Office 2013 Early Impressions

I mentioned a few days back that I was going to preview the new Office 2013. Now that I've had a few days to digest it, and actually use it to create some documents that are more complex than just typing on a plain piece of paper, I can share some thoughts -- at least about Word and Excel.

First Impression: Word

I started my exploration with Word, because I had a document addendum I had to get out quickly, so I'll start my quickie tour there.

Screenshot (17)When you first launch Word (or other Office 2013 app) from start screen, Windows bounces you into Desktop Mode, and then after a few seconds, you'll see a screen prompting you to select a template for your new document. It has that "Windows 8" look, so why drop into Desktop Mode?

Because, under the hood, Word is still ... wait for it ... Word. But, unlike the old Word, the new Word is devoid of any color! That's right, the Ribbon is no longer colored. It's black-on-white, mostly. As is most of the rest of the interface. And before you ask, no, I don't have Accessibility Mode enabled. Take a look:

Screenshot (16)

What on Earth is that all about? I'm not a big fan of Word anyway, and this is just plain ugly, if you ask me. And, I haven't been able to find any way to reclaim the old 2010 or 2007 "look." So, there it is.

Screenshot (21)There are some things you can do to ease the situation, like go full screen and then hide the Ribbon and Navigation Panel. As long as you can remember what functions are under particular tabs (or are good at remembering shortcut keys), this is a fairly palatable way to work.

Screenshot (20)You can also change the way the Navigation Panel works -- you can see page thumbnails or search results, just like in Adobe Acrobat/Reader.

Screenshot (23)Adding to my confusion, though, is that some aspects are not ugly. For instance, the print dialog is "Windows 8" all the way. Many other dialogs also take on the new, modern look as well, making the overall experience a little schizophrenic.

Of course, Word still wants to have its way with your documents, inflicting its ideas about style and layout and whatever else it can, just as it has for years.

I did find some nifty things in this version, however. There's a new-to-me reading mode, that with a single click allows you to see what the printed version of your document will look like. It is, exactly that, though: reading mode. No editing is allowed here! You have to toggle back to editing mode to make changes, and the only way to "click in" to a particular place in a document before switching back to another view is to highlight a word or words. You can't just place your cursor somewhere.

  • Before I go any further, I should probably quickly mention that I've skipped Office 2010. My other laptop has Office 2007 installed, and I haven't had my work machines upgrade to 2010 either.

I also found image placement a little more forgiving and manageable than I have in previous versions, though list/bullet management is still just as terrible as it's been for some time.

But, at least it's not Word Perfect...

Excelling at Consistency: Excel

Screenshot (25)Microsoft has always done a great job with spreadsheets, going all the way back to Multiplan.

Without going into a huge amount of detail, aside from the inconsistencies of the new user interface, Excel still maintains it's position as just about the best spreadsheet application around.

Closing Thoughts, For Now

While the new Microsoft Office suite leaves bit to be desired in the area of UI consistency, it's certainly not bad software, once you get used to it. Office has never been bad software, once you get used to it. The key is getting used to it. I do wish that Microsoft had done a little more work, though, to make Office 2013 "fit" better into the Windows 8 experience.

Microsoft is also debuting something called Office 365, which combines cloud computing with the Office suite, at a price that will supposedly be friendly to small business. So far, I'm trying it and liking it. It's pretty nicely put together, and allows documents to be simultaneously saved and synced to a local drive and Microsoft's Sky Drive. Once in the cloud, documents are automatically synched to other machines in the workgroup (up to 8) for immediate use and collaboration. If a particular computer is unable to access the internet, it's automatically synched when it connects next. The Sky Drive can also be automatically connected to the new Windows Phone and Surface devices.

More thoughts on all of this will follow, as always.

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