The other members of the Office suite all get a revamp in Office 2013. Some, like Access and InfoPath, seem less relevant now the tools for Metro application development are built into Windows 8, but still get updates for the Metro world. Updates include new Metro templates for Access' web application development tools. Publisher adds improved mail-merge tools, so you can use it to create personalised mailings and documents; you can also convert entire documents into JPEG format to simplify printing.
A new Office for a new Microsoft
Microsoft is making a series of big bets with its 2012 releases. The most obvious is Metro, but more significant are the changes Microsoft is making to its licensing. You'll still be able to buy Office 2013 as a standalone product, but it's also going to be available as a download, purchased as a subscription alongside a new consumer and small business version of the Office 365 cloud service. It will also take advantage of the SkyDrive cloud synchronisation tools built into Windows 8 — and available as a download for phones, tablets and devices running desktop OSs.
The new Office 365 partner licensing terms introduced at this year's Worldwide Partner Conference will make these changes more acceptable to the channel, with Office now able to give partners recurring revenue. SaaS (Software as a Service) has made subscription software more palatable to businesses, and by bundling Office with its cloud services Microsoft has made it more likely that they will take advantage of Office 2013's subscription terms. Consumer acceptance is another question, and one we'll watch with interest.
Cloud integration goes right to the heart of Office, with files saved automatically to both your machine and Microsoft's cloud services (SkyDrive for consumers and SharePoint Online for business users). There's something surprisingly liberating about knowing that you can access your files anywhere — and with Office On Demand, even with your usual tools. The cloud is also at the heart of Office's collaboration features, which build on the tools introduced in Office 2010 to make collaboration much easier to use, for both co-editing and for asynchronous document collaboration.
We were initially sceptical about the chromeless Metro look-and-feel, especially on our Windows 7 test system. However we found that collapsing the ribbon gave us plenty of screen real estate for our documents — especially when using a full screen. The plain white colour scheme also minimises distractions, leaving you to focus on your content.
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. The result is a design that makes it easy to focus on work, rather than drowning in extraneous information. Office is first and foremost a productivity suite, and Office 2013 looks set to make users more productive without requiring them to learn new ways of working, even on new kinds of devices. That's a win in anyone's book.