Living with Office 2013… day 1

Having seen that Office 2013 went RTM the other week I’ve made the decision to run with it as my main day-to-day version for work. Wasn’t too much of a shock to the system having already used the Preview on my x100e but wanted to see how I felt using it in anger rather than skirting round the edges…

First impressions

The upgrade was quick and painless as expected and the first run video is a nice touch (although very American sounding, maybe it’s just the version I’m using from TechNet?)

The interface is still a bit marmite, when you first load it up, the white everything is somewhat overpowering and could be painful on the eyes at night. Luckily it’s easily fixed, head over to File Menu > Options and change Office Theme to Dark Grey to get some contrast back.

As you’d expect from a Metro ModernUI generation application all buttons and menus have been flattened and the colour palette has gone back to a level I haven’t seen since the days of Office 97 in 256 colour mode. That said after a while you don’t notice it too much.

What I do still notice is the ribbon menus being in all caps, almost seems like each one should have some form of punctuation mark or emoticon… FILE!!! HELP?! I keep getting an overriding feeling that I want to point Firebug at the ribbon and change the CSS to text-transform: none

There’s also a touch \ mouse mode that basically makes all the ribbon controls bigger so you can easily hit them with a finger. I can’t comment on how well it works in practice yet but can’t see why it wouldn’t work.

One feature I really do like across the Office apps is the launch screen when opening any of the Office 2013 programs. It brings Recent documents to the fore and gets you where you want to be quickly and simply.

Office 2013 also uses a lot of visual trickery to give the feeling of flowing motion, presumably down to the fact it’s going to be used a lot on tablet-style devices. Word’s text cursor glides along, Excel rows slide into place and menus slip in and out of the screen. At first it almost gives a bit of motion sickness compared to the now almost industrial feel of previous versions but again something you soon get used to (and I’m sure tablet users will approve of)

Word

Word 2010 was already a very competent word processor so the changes here aren’t exactly huge. The ability to convert and edit PDF files sounds very useful, need to try that one out as it’s often a common request from users.

Inserting media has been given a makeover and includes a neat in-program browser for the likes of YouTube and Flickr, looks like the end of the road for the Clip Organiser, which can now enjoy its retirement along with the Lone Server

For me the highlight of the 2013 version so far has been the new reading view. Previously I dismissed reading view with a swift click of the “never show again” option, usually accompanied with muttering how irritating and pointless it was. Not any more!

Reading View now reflows and presents your document in a slide style reader, with simple left \ right navigation that I’m sure will work great on touch devices. I tried it today on a report and it was a nicer experience than reading in the standard document view. I think the default size of the window has something to do with it, seems to be just right to allow you to concentrate on the content piece by piece.

Outlook

Out of the suite Outlook seems to have had the most radical transformation, along with a new blue icon that takes some getting used to in the Start Menu after years of yellow \ orange!

Replies work within the reading pane by default, which is handy for firing off quick emails.

One thing that does stick out at me is the variety of subtly different interfaces we now have across the Microsoft portfolio: Outlook app, Office 365 OWA, Mail and Outlook.com. Granted they’re aimed at different audiences but they’d benefit from a more common look now everything has been Metro-ised (yes I know… Modernised!)

Excel & PowerPoint

Haven’t used much of Excel short of updating an IP address spreadsheet today so can’t report too much there apart from the standard new UI features and effects.

PowerPoint, again much of a muchness if you’re coming from 2010. The smooth animations do feel particularly slick here as you move slides around. Whether I was more productive as a result is debatable but it sure makes you feel that way.

One nice new feature is the alignment bars that come up when you’re trying to position text and graphics in line with each other. Perfect for the layout obsessed amongst us (myself included)

Collaboration

Now this is where it gets juicy!

Up until now Google Apps has pretty much had collaboration all to itself with Office coming in a pretty poor second. Not for much longer…

This evening I’ve been working on a PowerPoint presentation with a friend. He created the document in 2013, seamlessly saved up to SkyDrive, pops me over a link and I edit from my machine in real-time. No Save As dialogs, no messy email trails. Each save triggers a refresh of the file at both ends with a little message appearing to notify of new updates and who else is working on the file in question.

Reviewing is nice and easy in 2013, a pane slides in to show comments and somehow feels slicker than before. The only thing I haven’t figured out so far is how to show the changes the other user has just made to the document, although probably missing something obvious there.

Bearing in mind we’ve been using the consumer level SkyDrive today and it works slick and smoothly Office 365 should really have the trump card over Google Apps. Now you can do all that real time editing jazziness of GApps but with the power of Office on the desktop, how will Google respond I wonder?

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