Microsoft Office 2013 has been with us for over 3 years now. Yet it still seems like it was released just the other day. Image Credit: CrackedTool
Microsoft Office 2013 has been with us for over 3 years now. Yet it still seems like it was released just the other day. Image Credit: CrackedTool

Hard to believe, but Microsoft Office 2013 has been with us for over 3 years now. Yet it still seems like it was released just the other day. While its overall rating and reception may not have been as overwhelming as it has always been for its predecessors – 2007 and 2010, MS office 2013 does come with a number of positives. We take a quick peek at the big four core applications – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, seeing as Office 2016 is just around the corner.

Cloud features
As part of its launch, MS Office reached a new landmark by going into the cloud with subscription pricing, on-demand installation and automatic synchronization of settings and documents you save online rather than offline.

This pushes deep integration between its desktop applications and your data, stored on Microsoft servers. It also implies that as an end user, you are still able to use office wherever you go – on your PC, your tablet and your Windows phone handset. It’s called Office 365, and this method of purchase ensures you are always up-to-date even if there are changes in the software.

Design and navigation
A more subtle innovation is the use of animation that makes normal transitions look more fluid (you can disable these effects if you wish). Microsoft has made several routine operations easier to perform from within the apps.

Word, Excel, and PowerPoint no longer show a blank page at launch. Instead, a landing screen presents templates and other options for creating or re-opening a document – basically, that’s the screen you used to get when you wanted to open an existing document or create a new one from a template. This screen exposes ready-made design options that you might not otherwise consider.

Word
One of MS Word’s most visible innovations is a new “Read Mode” that does away with the ribbon toolbar and lets you view documents as though they appeared within a printed book. In this mode, you can’t edit, but you do have access to find and search tools. So you can perform lookups related to highlighted content.

It also has more innovative sharing options beyond SkyDrive. For instance, you can show your Word document to someone who isn’t running Word by creating and availing to them a link to the same.

Excel
Excel comes with a small Quick Analysis button at the bottom-right corner. You can click the button to view thumbnails of several graphs and chart options, pick one and click to apply it. Not sure how best to massage the data? Excel also offers buttons that generate chart and pivot table recommendations. Oh, and it still does a measly 1,048,576 rows (Sad).

It also comes with additional features such as Flash Fill feature, which can detect patterns (beyond the numerical and date patterns Excel has long been able to recognize), and autocompletes empty fields as appropriately as possible.

PowerPoint
MS PowerPoint has an extra formatting pane that allows the user to make adjusting design elements simpler. Its enhanced media support includes the ability to play more video formats. It also allows one to have background audio play across your entire presentation.

Outlook
MS Outlook 2013 opens with a simple two-pane design consisting of the list of messages and the selected message in the preview pane. You can quickly respond to the message by clicking the Reply button in the preview pane.

Also in this new-look Outlook is a new feature called Mailtips. Mailtips brings possible issues to your attention, such as if you fail to forward an attachment. This is quite handy for corporate environments where IT sets restrictive email policies. Outlook will point out such potential violations.

The Calendar view now includes a couple of days’ worth of weather information – wind, temperature and chances of rain. In this feature, you can search for any city and it will bring the weather – though the temperatures are annoyingly shown in Fahrenheit, to my chagrin. Oh, and of course you have to be online to get this information.

There are reported changes and improvements in Publisher, Note, Visio and several others. I did not see major changes in Visio though, save for a few added templates. Most of them have pretty much the same new tools available in the aforementioned office apps (Word, Excel et al).

On the whole, as seamless cloud integration appears to have been Office 2013’s biggest plus and one may also say that most usability tweaks are generally sensible.

The Cons
For the regular MS Office 2010 user, the improvements aren’t exactly mind-boggling.

  • The product appears to have been hurriedly put onto the market. Since its official release, Office 2013 has had over 100 updates released for the various components.
  • The product was strictly released is strictly for Windows 7 and Windows 8 operating systems (Sorry Windows XP, Vista users).
  • Perhaps my biggest disappointment of all is the perpetual eye-strain that is the trichromatic theme. While office offers different themes – white, light gray and dark gray – they are all essentially the same. 3 (or rather 50) shades of gray. Pathetic. Whoever did the design and final theme vetting must have been colorblind.
  • As earlier said, Excel is still supporting only 1,048,576 rows. Granted, we know it is not supposed to be a primary data manipulation interface and all, but an improvement certainly would not have done the users any harm.
  • The meeting alerts in MS Outlook do not have open options. I guess the end user is expected to go all the way to the calendar in case they wish to see the meeting details. Double-clicking the reminder opens the entire invite to show all the details though.
  • MS Picture viewer is gone, and has since been replaced by Windows Live Photo Gallery. A little more complex than the old picture viewer. The former was more convenient for fast actions like cropping and editing, though the latter comes with more options.
  • The calendar no longer displays multiple calendar months. With Office 2010, one could easily immediately see the preceding and next month without having to click to move back or ahead. The MS Office 2013 Outlook calendar only shows one month.