Microsoft just unveiled the major overhaul it’s made to its Office products.
The biggest changes are in how tightly online services are woven into the apps. By default, documents are saved automatically to SkyDrive, the online storage service provided with Microsoft online accounts.
With the account system, each copy of Office is linked to a particular user. Their files and settings roam with them to different machines, with their work staying synchronized online.
Microsoft’s also going to offer the new Office software to consumers through a monthly subscription. Subscribers will get to use the software on up to five devices and Microsoft’s sweetening the deal by including 60 minutes of global Skype minutes per month.
A boxed version of Office 2013 will also be available when it all launches this fall, presumably alongside Windows 8 in October.
Microsoft isn’t yet providing prices of the different options, which is kind of obnoxious since it’s inviting people to go ahead and install and test the software. Here’s where to get the free preview version.
The first thing you’ll notice is the crisp, spare design that relies on typography rather than shadows, buttons and 3D effects. In the upper right corner is a sort of techno-pattern, as if you’re peering through the display glass and seeing a circuit board underneath.
I haven’t yet had time for a full review but here are some cool new features that jumped out for me. This is drawn from time tinkering with the Office 2013 beta on a Samsung Windows 8 tablet loaned by Microsoft and from demos by Chris Pratley, general manager of Microsoft Office Labs in Redmond.
1. Peeking in Excel. There’s a “quick analysis” button that surfaces when you highlight a group of cells. Clicking this button calls up a small window with options such as charts; to see how your data would look in a pie chart, for instance, you hover over that option and the chart is instantly displayed. This lets you peruse chart options within the worksheet, without having to create multiple charts until you find one you like. Too bad you can’t somehow peek at the software’s price.
2. Outlook charms. Along the margin in Outlook 2013 are icons for email, calendar, contacts and task list. They let you toggle between these programs. Better yet, they let you hover and peek, similar to the “quick analysis” feature in Excel. Say you are in email, deciding whether to accept an invitation to an event. Instead of going back and forth between the email and calendar apps, you can hover over the calendar icon to peek at the calendar wihtout leaving the email.
3. App “home pages.” If you’re the kind of person who is paralyzed by the blank sheet that opens when you open Word or Excel, you’ll like the opening display in Office 2013. When you open a program, the screen is filled with large thumbnails representing recent documents and templates for common document types. Excel, for instance, starts by offering templates for a budget, invoice, calendar, expenses, lists or loans. The upper left thumbnail is the one you click to open a blank document.
4. “Flash fill” in Excel. When you’re cleaning up data in a spreadsheet, Excel will notice if you’re doing the same thing repeatedly on a worksheet – like cutting and pasting elements of a single cell into multiple cells. You can use “flash fill” to have Excel automatically repeat this action throughout the sheet, potentially saving hours of time spent “cleaning up” data. Microsoft’s handout image:
5. “PDF reflow” in Word. If you use Word to open a PDF file, it keeps the formatting of the document, including charts.
6. Screen sense and “read mode.” Office 2013 is designed to be used on a variety of devices. To save time resizing documents for diferent screen sizes, Word will detect width of the screen you’re using and its pixel density and optimize the document’s layout. A “Read mode” adjusts documents to screen size and orientation. I wonder if this will be used for book and media applications.
7. Video embeds. Word documents can have more than words nowadays. In addition to pictures and charts, you can embed web videos into documents in Office 2013. When you click the “online video” option, you’re given options to search Bing or YouTube for a video or paste the embed code provided with shareable online videos. It’s very slick – you click on the video you choose, and it appears in a stamp-sized window in the document. It can be shrunk or enlarged by clicking and dragging handles on the sides and corner. The videos would be great for a student report, for instance, but they don’t work offline.
8. “People cards.” In Outlook 2013, contacts look less like digitized business cards and more like profiles on a social or game network – or a digital baseball card. Contacts can be sync’d with Facebook and other social services so they include a “what’s new” tab showing their latest social updates. It reminds me of the way social feeds are blended with contact information in Windows Phone. Microsoft’s screenshot; I don’t have any contacts at Contoso:
9. “Office On Demand.” Taking advantage of the user account system, Office 2013 lets you log in to the software and start working, even on borrowed computers that don’t have Office installed. If you log in while using a friend’s computer, Office trickles down a temporary version of the applications you’re using. When you’re done, this cached version evaporates, but your work remains saved online. On Demand, is it Comcastic?
10. “Presenter view” in PowerPoint. You can turn a slate computer (or laptop) into an great remote control for managing slide presentations with “Presenter view” in PowerPoint 2013. The new mode shows what’s being projected on the big screen, the next slide and has a field for notes so you know what to say during each slide. You can also zoom into a slide, and use a computer’s camera to record and time practice sessions. Microsoft’s handout image: