Want to know more about Microsoft Word 2013? Read about the new Read Mode, how easy (or hard) it is to control with a touchscreen, PDF editing and more.
Microsoft will charge a yearly “subscription” fee for both the home and business versions of Office 2013 (the subscription version is called Office 365), or a one-off payment. You can read our article about renting vs buying Office 2013 / 365 here. We have also provided an overview of the major new features in Office 2013 / 365 for home and business. This series includes a general intro to Microsoft Office 2013 / 365 for the home, plus we look at Excel and PowerPoint.The article below looks at Word 2013.
Microsoft is making big accommodations for tablet users in Office 2013, and Word is one of the apps that’s best optimised for touchscreens.
A new Read Mode, touch-friendly wizards and a ribbon menu that fades out of view when it isn’t needed are all signs that Word 2013 is aimed at the Windows 8 crowd. That said, there are notable additions for users of Windows 7 PCs and laptops too.
Read Mode is obviously targeted at tablet owners. The default view when you first open a saved document, it reflows the text into columns appropriate for the width of the screen. So on 16:9 tablets held in landscape mode, you’ll get two columns per screen, with all of the editing tools tucked away. You can flick to the next page with a swipe of a finger, or pinch and zoom to alter the size of the text.
For those who frequently plough through reports, Read Mode automatically bookmarks your last position in a document, so that if you come back to the document – or even open it on another PC – you can pick up where you left off.
Read Mode also includes a feature called Object Zoom, which theoretically allows you to hone in on tables, charts or photos embedded in documents at the tap of a finger or mouse click. In tests we found it erratic, especially for tables, where Word seems unsure whether you want to zoom in or edit the table when you click. Hopefully, Microsoft can smooth out the kinks before the full release.
Read Mode is also the default for laptop and desktop users, and here its benefits are less obvious. In fact, we suspect most people will switch it off and opt for normal editing mode.
If you’re creating a document from scratch, you’ll notice another big change to Word right away: the new Start page. Instead of opening into a blank document (or whatever was saved in your normal.dot template), Word now presents a list of recently opened documents in the left-hand pane, and a series of predefined templates on the right.
If you can’t find anything suitable from the predefined list, you can search Microsoft’s online library – it contains thousands of different templates, many of them perfectly presentable. It’s also worth noting that one of the default templates is a “single-spaced” blank document, suggesting Microsoft’s decision to insert an extra line of space between every paragraph by default since Office 2007 hasn’t met with universal approval.
Another new feature you’ll notice from the off is the smooth-scrolling cursor. Now, instead of jumping from character to character as you type, the cursor glides smoothly across the page. This seemingly innocuous change has divided the office here: some admire the attention to detail; others regard it as a needless distraction. Either way, there’s no option to switch it off.
Advanced document layout
Click to enlarge
Many of the new tools in Word 2013 are aimed at people who plug more than words into their documents. In fact, Word 2013 is drifting more towards a desktop publishing suite than a traditional word processor.
Live Layout sees text reflow automatically when you drag photos and videos around documents. Green guidelines appear as you drag photos, allowing you to line them up with the top of paragraphs or text boxes, helping to keep documents looking tidy and professional.
In the Insert menu, you’ll now find two new options to embed online photos and videos into your documents. Images provides the option to search Microsoft’s online Clip Art collection, Bing Images, and your SkyDrive and Flickr accounts for relevant photos. The returned Bing search results include (by default) only images released under Creative Commons; although the pop-up menu urges you to review the licence for each photo before pasting it into your documents, it provides no easy way of doing so.
The Insert Online Video pop-up allows you to search Bing or YouTube for videos, and preview clips before dropping them into documents. There’s also the option to simply insert the embed code provided by sites such as YouTube. Although Word allows you to dynamically resize the video window, clicking the Play button creates a full-width pop-up on top of your document, which slightly defeats the purpose. Readers of your document will also need to be connected to the net to play back clips.
It’s worth noting that we experienced layout glitches when attempting to insert both online photos and videos, but hopefully these will be dealt with before the final release.
Editing and reviewing PDFs
One of the more interesting features – especially for businesses – is the ability to read, mark up and even edit PDFs in Word 2013. Naturally, editing comes with caveats: Word can edit only in the fonts available on your PC, and PDFs with complex layouts are often reformatted badly when opened in Word for editing. However, for a quick way to revise rudimentary PDFs, it’s a welcome addition.
For tablet and stylus users, there’s also now the options to Start Inking, and jot handwritten notes and annotations over Word documents, in much the same way as you can in OneNote.
Another feature borrowed from the world of PDFs is the new Comments system. It’s always been possible to add review comments to Word documents, but now co-workers can reply to comments inline, making it easier to collaborate on documents. Better still, comments can be marked as “done”, so if you’re responsible for taking in everyone’s changes, you can tick them off as you go.
To complement these revamped collaboration features there’s a new Simple Markup view for Tracked Changes, which indicates where edits and comments have been made without harming readability. Edits are marked with a red line in the left-hand margin, which you can click to see that specific change in full markup mode. Comments are denoted by a small cartoon-style speech bubble, which displays the comment when clicked.
Such collaboration works best when you’re sharing the document on SharePoint or SkyDrive, where more than one person can access and mark up the document at one time. To prevent colleagues inadvertently switching off Tracked Changes, you can now force them to enter a password before they’re allowed to edit the document. We did, however, experience issues with reviewing comments and edits in a document hosted in a public SkyDrive folder.
It’s also now possible to give an online presentation of your documents. This feature creates a link to send to clients or colleagues – who don’t need to have Word installed – and enables you to talk them through a document over the phone, with the page scrolling on their screen as you move the scrollbar up and down. And you thought Death by PowerPoint was bad…
Microsoft has clearly put a lot of effort into Word 2013 – and for the most part we’re confident that the changes are for the better.
Perhaps the biggest problem to overcome is the split between touch control and using Word with a keyboard and mouse. In some cases, the hybrid approach works extremely well: highlight a section and tap it with a finger, and the context menu that appears is horizontal, squeezing neatly between the onscreen keyboard and the top of the screen; right-click the selection with a mouse, and the context menu displays vertically.
In other cases, it can be downright irritating. Tap the screen while you’re typing with a keyboard and up pops the onscreen keyboard, only to disappear as soon as you start typing again. The ribbon icons are also far too small to jab effectively with a finger. In short, if you’re doing anything more than reading documents on a tablet, you’ll still need a keyboard – or a Microsoft Surface tablet.
1 You’ve been sent a document for review and you want to add a comment. Highlight the passage of text you wish to comment on and click Insert | New Comment from the ribbon menu. Type your comment into the box that appears next to your photo. Comments from colleagues will appear in the same thread.
2 If you’re using a tablet with a stylus, you can make your comments using handwritten notes. Click Review and select Ink Comment; a box with a lined-paper background appears where you can jot your note. Warning: this proved a little temperamental in our tests.
3 If you’re taking in other people’s comments on a document, you can now tick off comments as you go to show you’ve made the suggested edit. Simply right-click on the Comment box and select Mark Comment Done.