Office 2013: a pleasant surprise

Office 2013: a pleasant surprise

Summary: After a week of using Office 2013 we're pleasantly surprised. The changes Microsoft has made to support Windows 8 — and specifically Windows 8 tablets — are logical, and they work well with more traditional ways of using Office.


If there's a new Windows, then surely a new Office can't be far behind. With Windows 8 almost out the door, it's about time for Office 2013 to show its face. We've seen snippets of it in conference presentations and at the Surface launch, and we've heard rumours of its features, fuelled by the occasional leak from the confidential beta programme. Finally it's ready to take its bow, and Microsoft today unveiled the first public beta of its new Office.

We've been working with the preview release of the Office 365 ProPlus version of Office 2013 for the last week, alongside a beta of the new Office 365 service. With the two new releases it's clear that Microsoft is making another of its big bets on the cloud, with Office 365 users getting far more from Office 2013 than users who buy the boxed product.

Microsoft has told ZDNet that Office 2013 will only be available for Windows 7 and 8, so you won't be able to upgrade if you're using Windows XP or Vista.

More: Ed Bott:  Microsoft defends desktop while moving Office 2013 to the cloud | Office 2013: Editions at a glance and FAQ | Office 2013: A closer look (in-depth screenshot gallery) | Mary Jo Foley: Microsoft's new Office: The cloud finally takes center stage  |  Microsoft's new Office: More strategic than Windows 8?

Microsoft Office 2013
Like Windows 8, Office 2013 has a light touch to its dialogs — as this splash screen from the installer shows.

Office and the cloud
Microsoft is offering four different preview releases of Office 2013, with the three business subscriptions all built around its Office 365 and SkyDrive services. They're also all subscription services that use a new version of Microsoft's Click-to-run tools to install applications from the cloud (and to keep them up to date). All the subscriptions allow users to install Office on five machines — and Microsoft has said that this will be across multiple platforms, including Mac OS. There's also 20GB of additional SkyDrive storage for subscribers (we also noted the appearance of a reference to SkyDrive Pro on our test machines, although the service does not currently seem to be active).

Microsoft Office 2013
The Office 2013 installer is based on Microsoft's click-to-run technologies, and on its application virtualisation and packaging tools. Features are streamed down from the web, so you can get started before all the application features have been installed.

The Click-to-run-based Office On Demand streams the Office applications to PCs, so you can quickly get up and running with the core functions installed first, while the rest of the application installs in the background. For example, you can stream in a copy of PowerPoint and start a presentation, without having to wait for a full download. Installs are linked to user accounts, so you can also quickly deauthorise a PC from the Office 365 web portal and temporarily install on a friend's or a co-worker's machine just to do one thing and then move on. Once you close a streamed application, it's gone — and because it runs in an application virtualisation sandbox there's no trace of it, or of your files.

The four preview plans are Office 365 Home Premium Preview, Office 365 Small Business Premium Preview, Office 365 ProPlus Preview, and Office 365 Enterprise Preview. Consumers with the Home Premium plan will get the core Office applications (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Access and Publisher), while the Small Business Premium plan adds access to the Office 365 cloud services, including Exchange, SharePoint and Lync for up to 10 users. The ProPlus option adds support for up to 25 users, and also includes the InfoPath and Lync applications. Similarly, the Enterprise plan adds more complex Exchange support with archiving and compliance tools.

All of the plans get access to a new version of Microsoft's Office Web Apps, so you can edit files anywhere. Files are also automatically synced to SkyDrive when you save them, giving you a cloud backup. Business subscriptions get access to Office 365 SharePoint, using this in preference to SkyDrive.

Giving Office the Metro feel
Office 2013 is a traditional Win32 desktop application, although it's joined by a pair of Windows 8 Metro-style companion applications in the shape of new OneNote and Lync versions. Even so, it's definitely got the Metro look-and-feel, with a near chromeless user interface, even on Windows 7.

The ribbon is still a key component of the Office user interface, although ribbon tabs now get new all-caps titles and elements have flatter, more Metro-like icons. Microsoft has chosen to automatically collapse the ribbon on some screens — a 1,200-by-900-resolution notebook has the ribbon on by default, for example, whereas it's collapsed on a 1,366-by-768 tablet. You'll find much of the UI now optimised for 16:9 screens, with sidebars where earlier versions of Office used dialogue boxes (although it's possible to detach sidebars if need be).

