Preview: Office 2013 gets serious about touch and the cloud

office 2013 iconMicrosoft announced Office 2013 in San Francisco today. Office 2013 marks a major overhaul of Office for Microsoft. Historically, Office has been a suite of desktop (and mobile) applications that allowed users to edit documents. Now with free competitors like Google Drive, Microsoft has to make Office relevant again.

The focus of today’s keynote was on Office 2013’s touch friendly interface and its reliance on the cloud. The whole Office interface has been redesigned with Metro flair and a tablet friendly interface. Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud service will be the major backbone for putting Office 2013 in the cloud.

Are these things enough to combat free, cloud based office suites like Google Drive? Let’s dig deeper and find out.

The Cloud: Microsoft’s answer to Google Drive


When Steve Balmer gave today’s keynote, he mentioned that Office would have to be reinvented as a “service first.” What this means is that Microsoft Office will have to evolve from being just an office suite to a full integrated service that syncs all of your documents, settings, dictionaries and more across all of your devices.

Most people have multiple devices and managing different documents across all of them is a big pain. By using SkyDrive, Microsoft now has a fleshed-out sync solution across all devices and the web. During the demo of Office 2013, Microsoft made a point to show off how “frictionless” accessing your documents and settings would be with the new Office.


powerpoint 2013

PowerPoint was the first application in Office 2013 to be demoed and it really impressed me. Microsoft kept the ribbon interface (love it or hate it) in PowerPoint, but it is now hidden by default on the Window RT version of Office. You can bring up the ribbon with a tap of a button. During this demo, Microsoft took its time to show off how much thought went into creating a usable touch user interface.

Giving presentations with PowerPoint will be a pleasure with some of its new presentation features. It supports a stylus, so presenters can annotate their slides as they present, which is really useful if some of your slides contain an error or are out dated. Having touch and stylus support also means that presenters can bring focus to certain parts of the slide by drawing on it or using the new “laser pointer” mode to point to exactly where the audience should be looking.


outlook 2013

Outlook is receiving a Metro-styled interface as well, but with lots of new functionality too. First of all, Aero Peek, a feature that was first introduced in Windows 7, makes its way into Outlook. In older versions of Office, you can only see your Contacts, Calendar, or Tasks by jumping into another screen. With Aero Peek, users can now quickly hover over their Contacts, Calendar, or Tasks and have a fully manipulable pop up display.

One of the more impressive features that was built into Outlook 2013 is its ability to intelligently suggest events and appointments. Outlook will detect when someone wants to create an appointment by looking for locations, time, and specific keywords. This makes adding events to your calendar much easier. This has been something that Apple has had in their own Mail application for a while and its nice to see Microsoft finally incorporating that into their product.

Last but not least, Microsoft also announced powerful developer tools to create plugins for Outlook. They demoed a fully interactive Bing map within a body of an email, without having to jump into a browser. Really impressive stuff!


word 2013

Word didn’t receive as much of an overhaul, but Microsoft worked to polish Word 2013. Settings, defaults, templates and user dictionaries will all be synced between each version of Word so you’ll have one unified user experience with Word on every one of your devices. There’s a new reading mode that formats your documents to be touch friendly like pages of a book. Videos from YouTube can now be embedded directly within documents.


onenote 2013 cloud

OneNote has always been an excellent note taking app and this latest version is no different. Users can import pictures, video, and annotate all of these things within the application. Microsoft demoed its new “radial menu” for touch friendly editing. Hold down and a circular menu will pop up. Drag your finger to whatever option you want and let go. This interface is intuitive and powerful, letting users change fonts, colors, and formatting within seconds.


excel 2013

Microsoft finally acknowledged how complicated Excel is for mere mortals. Excel 2013 is still going to be a powerful tool for data analysis, but Microsoft has made an effort to simplify processes across the application. Users now have access to menus that preform “quick analysis” for their data, simply by selecting it. Excel looks at the data and offers the best solution for presenting or organizing it.


One of the biggest things that Microsoft demoed was how easy it is to collaborate on documents with Office 2013. Users can even have group video conferences using Skype while editing documents. Everything is done live and is synced to the cloud so that everyone in the group gets the most updated revision.

Social sharing also made its way into Office 2013 with easy sharing to SkyDrive, Facebook, publishing to a blog, and more. Office also integrates with Facebook and Flickr to pull in photographs. The great thing about this is that once you associate these accounts with your Microsoft Live account, you’ll never have to worry about logging into them on another Windows machine. Everything will sync with your Microsoft Live account. Frictionless indeed.


office 2013 icons

Over all, Office 2013 is an impressive upgrade, but I can’t help but feel there could have been more. Some features like smart suggestions for events within Outlook and cloud syncing are definitely playing catch-up. Microsoft has created a very strong ecosystem for Office 2013 but I see little reason for those who are already using Google Docs to switch.

The improvements to Office will also come at the price of backwards compatibility. Windows XP and even Windows Vista users will be left out in the cold with Office 2010 as the latest version they can upgrade to.

While Office 2013 is compelling on a tablet with its fleshed out touch interface, desktop users won’t really see any benefit over older versions of Office, other than cloud integration and better collaboration tools. It’s a shame that we didn’t get to see Microsoft leverage any technology it acquired from it’s purchase of Yammer. It was also a disappointment that Microsoft didn’t talk about Office on any other platform besides Windows. Having mobile apps on all platforms (like Google Drive) will be necessary for Microsoft to complete its ecosystem.

Microsoft will have to do more than play catch up if it wants Office to remain the king office suite.

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