Microsoft defends desktop while moving Office 2013 to the cloud

Microsoft defends desktop while moving Office 2013 to the cloud

Summary: Microsoft has taken its cloud services, Office desktop programs, and browser-based Office Web Apps and fused them into a product that feels unified and natural. And they've done so without altering the fundamental character of Office.


For the past year or so, the team developing the next release of Microsoft Office has been eerily quiet. The few things they did have to say during that time were invariably drowned out by the public discussion of Windows 8.

That changes today, as Microsoft officially unveils its consumer preview of Office 2013.


What’s most remarkable about this update is not that it unveils a new, Metro-influenced design for Office. That’s expected, as is support for a new generation of touch-enabled devices that should appear later this year with the launch of Windows 8.

No, the biggest surprise is that Microsoft has taken its cloud services, desktop programs, and browser-based apps and fused them into a product that feels unified and natural. And they’ve pulled off this impressive accomplishment without altering the fundamental character of Office.


If you’re a longtime Office user, you’ll find that Office 2013 feels new and greatly improved without feeling dramatically different. That’s an important consideration for a piece of software that has roughly 1 billion users worldwide.

Much of what’s in Office 2013 is, to be frank, not that new. The online file storage builds on SkyDrive and SharePoint. The utility that syncs local and cloud-based files is a retooled version of Groove, rebranded as SkyDrive Pro. Microsoft’s App-V and Click-to-Run technologies are at the heart of its new web-based installers. There are no new desktop programs or Web apps—Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and the rest of the Office family are still around. File formats are, as far as I can tell, unchanged between Office 2010 and 2013.

And yet, after using Office 2013 for a week, I do not want to go back. In the course of writing this first look (it’s far too early for a review), I was able to switch between multiple devices without skipping a beat. I started on a desktop, moved to a notebook, picked up a tablet … documents (with changes intact) and settings followed me without requiring that I do anything more than sign in to my new Office account.

See also:

So what’s new in Office 2013?

The biggest change is in how Office is made available. You can still opt for the conventional Office distribution, with a perpetual license tied to a PC. But Office 2013 adds a new set of Office 365 subscription services that allow you to install the desktop apps on up to five PCs and store documents using 20 GB of included SkyDrive storage.

The Office 2013 user interface follows many of the Metro design guidelines of Windows 8. The biggest change is the removal of “chrome”—so when you open an Office desktop app on Windows 7 or Windows 8, you don’t see any window borders. Actions within programs are accompanied by smooth animations that make it easier to see what the program is doing on your behalf—those animations are not just eye candy.

The Ribbon is still there, but flattened, with a plain white background. You’ll notice vivid colors on the File menu and in the status bar along the bottom, with color-coding to help distinguish between different office programs (green for Excel, dark blue for Word, orange for PowerPoint, and so on).

Office 2013 was clearly built to work best on Windows 8, although I also tested it on Windows 7. Interestingly, despite being a desktop app, Outlook taps into Windows 8's Notifications feature to display pop-up messages when new email arrives and when appointments are due. There's no support for Live Tiles on the Metro Start screen, though—that feature is for Metro style apps only.

All of the desktop apps also include options that make them easier to use on touch-enabled devices such as tablets. For example, you can use Word’s new Read mode to reflow a document into columns that use the full screen, then flip through he document with a flick of the finger. A Touch mode button, available on the Quick Launch toolbar, adds extra space between Ribbon icons and other navigation elements to make them easier to tap.

The Office 365 versions include cloud storage, with SkyDrive Pro to sync files between SharePoint and the desktop. Microsoft has positioned SkyDrive as its consumer storage service and SharePoint for business use. I was able to successfully connect to multiple SkyDrive and SharePoint accounts and access them from any device where I was signed in.

The cloud-based storage also allows easy online sharing and syncing. I was able to share files using simple e-mail links and shared folders, and all of the web and desktop apps allowed my collaborators to work on the same document in real time, with changes clearly marked.

The Office account syncs Office settings as well. When I signed in to a device, documents I had opened on a different device appeared in my Recent list. On a computer where Office 2013 wasn’t installed, I had the option to view and edit documents using the Office Web Apps or stream a temporary copy of the full desktop app without counting against my five-device license limit. After logging off, the streamed app and documents were removed from the device.

To help you get a more complete picture of Office 2013 in action, I've put together a screenshot gallery with detailed captions.

Keep reading: Office 2013: A closer look.

Topics: Software, Cloud, Enterprise Software, Microsoft

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  • Having to log into the 'cloud' would be a deal breaker.

    I have no problem uploading my own work to my own web host account then retrieving it if I'm on a different machine.

    Having to upload it to a Microsoft server? Not exactly desirable.
    Rob Berman
    • You're not required to store anything in the cloud

      You can do everything local if you want.
      Ed Bott
      • Good point

        But I've seen this in other terms of service agreements - does Microsoft take a royalty-free copy of what one uses their software for in the process, for which there can only be one reason (to profit from it, before the creator can)?
        • Umm, what?

          Umm, what?

          What you create is yours.
          • Not according to Microsoft.

            In many of their license agreements. Do you own research. I won't do it for you. Fact's true. Microsoft owns you when you use (some of) their products.
          • No Nicrosoft fan here . . .

