Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Office 2013: Is It Promising?

Microsoft's latest upcoming update for its office suite has many new interesting features in tow, but will it be promising? It will require users to upgrade to Windows 7 or 8, that's for starters. It ought to be worth it for a upgrade to Windows 7 or 8, right?

Before I dive in, I would like to share screenshot of a new Office 2013 preview landing page I got redirected to while navigating to the Microsoft Office website.
Microsoft is calling its Office 2013 suite, codenamed Office 15, a "modern" version of the software that is used on a billion PCs worldwide. Cloud-connected and designed to work well on Windows 8 tablets, Office 2013 signals a shift to document collaboration and anywhere any device access.

A notable addition to this version of office is a new subscription service. It can be streamed from any Windows 7 or Windows 8 PC, with the ability to sync settings and documents. 

With strong competition from Google Docs/Drive, and a little less but relevant competition from iCloud, how does Microsoft plan to keep its desktop software in the era of mobile devices and the cloud in general? Lets go find out.

Office 2013 will be cloud powered
One of the big changes that might not be considered actual features is how it is based. Changes under the hood and how documents are handled have enabled a massive amount of cloud integration in Office.

Microsoft wants you to be able to edit your documents on any Windows device -- meaning that you should be able to to create a Word document on a Windows PC and edit it on a Windows Phone, Windows 8 tablet, or any Windows 7- or Windows 8-based PC with an internet connection. Normal consumer users can store their documents in Microsoft SkyDrive, while businesses can take part in Microsoft's SharePoint offerings.

Office 2013’s big innovation is its ability to let users stream a full-featured version of Office to a PC with personal settings intact, essentially making an on-demand Office suite whenever you require it. This is a big step from previous versions of Office that included cloud-based storage options, but never really pulled it off in a nice neat package. This version of Office is really focused on the cloud.

Office on demand
Office on demand is going to be another part of Office. It is a subscription service that allows you to stream a full-featured Office application to any internet-connected PC running Windows 7 and Windows 8, providing access to the settings and documents you use regularly. In other words, you can sign in to a streaming version of Office at a friend’s PC and finish a document; the app will then be removed from the PC once it's closed. On the downside, you'll need a Office 365 Home Subscription. This will be appealing to users that want more functionality than Google Docs or Microsoft's own Office Web Apps. If you don't want to fork over any money for a subscription, you can still opt to simply buy a standalone version of the Office 2013 desktop software and utilize SkyDrive as an online storage hub for documents. You won't get the streaming Office 2013 apps, but you'll benefit from the cloud and avoid having to pay a subscription fee.

Office Versions
Available in Home Premium, Small Business Premium, Pro Plus, and Enterprise — Office 365 has a variety of offerings that are flexible based on needs, but like many of its other products there’s still no one size that fits all.

Office Home Premium will contain 5 licenses, allowing a family to install Office 2013 on up to five PCs and get an additional 20GB of online SkyDrive storage to share documents online.Home Premium includes access to Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Access, and Publisher through an Internet-connected Windows 7 or Windows 8 PC. Users of Office 365 will see their documents, settings, and even the apps themselves roam across every PC they use Office 365 on. Other editions, like ProPlus and above, include additional user accounts and access to apps like InfoPath and Lync — designed for businesses. Office 365 will also include access to Office for Mac if you are a user of Apple's Mac OS X operating system.

Metro traces
Office 2013 also has traces to Microsoft's metro interface; a good example is the new icons for documents produced in Microsoft Office formats. You'll still see the ribbon interface, but it is refined and the apps really fit will in Windows 8  -- by design. The apps will still run in desktop mode, though. Microsoft has added an account sign in option on the right-hand side of its Office 2013 apps, providing access to some third-party linked account data, such as Flickr or LinkedIn, and the option to store documents in the SkyDrive cloud. Similar to Windows 8, Microsoft is also allowing Office 2013 users to customize the background of its Office toolbar with various style options.

Word - One of the newest features of Word is that you can both view and edit PDF documents. This will be a huge plus for those that don't want have to purchase Adobe Acrobat to create PDF documents. In addition, you can now embed web videos, such as YouTube videos. A new mode in word, called Resume Reading, allows you to bookmark your last place within a document, and syncs this with your SkyDrive account (it is required). Once you are signed in, documents are automatically synced with SkyDrive, but you can also upload documents to other services.

More on the web video part, you can use Bing Video, YouTube video, or if you want, you can just use HTML embed codes. Videos could play in flash, or HTML5. Some people are still reporting flash playback only, though. Of course, you have to have an internet connection to play video.

Excel - Microsoft Excel has some new features in tow, despite it already having so many features that even some Office gurus don't know them all. These features are supposed to be time saving, specifically in hours according to Microsoft. The Flash fill  option will reformat and rearrange data automatically based on your own use of Excel 2013 and auto-complete remaining data with no formulas or macros required. Certainly that can save some time, right?

