Friday marked the launch of the latest version of Microsoft’s eponymous Office lineup, and to celebrate we are going to be releasing a series of Office 2013 posts, including Reviews and How-Tos, to find out what Microsoft have brought to the table in this shiny new suite of Productivity software.
Let’s start with the ubiquitous Word today!
As a whole, Microsoft Office 2013 has flipped the script on how productivity software integrates into the workplace, in no way is this more apparent in the changes made in Word. Microsoft have focused on three main goals in Word 2013.
- To integrate tightly with the Cloud, Microsoft has allowed users to access their files and settings via their Skydrive service.
- A rejuvenated user interface, to blend with the radical changes sweeping in with the introduction of the Metro UI.
- Universal use, across all kinds of Windows devices with the addition of enhanced pen and touch support.
Microsoft have managed to apply these changes across their entire suite, not just Word. But we’re going to be taking a closer look at some of the Word-specific features in 2013 and trying to find out if it’s really worth upgrading.
There are three key points that I will talking about today, starting with User Experience changes. Microsoft have been touting the word “Polished” a lot when it comes to Word 2013’s UX changes, so I’m interested to see if it lives up to the marketing hype. Secondly, I’ll be finding out just how well it really integrates with Cloud services, to see if it’s really worth the subscription fee. Finally, I will be trying out the new Collaboration features that Microsoft’s “Comments and Revisions” team have been working hard at over the last three years.
As a bonus section, I will be talking briefly about Word’s “Digital Consumption” features, including Reading Mode and embedded web content; and even dipping briefly into Word’s new PDF Reflow feature.
So we’ve got a whole lot of features ahead, and not a lot of time to cover them, so without further ado let’s get started!
Microsoft have made great strides with the new UX related features in 2013. By focusing on the features that people use the most, and making them more powerful, Microsoft have managed to smooth out several efficiency hang-ups that have bugged users for years.
Among the new features are a set of new layout helpers, including Live Layout (Moving content and wrapping text in real time), Layout Guides (Much like in Photoshop or Illustrator), and inline Layout Options for things such as text wrapping and positioning. So far, I can’t complain about any of these little additions and they feel extremely well done; however it’s going to take more than a few layout guides to impress power users.
One of my main criticisms of the Live Layout feature is that it is extremely laggy. I operate a high spec computer, designed for Video Production, and even that was brought to a crawl by the mere act of dragging an image into place; hopefully this will be improved in the release version, but we will have to see.
Tables have also been updated, including a new “One-Click Insertion” function, making it easier to update tables. This is a feature I can see being extremely useful in protected documents, allowing users to modify tables, without damaging the layout of a document.
A major issue with tables was always styles and borders, which always felt tacked on and unfriendly. Microsoft have finally updated this, adding “Excel-like” table styling rather than a series of menus and values, as well as adding a series of new, modern table styles.
Personally, I think there is a lot more that they could have done here, including fixing the major layout and wrapping issues that tables have been plagued with from the start. But we can’t have everything, right?
Headers and Footers
Headers and Footers have had a stack of new Document Info merge fields added, which I found quite handy. It could be improved by making it easier to add Sharepoint merge fields in using the one-click interface, but alas we may have to wait for the next version for that particular feature.
Styles and Layouts
Microsoft have not been doing well for subtly thus far, but have redeemed that with their changes to layouts. Columns and alternative layouts feel much more intuitive, a fix that many users have been crying out for since 2003! The built-in styles have been refreshed, with new designs and text styles bringing Word 2013 up to date with current stylistic trends and Microsoft’s new Style Guides.
It goes without saying that the Cloud is being thrust upon us as the “next big thing” in tech, and Microsoft are no stranger to this mentality. In Word 2013 we are seeing a heavy emphasis on Cloud-based features, and if I’m honest it’s been done smoother and more functionally than most of its competitors.
The core principle of Word’s Cloud feature set is to allow for access to documents across multiple devices and locations, through a common interface; it does this very well through Microsoft’s Cloud storage system Skydrive.
Microsoft have, predictably, tipped their hat into the ring with Skydrive; which has the advantage of being integrated with Microsoft Office out of the box. Word especially saves documents into the Cloud by default, as well as caching them on your local machine for offline access (Mitigating a major flaw in services such as this).
A logical extension of Cloud files, is Cloud settings. From the moment you log into Microsoft Office, all of your settings are synced to the Cloud allowing you to have the same setup wherever you are and whatever device you’re on. I’ve spent a few hours playing with this feature and it works pretty well, with even details such as my recently opened documents and pinned files syncing very quickly.