            . . . but I believe you have to give them rights to copy and distribute your work if they are to make copies of your work and distribute them to other computers you may wish to use.
          • You are confusing Google

            Google owns all the information it can mine about you. It's in the business of selling your information to advetisers.
            Your Non Advocate
        • Not the least bit true

          I've written about this repeated. Here's what the Microsoft Terms of Servise say:

          "you retain all right, title and interest in and to customer data. We acquire no rights in customer data, other than the rights you grant to us for the applicable online service."

          I don't see how that could possibly be any clearer. The only rights you grant are to allow them to reproduce the content you store online so that they can provide the service.
          Ed Bott
        • You mean like Google?

          I haven't seen that in the TOS at Microsoft's online
          sites, but then I don't use too much of the cloud from
        • Office 2013 must have option to disable cloud functions

          At the corporate level, the public cloud is a risk, for the same reason many companies not perhaps enable Office 2013 functionality for use in the cloud.

          Companies generate daily information classified as top secret that must be properly guarded to prevent cyber fraud, private and confidential with the authorities, as well as compliance issues by trade issues affecting intellectual property produced in Office documents.

          Perhaps the popularity of Office 2013 functionality in the public cloud is for industries as art, entertainment, government agencies where there must be transparency, non-profit organizations, but hardly commercial enterprises, industry, military, aerospace, financial services, automotive, energy, etc. will adopt the strategy of the public cloud, so Office 2013 must have certain types of locks to ensure that public cloud functionality is not available in the installation and that no malicious employee could enable it with some type of patch or tool, which will generate a lot of controversy in the coming months before the official launch of Office 2013.
          Gabriel Hernandez
          • Encryption?

            I can't help but laugh a little when people question the security of Microsoft cloud offerings. If someone wanted your data, where do you think you are better protected? The servers you store in your makeshift datacenter/closet, or Microsoft's datacenter? You do have to worry about the Govt coming in and muscling Microsoft into handing over data under special circumstances, but what's to really stop them from coming into your datacenter and doing the same anyway? By the way the military is already using Microsoft technology for their own private clouds. There will also be govt skus offered in Office 365 where DoD compliant companies can reside on govt only infrastructure to meet those requirements.
    • I'm pretty sure the cloud stuff is optional.

      I'm pretty sure the cloud stuff is optional.
      • And yet designed to be mandatory.

        Why else would MS spend money on it's development. Their competitors warned MS of the move an MS had to protect their cash cow.

        Problem is, most folks don't want it and those that do will never trust Microsoft.
        • hogwash

          Suppose for yourself, not the rest of the userbase.
        • actually

          You seem to be a bit free with this "Most folks.... will never trust Microsoft" Shtick. In fact most reasonable people and that includes those in IT and business would rather put there trust in Microsoft's offerings than Google's.

          Microsoft plays on the field of you pay us for what we provide. Google plays on the field we take what we can get about you and everything else and sell it. Additionally, for people like me and many that I know this is perfect. Up to 5 licenses for use on other computing devices I may use. (disclosure I may have missed the number but 5 sticks out). No matter where I go if I can get to a device that at minimum has web service I can get to my Documents.
          No this isn't for everyone, but those that have multiple machines that they use will find this offering a big advantage. On the other hand, those that have no need or no desire can simply use the old traditional models of Office 2013. No harm no foul.
        • I don't want cloud storage

          But if I ever do need cloud storage I'll trust Microsoft before Google.
        • Ehhhh but that's a nice try. Thanks for playing

          come back again real soon.
        • It's a move toward the future

          No, it is not designed to be mandatory. Think about all those people who don't live in the West (like myself) and their internet connections are neither fast enough nor unlimited like those in the West (where I live, there are caps on how much can be downloaded and, literally, next to none unlimited packages for personal users - and ,if there are any, they are way too expensive for over 90% of the population to even think about) and just cannot sustain frequent uploads and downloads from the cloud.

          The reason Microsoft has invested in this is because that's where everyone is going. Look at all major companies (Google, Apple and what have you), they are all developing a cloud system. And, to be honest, it does have its advantages as, for example, I don't need to go around with a USB all the time and can access my won personal setting and files anywhere I want. This is where the future of computing is heading and Microsoft, obviously, doesn't want to be left behind. I mean, I can understand Google wanting access to our perfectness, albeit anonymously, because it is primarily a advertisement company but Microsoft is not so and there is not much use to them of this data. In fact, if they wanted that, they would have done that in, but they have said that they will not look at the information in our e-mail to arrange what advertisements we see.
    • not necessary

      I don't think that is a mandatory step. Much like if you had an email app on your phone and your data connection is off. You can still compose and reply to messages that you retrieved. You can still click send but it won't sync up until your connection is established. Although, I believe office 2013 still allows you to store locally and not sync up with the cloud.
  • Common User Interface


    Has Microsoft brought back the common user interface, that all of us who have used older versions of MS Office a couple of versions back, or are they doing the funky artwork routine with their ribbon "artsy" ribbon bars? Don't they listen to their customer base? I wonder if this is the reason Google is giving them a run for their money?

    I remember when MicroPro, of Wordstar fame, eliminated the "Function Key" map, below the text entry field. Because of the hue and cry, it was put back, but not before some folks switched over to other applications.

    I don't buy software for esoteric purposes. I buy software that can increase my productivity. As the saying goes, "Don't mess with love."

    Steven Moshlak