Microsoft has released a wave of preview versions of its upcoming Office 2013 office productivity software and services, with the first public preview released on July 16.
Office as a service
While Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that Office 2013 would be offered as a traditional “perpetual license” product, he also said that the next version of Office has been “built from the get-go as a service” and tied to the Office 365 cloud platform, both for consumers and business. Rather than putting the suite’s applications themselves in the cloud, Microsoft is using its App-V application streaming technology and a “Click2Go” installer to deploy functionality down to the desktop.
For more, read: How Office 2013’s streaming as a service works.
Office 2013 relies heavily on the cloud to store user preferences in Office, as well as their documents. Templates from Office.com are provided as a cloud service, searchable directly from within the individual applications themselves. And for default file storage locations, the applications are tied to Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud storage service in the consumer version, and to SharePoint services in the business version. Both offer personal file storage, the ability to share documents with others, and even the ability to post them to social media. A “reading resume” feature across all of the client applications in Office stores information about where you left off with a document in the cloud, and takes you back to that position when you open the document again—no matter where you open it from. Collaboration is also more deeply integrated into the applications, including the ability to launch instant message, Lync, or Skype calls with people who have commented on or marked up a document—all you have to do is click on their embedded personal information.
For a deep look at the overarching Office suite, read: Office 2013: Microsoft’s bid to win the future
Touch in Office 2013
The other major changes to the Office suite as a whole revolve around making it work better with the Windows 8 operating system and its touch capabilities. Peter Bright found the touch features to be somewhat limited, though Microsoft executives have said the touch elements were designed for quick access to features on the go and not for heavy-duty use of the applications. Office 2013 also promises “improved inking” and pen/stylus support, but those improvements didn’t stand out in the preview. They’re tied specifically to the new pen features in the Windows 8 OS (though Windows 7 offers some pen support as well).
For Peter Bright’s full assessment of Office’s touch features, read: Why bother? The sad state of Office 2013 touch support.
Microsoft’s Outlook gets a facelift in 2013. The “social connector” integration tool for social networks has been enhanced, and Outlook can now automatically merge contact cards for the same person together into a single “people card” view. Other new features of the interface include “peeks,” which allow you to hover the mouse pointer over the tabs for the various parts of Office’s interface (Calendar, People, and Tasks) from within the mail reading interface, and get a pop-up look at contextually relevant information (favorite contacts, your calendar for the month, active tasks). And within mail preview, Outlook now allows in-line replies, letting users respond to messages directly within the preview pane instead of opening an editing window.
For more, read: First look: Outlook 2013
Microsoft Word is the most heavily updated of the individual applications in the Office suite. In addition to tweaks to its pre-existing SkyDrive collaboration capabilities—which include a limited co-editing capability that allows multiple people to work on a document stored in the cloud—Word 2013 will also add a new “simple markup” approach to tracking changes, and threaded comments within documents. There’s also a new “reader” view, designed to make it easier to review documents on-screen, especially with tablets and touch devices. Since Microsoft sees more users reading Word documents online instead of in print form, the Office team has added online content embedding—including videos—to Word, along with easier tools to place and set the text wrap around images and other embedded content. And Microsoft has added full PDF import into Word.
For more, read: First Look: Word 2013
Excel 2013’s improvements are focused on making the more sophisticated features of Excel more accessible to casual users. When a block of cells are highlighted by a user, a Quick Analysis “lens” presents a range of formatting, charting, and other analysis recommendations and automatically creates them for the user—including Excel Pivot Tables for doing data analytics. A new “flash fill” feature makes it easier for users who copy and paste content from the Web or formatted reports to quickly convert the content into useful data, performing pattern analysis on content to detect when a user is retyping content that exists within another column and applying that pattern to automatically fill the rest of the column out. But aside from the cloud-based sharing integrated through the suite, Excel lacks any real collaboration add-ons.
For more, read: First look: Excel 2013.
OneNote 2013 and Metro
Microsoft’s OneNote note-organizing tool is the first Office application to get a makeover for the Metro interface with new radial touch menus. The Metro version of the app wasn’t available in the advance preview, and the standard desktop version (which is what Windows 7 users and most Windows 8 PC users will stick to) is not greatly updated (aside from what Microsoft claims will be much faster syncing, and the addition of the bookmarking capability of the “resume reading” feature). OneNote 2013 will also allow the embedding of Excel and Visio resources.
For more, read: First look: OneNote 2013.
Like the other applications, PowerPoint 2013 is deeply integrated with the cloud, from templates to online collaboration and presentation. Content can be grabbed from not just Office.com but Facebook, Flickr, and other sources directly from PowerPoint. There are also more powerful charting tools, a new presenter mode, and even enhanced drawing and color-editing tools that make PowerPoint into a more complete creative tool for those who fear to tread into Visio.
For more, read: First look: PowerPoint 2013.
Microsoft is also promising a Metro version of the Lync video, voice, and text conferencing tool. That wasn’t available in the preview, and the desktop Lync that we were able to test was largely the same as its Office 2010 predecessor. During testing, Peter Bright and I decided that it wasn’t quite ready for a full-blown review because idiosyncrasies in the application-sharing element of Lync made the preview almost unusable for team editing in our test. We’ll take a deeper look at Lync 2013 when a more feature-complete preview is available.
Office Web Apps
In his look at the preview of the next generation of the Web versions of the Office 2013 applications, Andrew Cunningham found that aside from a facelift to match the new desktop applications, Microsoft has added a bit more functionality. The biggest winner is Outlook’s Web version, which has gained features like an offline mode that allow you to take a cache of messages and review and respond to them offline within the browser—re-syncing them when you reconnect.
Apps for Office
Access, Visio and InfoPath
The components of the Office "Professional" suite have gotten new interfaces (along with the Apps for Office application interface), plus some incremental feature bumps. We’ll be reviewing Access and Visio in full as we get closer to the official launch of Office 2013, and will look at InfoPath as part of our full review of Office 365 and SharePoint.
Exchange and SharePoint
While there’s a big focus on the Office365 service in Office 2013, Microsoft will also be releasing new versions of the standalone server versions of its email and collaboration platforms. Previews of these servers are expected this fall, to coincide with Microsoft’s SharePoint conference in November and therevived-after-many-years Exchange conference in September