CRN Test Center: Thumbs Up for Office 2013 Customer Preview10:00 AM EST Wed. Jul. 18, 2012
With this week's release of the customer preview of Office 2013, Microsoft leaves no doubt about its vision of a world filled with web-connected tablets running Windows 8 and collaboration on documents created with Office 365 and 2013 and stored on SkyDrive. The new productivity suite is widely rumored to be set for release early next year.
Microsoft sent the CRN Test Center an Intel Core i5-based Samsung Series 7 Slate with 64-bit Windows 8, the latest preview of Office 365 and the credentials for downloading the customer preview of Office 2013, which includes new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Lync, Project and Visio.
Only the Lync and OneNote betas were developed in Metro style; the others run in Windows 8's desktop mode. Still, the apps deliver a consistent interface that has enhanced touch capabilities, tablet-specific controls and integrated Internet-based storage and social networks.
Here's a closer look at the major modules.
(Photo courtesy of pocketlint.com)
Though not written in "Metro style," Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook appear and behave like Metro-style apps. They fill the screen, have a flatter look and feel that forgoes scroll and title bars, and when in "touch mode," bring up finger-friendly navigation icons.
Shown here is Word 2013's new "read mode," designed to simplify text consumption with automatic column and text flow adjustments. Similar to an e-book, the mode offers bookmark and tap-to-zoom features and the ability to define, translate or look up words (with an Internet connection). And, if you're reading a document saved on SkyDrive (the new default), bookmarks lets you pick up where you left off even when switching devices.
Word 2013 also can be used as an online presentation tool, sharing any document to Chrome, Firefox, IE or Safari browsers. Word can now open and edit PDF documents and use objects from within to create new presentations, and images can be placed directly from Facebook, Flickr and the likes without downloading and saving locally first.
Excel 2013 is now fully-touch enabled, allowing finger or hand gestures to navigate through spreadsheets, charts and graphs with one-tap object zoom. The new Excel also contains many of the same interface enhancements as in Word, including touch-mode icons for easy navigation, direct access to web-based storage and social networks for image placement, simplified sharing and online presentation.
There are also some fairly impressive features that simplify database population and report generation. Shown here is Flash Fill, a new feature that addresses the dreaded all-my-imported-data-ended-up-in-a-single-column problem. When such errant imports occur, Flash Fill recognizes the repetitive corrective actions needed to fix them and offers to finish the job for you, automatically moving the data into multiple columns. And, it does this without macros or scripts.
As with Word and Excel 2013, PowerPoint 2013 doesn't require others to have the app to view your presentations; Office 2013 docs can be easily shared, allowing others to view documents through any web browser (we successfully tested it with Chrome, Firefox and Safari), with the ability to save the document to SkyDrive and generate a URL that can be emailed to participants. Slides advance almost immediately along with the presenter's, but browser back buttons are inoperable. We suggest adding a button to generate a URL after a presentation begins (for people who join late) and another to end the presentation.
Shown here are key portions of PP 2013's new presenter console, which automatically activates when a second display or projector is connected. The console lets the presenter move through all slides or skip around without affecting what's being shown. There's also a notes section, which can remind the speaker of each slide's main points. PowerPoint 2013 can access Facebook, Flickr and other cloud services for image sources and can play a single musical track through an entire presentation.
Microsoft has worked hard to bring multiple data sources together seamlessly in Outlook 2013. For example, when viewing an email that contains an address, it plots the location on a Bing map (shown). If the sender is someone in your organization, their presence info is visible as a bright green square next to their name (also shown), and a new peek feature lets you see further details about the person.
New in Outlook 2013 is peek, which displays information from other Office apps or modules without switching the focus away from Outlook. Drilling into a co-worker, for example, might show that person's department, rank within the organization or your recent email or instant messaging exchanges. If they're requesting a meeting, Outlook 2013 lets you peek at the relevant date on your calendar without opening the calendar app (shown).
Outlook 2013 now can be the destination for messages and appointments not only from Exchange but also from POP and IMAP mail systems and third-party calendars. It also can display updates from contacts on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social sites. And, Outlook 2013 can install beside a current version of Outlook to facilitate pilot testing and phased implementations without affecting user productivity.
With the direction it has taken in Windows 8 and now Office 2013, it's more evident than ever before that Microsoft is focused squarely at improving the tablet experience.
The cleaner, flatter and consistent interface across Office 2013 modules brings a unified experience to a suite of apps that's now more well integrated, internet savvy and touch-user friendly. Features such as peek and seamless web- and social-network integration are always there, sliding in and out of sight as needed. Redmond also promises a new, synchronized release schedule, with all modules set to release at the same time for all devices.
For software sold in stores, there will be a license key in the box in place of the CD, with downloads and updates coming from Microsoft's store and update sites. There will be no more software discs. The first public beta of Office 2013 was made available Monday; general availability is expected to be in early 2013.