There are also new Metro format icons for the Office applications, all of which use the same metaphor of an open file folder stamped with the application's initial letter. Oddly, while most icons keep the familiar colours, Outlook drops the yellow for blue (with yellow overlays for incoming email). It's an unusual choice, and makes the new Outlook icon easy to confuse with Word's.

A touch Office
Touch is finally a first-class citizen in Office 2013. The new Metro user interface takes advantage of the touch features built into Windows 8, and while most of Office still comprises desktop applications, it's as easy to use on a tablet as a traditional PC or notebook. Microsoft has actually given Office 2013 two subtly different user interface modes, with a single button to switch between the two (a button we were surprised to find wasn't a default part of the Quick Access Toolbar, although it's very easy to add it). Tap the Touch mode button, and UI elements move slightly apart, making them easier to touch. Buttons get bigger, and there are additional cues that build on the Windows 8 touch features.

Touch mode also adds additional touch controls to applications — for example, in Outlook 2013, message controls are added to the left of the screen, where they're easily accessible with a thumb. With Touch mode Microsoft is trying to make it easier for touch users to work with a traditional desktop application. It's not entirely successful, but it's certainly a lot more usable than earlier versions of Office on touch devices. In practice you're still more likely to use Office with a keyboard and a mouse or trackpad, than purely as a touch application. However, reaching out to touch the screen could prove a useful way to interact with a document, as an adjunct to the familiar desktop tools.


Topics: Reviews, Apps, Cloud, Enterprise Software, Microsoft

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Great work by the Microsoft Office team !

    It is just an awesome product, already a great product and now this team has made it way way better, touch friendly, productive. This has success written all over it !
    Kudos !
  • A great product

    Its just an awesome product
    the pdf integration is Awesome
    A just grabbed a Full installer from the link given here
    And it flowed like a cake
  • A great product

    Its just an awesome product
    the pdf integration is Awesome
    A just grabbed a Full installer from the link given here

    And it flowed like a cake
  • OK do I have to have an office product to try this?

    I have Office 2010 but I do not want to replace it. I could load this on my test bed laptop that has Office 2010 already on it, and is running Windows 8 already. I did a factory restore disk set like I do with all new systems and did images, and then swapped the original drive out with a new 128 GB SSD M-4 and loaded the factory on that, and then 8 as an upgrade clean install. I have already gone way over my allowed activations with Office 2010 because of loading it on all the versions of Windows 8 from developer's on, and before that on my desktop, and two notebooks the old and the new, and my netbook. ( I have a three computer license. So now I have to call every time I load it on one of my currently owned three systems which I sell and replace every 12-18 months.

    So for all of you much younger and try it all in all flavors techs, perhaps you can tell me if it can be loaded alone, as an upgrade only, and will it stand alone with an installation of Office 2010 already on the machine.

    I am, all for doing the learning curve like for Windows 8 on a free preview with state of the art machines. I just don't want to get into the mess that Outlook can create with another version on the same machine as in the past.
    • Re:

      No, no previous installation necessary.

    If the Office uses the Windows 8 full-screen "tablet" design, there is no way I am going to install Windows 8 and use the new Office. If I can't open multiple windows and if each app is expanded to a full window, there is no way I can replicate my workflow using multiple windows with drag and drop/cut and paste.
    • Re: caps lock much?

      Stop spreading FUD. It's written in Win32 not WinRT. Moreover, it's free to test out, give it a shot before spewing out negative crap. Also, caps lock bro.
  • Office 2013 is a desktop app

    which means it runs in desktop mode just like Office 2010 runs in Windows 7... You can open as many windows as you want and resize them, just like in Windows 7...

    You can even replicate your workflow using multiple windows with drag and drop/cut and paste.
    Bill Reilly
  • office 2013

    Only thing that I do not like is Business Contact Manager does not work with it also I really do not like the colours available but that is minor.
    Fairly nice other than those small rubs.
  • Second post by Simon

    both feel like Microsoft ads, all fluff and no filler.

    I would love to have seen WHY I would want to move off of Office 2010 to this new version. (and know the metro look would NOT be a real reason).

    I cant wait for the next AD....or um blog post.
    • At least one killer new Word feature: PDF Reflow!

      If it works, PDF Reflow will be a huge new convenience. Excerpting content from PDFs is currently a hit-and-usually-miss affair. My wife works in a publishing role that involves a lot of this, and it's a source of serious frustration. PDF Reflow could make it a snap!
  • buy office 2013 professional with Genuine License-key from

    Thanks for sharing! You can buy office 2013 professional with Genuine License-key from our office software store at a low price ,you will get up to 70% discount!Perfect performance, Best price!
    Colorfully Moon