Microsoft Word’s Cloud offerings have included some great minutiae, including the digital bookmarking feature. When I opened up my article draft on my other computer, it gave me a little prompt on the right-hand side allowing me to pick up where I left off during my previous session. This might not sound like a log, but it’s pretty handy and shaves precious seconds off the process of opening a file.
While I won’t touch on this too much, as I want to cover it in the Conclusion article, Office allows for it’s apps to be accessed in the Cloud. Allowing you to get to your files and settings, even on devices without Office 2013 installed. It can be a little bit slow, and cumbersome at times, but it’s not too far away from becoming a fantastic feature.
While Office has so far shown itself to be highly effective on working across multiple devices, Word documents are more often worked on by multiple collaborators! So it’s always been important that changes be tracks, permissions be established and commenting be easy and intuitive. When I started playing with the Collaboration tools in Word 2013 I was amazed by the versatility and simplicity of it all.
In order to test this, I contacted my Dad and passed some documents back and forward adding notes and changes, playing with permissions and Skydrive sharing, and playing with Markup. My opinion being that if I could teach a man who still uses Office 2003 how to collaborate effectively in Office 2013, then Microsoft have achieved their goal. It took me around 10 minutes to teach him the basic features of Office 2013’s collaboration tools, and within 15 minutes we were away!
The first job I had was to take a document (In this case a contract sample) and share it. It was as easy as typing in an email address and a message, then setting a simple Read/Write permission. It took me all of 30 seconds for my Dad to have the document open on his laptop and to start editing.
Change Tracking in Word was always a messy affair, and a document with multiple collaborators always ended up looking like a child had taken a marker pen to Microsoft’s EULA. In Word 2013, this has been improved upon significantly with only the most recent version of the document being shown, and other changes being hidden in the Reviewing Pane.
This stops documents looking messy, while keeping changes logged and accountability maintained. Additionally, changes are placed in a red “Change Bar” inline, allowing you to expand individual changes as required.
This is a HUGE improvement over previous versions; and while it takes a bit of getting used to, it can make collaboration much neater. Tracking can now also be locked, requiring a password to deactivate.
Commenting and People Cards
Comments are a crucial part of the collaboration and review process, and up until now felt extremely primitive. In Office 2013 we see a complete overhaul of how commenting is carried out, with the addition of replying and threading, as well as the ability to make a comment as “Done”, and finally integration with Microsoft Office’s new “People Cards”.
The addition of threading and commenting is extremely smooth, and with the addition of “People Card” integration makes it much easier to follow up on comments, as well as one-click Skype Calling for those situations when you “Just have to know” what that comment meant. Marking comments as complete is also extremely useful in collaborative work environments. These features are extremely smooth, and flow well the rest of the application. I’m interested to see if the collaboration reform is just as thorough in the other apps, as it is in Word; if so I will be extremely impressed.
People Cards are a pretty cool new feature in Office 2013, adding full-featured contract cards to comments, contacts and revisions. This allows for one-click-calling, IM, Email and video calling without ever leaving Word. This is extremely well done, and integrates with all of the apps in Office 2013, as well as with Skype and social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
Nearly two-thirds of user sessions in Word contain no editing at all.
Word’s primary use-case is writing, but sometimes you just want to find a piece of information, or read a letter. That’s why Microsoft have added some cool new features to make reading even easier, as well as promoting the ability to add digital content to documents. Word has managed to catch up with other digital reading formats, with the addition of live content and web video integration.
The main feature that Microsoft introduced to improve readability in Microsoft Word is the new Reading Mode. Reading Mode is designed to make reading as “easy and efficient as possible”, it does this by placing the document into a read-only, responsive view (similar to how a website reacts to different screen sizes) with the intention of making the most of screen space, regardless of your device. This often wrecks the layout of your document, and can damage breaks.
A redeeming feature of Reading Mode, is the individual Object Zoom, allowing you to focus and zoom on certain objects such as tables, charts, images and video content. This works extremely well with tablets and mobile devices, but seems pointless on larger monitors.
A final, interesting feature of Reading Mode is the research tools. While a dictionary and translation system are standard in word processors, Word’s service now polls a web service (Merriam-Webster in this example) to get Definitions, Translations and Synonyms for works in Reading Mode. This can be done inline, without having to use a browser. The range of available dictionaries is also quite impressive.
A major attempt by Microsoft to move away from the idea of Word being a print-centric application is the addition of embedded Web Video. There’s not a whole lot I can say about this, other than that it works!
So what else can I say about Word? Word has become the industry standard for word processing and in its latest iteration has brought about some really big changes, awesome new features, and has lived up to the marketing blurb of “Polished”. All in all, it stands alone as a brilliant word processor, and alongside Windows 8, is an unstoppable productivity machine!