Office 2013: A closer look

Microsoft has officially unveiled the consumer preview of Office 2013. The new edition has a dramatically different look and feel, as well as tight connections to cloud-based services. Here's what you'll find inside.
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Office 2013: new look, new licensing models

For this new Office edition, Microsoft is thinking outside the (shrink-wrapped) box. You can get Office 2013 in subscription editions that include the right to install the program onto five devices, to "stream" it onto additional devices for temporary use, and to create and edit files using Office Web Apps.

For details on what's in Office 2013 and how you can try the preview version, see: Office 2013 preview: editions at a glance and FAQ.

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Install Office desktop apps from the Web

An Office 365 subscription includes the right to install the Office 2013 desktop apps on up to five computers. The Click-To-Run packages install quickly—typically within minutes over a broadband connection.

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Introducing SkyDrive Pro

Default storage for Office 365 ProPlus is online, in SkyDrive Pro. The online environment (which bears a striking resemblance to SharePoint) also offers online access to email, calendar, and contacts (on the People tab).

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A new name for a time-tested technology

Much of what’s in Office 2013 is familiar technology. The software component that syncs local files with their cloud counterparts at SkyDrive Pro is actually an updated version of Groove. Old-timers will remember Groove as the groundbreaking product that Ray Ozzie brought to Microsoft. 

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Sign in to Office to save and sync

Signing in with an Office 365 account unlocks access to online files and shared sites. It also syncs settings (including recent documents and bookmarks) between computers. So you can begin editing a document on one computer, exit, and sign in on another PC to pick up where you left off.

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Open files from just about anywhere

Click File and then click Open in any Office app to reach this tab, which shows online files (SkyDrive and SharePoint) and local storage, as well as recently opened files.

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New files from templates

The New tab for every file-oriented Office app shows recently opened files on the left and a selection of templates (drawn from Microsoft’s large online collection) on the right.

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A flat, mostly chromeless interface

In the redesigned Office 2013 user interface, there’s almost no “chrome”—no borders around windows, for example. And the UI stays in the background, with a neutral white behind ribbon icons; the only splashes of color are those that help identify individual programs. The orange status bar shown here, for example, is a dead giveaway for PowerPoint.

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Office on Demand (streaming)

If you need the full set of editing tools in the Office desktop apps, you can download them for temporary use by logging on to Office 365. When you’re done, all traces of the app and your data are removed.

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Easy sharing

In the file-oriented Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.), you can share a file via email, social networks, or with an instant message. The recipient gets instant access via SkyDrive.

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Word’s Read mode

In Read mode, Word removes most editing tools and other distractions from the screen and reflows the content into columns. It’s especially effective on a touchscreen device.

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Word’s new Design tab

This is one of the few major changes in Ribbon layout between Office 2013 and its predecessor. Commands that were formerly crammed into a single Page Layout tab are now broken into a second Design tab.

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Open and reflow a PDF in Word

Word has had the ability to save documents in PDF format for years. This release allows you to open PDF files directly for editing, with paragraph formatting, lists, and headers and footers converting into their Word equivalents.

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Simple markup enables easy document reviews

Choosing the Simple Markup option from the Review tab lets you carry on discussions with co-authors of a Word document in these pop-up dialog boxes, which are indicated by simple balloon icons in the margin.

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Word 2013 streamlines full-strength markup

Choose the All Markup option to see improvements in the way Word handles revision tracking. In particular, it’s easy to see comments and replies in the margin.

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An overview of Excel 2013

The basic building blocks of Excel are unchanged in this version, but the new look makes it easier to concentrate on content. Tab markers at the bottom of the screen are noticeably cleaner.

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Excel’s Quick Analysis

Choose a list or a block of numbers and then click Quick Analysis to display the pop-up box of suggestions shown here. You can adjust formatting or choose a chart type, with recommendations based on your selection.

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Smarter charts

This dialog box, which appears when you choose the option to insert a chart, is brand new. Note that Excel analyzes the data and tries to suggest a range of appropriate chart types and formatting. Use the second tab if you prefer to choose from the full list of chart types.

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Use auto-bookmarks to quickly resume work

Both Word (left) and PowerPoint (right) automatically track and save your editing location. When you return to the document or presentation, even on a different device, this pop-up indicator lets you jump to the spot where you left off.

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Use Touch mode for tablets

Every Office 2013 app includes support for Touch mode, which is activated by tapping the bull’s-eye button in the Quick Launch bar along the top of this screen. Touch mode adds a little extra space between navigation elements and Ribbon icons. It’s especially effective in Outlook, where you also get a list of shortcuts to the right of the selected item.

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A unified contacts list

This screen shows off several interesting new features in Outlook 2013. The simplified navigation bar at the bottom left of the screen lets you quickly change the display from mail to calendar or, as shown here, people. The My Contacts list on the left draws from email contacts and connected social media services and can easily be filtered using the search box.

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Today’s weather at a glance

At the top of the new calendar pane is a customizable three-day weather forecast, with data drawn from Microsoft’s Bing service. Hover over any entry for more details, as shown here. Use the drop-down list at the left to add cities.

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Inline replies in Outlook

When you click Reply while viewing a message in the reading pane, Outlook 2013 displays your reply inline, without opening a new message window. That space-saving feature is especially helpful on laptops and tablets with small screens.

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Use Peeks for quick looks at other data

In Outlook 2010, a pane on the right side of the window shows your current calendar—taking up a significant amount of space in the process. In Outlook 2013, you can click or tap the Calendar, People, or Tasks links to see a pop-up view of that data without leaving your Mail view. These Peeks offer full navigation and search tools.

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Contact cards provide at-a-glance info

Click or tap any name in an email message or appointment to see a pop-up contact card like this one. If you and the other person are part of the same organization, you can use Lync to send an instant message or make a phone call. The What’s New tab shows updates from connected social networks.

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Presenter mode in PowerPoint 2013

When you’re delivering a slide show, your local screen shows this touch-friendly view, with the audience seeing only your slides. Speaker notes and a preview of the next slide appear on the right to help keep you on track.

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Add pictures from local or online sources

Clicking Online Pictures (on the Insert tab) displays this nifty new set of options in PowerPoint 2013. You can search for an image or select from an online photo service that’s connected to your Office account: in this case, I have easy access to photos from Flickr and SkyDrive.

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Variants let you customize stock themes

The trouble with out-of-the-box stock themes is that they make your presentation look just like every other slide show using that theme. The new Variants options on the PowerPoint Design tab let you mix colors and other design elements to avoid that me-too look.

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Touch-friendly navigation in OneNote

On a desktop PC, the tree-style OneNote navigation pane appears in its familiar spot on the left. When you switch to full-page view, however, those navigation tools change dramatically. Tapping the drop-down list displays this list of notebooks, sections, and pages, all optimized for use on a touch-enabled device.

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Embed a document in a OneNote page

You can add a document, presentation, Web link, or media file directly in a OneNote page. For Excel spreadsheets, the links are live, allowing changes and updates to appear in real time. That’s an especially useful scenario when you’re sharing spreadsheets and notebooks with co-workers.

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Fast search in OneNote

The search box in the top right of the OneNote window lets you instantly find pages that contain your search term. Tools on the History tab let you find changes made by other authors in a shared notebook, zero in on recent changes, or recover previously deleted items or pages.

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