Office 2013: the verdict
Microsoft’s approach to Office 2013 is similar to the tack it has taken with Windows 8. Its stated aim is to produce a “modern Office” usable across the whole gamut of today’s computing hardware. This means tablets and hybrids, as well as traditional laptops and desktop PCs.
Has it succeeded? As our review reveals, it’s a hit-and-miss affair. Microsoft has put some serious work into touch, and has improved matters since Office 2013’s first preview outing in mid-2012. This sees new ribbon-hiding options introduced alongside bigger buttons for the touch mode. Don’t for one moment think this office suite is geared for creating and editing using touch, however.
Office’s desktop heritage means many icons and options remain small and fiddly to access with a fingertip, and the sheer size of Windows 8’s onscreen keyboard means whenever you do bring the ribbon into play, there’s barely anything left of the app underneath. We’re not entirely sure why Microsoft didn’t do with Office what it did with Internet Explorer and produce a Windows Store version for Windows 8. It would have given users the best of both worlds.
Microsoft’s vision of collaborating and working seamlessly through the cloud is a move about which we’re not convinced. The intention is laudable, but many features aren’t up to real-world use.
Collaborating on a spreadsheet isn’t possible without encountering all sorts of limitations, for instance, and in other apps the way changes and clashes from different sources are resolved differs wildly. It’s far from a tidy experience.
Given its stated aim of making this the most connected Office yet, we can understand why Microsoft has placed SkyDrive front and centre. But we wish it had taken more care with the reworking of Open and Save. It’s a mess, and months after installing the Office 2013 preview, we’re still not used to having to look for a location, or the Browse button, before getting the opportunity to select our desired folder.
That’s not to say Office 2013 is a failure. It isn’t. There are aspects of touch mode, for instance, that work very well: OneNote’s refined handwriting recognition and full-page mode, for instance, and the ability to use touch to deliver presentations in PowerPoint is a significant step forward. There are numerous small tweaks that are really worth having, such as Excel’s improved charting and PivotTable tools, PowerPoint’s Object Properties pane, Word’s improved comments, and the suite-wide improvement to the template browser.
Meanwhile, we can’t wait to see what the new apps model brings. The decision to extend Office using web standards, and the promise of making money for developers, could bring powerful third-party tools to Office.
The key question, as ever, is should you upgrade? If you’ve purchased a Windows 8 touchscreen device, the answer has to be yes: although Office 2013 is far from the perfect touch-based office suite, it’s likely to be far less aggravating than attempting to use Office 2010 or an earlier incarnation of the software.
Office remains the most powerful all-round suite for business, and we like the changes Microsoft has made to the way you can buy it. The ability to subscribe on a monthly basis, gaining rolling updates and a multi-user, multidevice licence in the process is a big step forward, and for enthusiasts wanting to install the software on a number of devices, who upgrade regularly, it’s demonstrably better value than buying multiple copies.
But, at the same time, Microsoft risks alienating a large proportion of home users. With Office 2013, boxed-copy prices are notably higher than they were when Office 2010 was released. At the time of writing Microsoft still hadn’t revealed local pricing, but it will almost certainly follow the US pattern, which makes Home & Student 17% more expensive than last time; Home & Business 10% pricier; and Professional 14% dearer.
All of the above makes Office 2013 tricky to deliver a decisive verdict upon. It remains, without doubt, the best office suite on the market, with many improvements – and despite its flaws, this is the first Office to really get to grips with touch devices.
For small- and medium-sized businesses, and enthusiasts needing to install the suite on more than one PC, it’s better value than ever too. It isn’t for everyone, though, and for individuals still running Office 2010 on a standard PC, it’s far from an essential upgrade.
Microsoft Office 2013 is better value than ever for small and medium businesses with more than one computer. As this review explains, it isn’t for everyone, though.