some point and will include packaged retail copies despite Microsoft’s decision to forgo those in Windows 8 sales.
There is obviously plenty more to go into. I’ll be examining each updated application in the near future and doing what I can to clarify the new features for everybody. Excel in particular has seen some improvements that may make many of the more tedious tasks we’re used to simple.
While this is not necessarily a groundbreaking update in the sense that Office will never be the same, as a collection of improvements it is really quite profound.