A new Quick Trend feature will provide a chart that analyzes historical time series data, and a new Excel Add-in scans spreadsheets for errors, broken links, and inconsistencies. The scanner will be particularly useful for auditors or system admins who want to move documents to new locations without having to worry about breaking existing links.

Other improvements in Excel are visual improvements. It will have the cleaner interface with some metro hints, like other Office applications. You have cleaner ways to analyze data from Excel Spreadsheets. Some of the highlights are below.

  • Quick Analysis Lens suggests ways to present data
  • A recommended charts feature automatically suggests the best type of chart based on data patterns.
  • Chart animations provide a visual way to see how data is moving in a chart as the changes are applied
Microsoft is also coming up with something new, called Apps for Excel Integration, currently codenamed Agaves. This will allow developers to create custom add-ons that mash together data from Excel sheets with web data. The web extensions are available in other apps, but the primary use is clearly intended for Excel power users and organizations. The possibilities with this is endless. We'll have to see how this turns out when Office 2013 actually comes out.

PowerPoint - PowerPoint, the presentation program used by thousands (and maybe millions) of business people and more often students, is getting a few improvements to make presenting better. One interesting change is the ability to now insert pictures from Facebook, Flickr, and other services directly into PowerPoint 2013 without having to save them first. The feature works by association with a Microsoft account and sign in process through PowerPoint 2013. You can insert pictures through SkyDrive, SharePoint, Office.com Clip Art, or even images from Bing's search engine — but there’s no way to insert an image from a URL (this could change, thought. I personally hope it does).

A new feature in PowerPoint called Presenter View will be a nice addition to presenters; If you're using a second screen, as many do with projectors, then the updated view lets you control what's shown to viewers while keeping an eye on notes and the next slide due. Audiences only see the slide that's presented, but there's an option to swap displays if required. An Auto-extend feature makes sure that any additional screens are detected and that the Presenter View is projected onto the correct screen automatically.

PowerPoint 13 will also have a new start screen, like the other Office applications. Choosing templates will be a bit easier with the display of popular or most used themes. Theme variants let you change the style of a presentation easily even after a general theme has been applied , and an eyedropper feature allows you to pick a color from elsewhere to match your document. Microsoft will be adding more video formats that are supported in PP 2013, and you will now have the ability to have music play across multiple slides, or across the entire presentation. However, unlike Word 2013, there’s no insert online videos option. Resume Reading is also supported in PowerPoint 2013 when signed into SkyDrive, and Present Online is included.

Outlook - Microsoft Outlook is also refined, and has a lot of core changes in tow. Of course you will get the interface changes with the ribbon and refined Metro traces. Outlook probably has the most changes with this update to office.

in the core side of things, there is some new important features added. New Exchange ActiveSync account support brings Hotmail and other popular email services with true push support to Outlook 2013. Exchange ActiveSync support is important for consumers. Outlook has previously supported POP and IMAP accounts, but while this support is sufficient for mail — calendars and contacts would not auto sync. The introduction of Exchange ActiveSync support means you can now benefit from having Contacts, Mail, and Calendar appointments synced in Outlook without the need for a full Exchange server — taking advantage of many popular email services. Of course, Microsoft's in house Hotmail should work without problems. Other services can be a different story.

A new Peeks feature lets you take a look at your schedule or a specific appointment with a contact without having to go into each individual section of Outlook 2013. Microsoft is also supporting inline replies for quicker emailing and the company continues to support conversation view, although, like Outlook 2010, it's still disabled by default.

There is also a MailTips feature, allowing you to see if someone is office,  if you're sending mail externally, or if you forgot to attach something. All of this helps you to not forget something when you are sending an email message, especially these common mistakes.

Microsoft has also added a Weather bar to the Calendar view in Outlook 2013. You can add multiple locations and get a brief overview of three days worth of weather before you create a new appointment. Its a nice thing to have, especially so that you don't have to fire up your browser or startup your favorite desktop weather program.

OneNote - Microsoft is taking a different approach to its digital notebook program. Although OneNote will ship as a 2013 desktop app, the company is also introducing a Metro style Windows 8 OneNote version to accompany versions for Windows Phone, iOS, and Android. The Metro version of OneNote will be a little bit different, some items will be enlarged for finger friendly touching. Pinch zooming will also be there. 

On the desktop version side, there’s some touch improvements like the rest of the Office 2013 applications, but you’ll want the Windows 8 version for that type of note taking. A fullscreen mode takes the ribbon away and turns OneNote 2013 into a simple note-taking app. Auto-updating file views are now present in OneNote 2013, allowing users to preview content within a notebook without opening separate apps. Microsoft has also improved its table support in OneNote 2013, allowing users to convert them into embedded Excel spreadsheets.

Office 2013 has a lot of promising features in tow, so will it be convincing to get? Pricing on this version of Office can still change, but will it be cheap (or at least close) to the pricing of Windows 8 upgrades? Probably not, but we'll have to find out. If you have questions or thoughts, let me know of them below.