Microsoft has released the Consumer Preview of Office 2013, with major changes being made to all the popular programs including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. Office 2013 is the most dramatic change Microsoft’s popular office suite has witnessed since the Ribbon was first introduced.
The suite is available to download now from Microsoft and can be installed alongside an existing Office installation. We run through the key features you can expect to see in the preview.
The first thing you’ll noticeable about Word 2013 is how clean the interface is. With the ugly Ribbon interface hidden away once you start typing, you can focus on the writing. A simple tap on one of the Ribbon headings brings it smoothly into view. Tap in the document area to start typing once more, and the menus slide away.
One nice touch is the responsiveness of the cursor; it transitions instantaneously from one character to the next as you type. It’s a small thing, but it makes the whole experience of typing feel luxurious — it’s like writing on a well-engineered piece of machinery, not a word processor.
There is a new Read Mode strips this down further while still allowing comments to be added as you read. This is particularly useful in conjunction with the new ability to scribble “inked” comments on a document with a stylus.
It’s good to see that Microsoft hasn’t completely started again, though. The Ribbon menus themselves remain, and they’re organised in the familiar way. Although the look is dramatically different overall, existing users will not feel completely out of their depth. The key difference is that buttons are a little larger than before and have been spaced out, making it far easier to hit the controls with the touch of a finger than on Office 2010.
The Insert option allows you to search for online videos using Bing from within Word. You can also embed video code into the documents and then play them within the app too.
Another useful feature include the ability to quickly embed a screenshot. Clicking Insert and then screenshot will bring up a window with thumbnails of every window apps on your desktop. Simply click the image you want, and it be placed on screen. Best of all you can easy move videos and images around to wherever you want.
Perhaps the biggest problem to overcome in working with Word 2013 is the split between touch control and using it with a keyboard and mouse. In some cases, the hybrid approach works 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 incredibly irritating. Tap the screen whilst you’re typing with a keyboard and up pops the onscreen keyboard, only to disappear once you start typing again. We hope there’s some way of disabling this behaviour, but this sort of user intervention shouldn’t be necessary.
And it isn’t all rosy when it comes to touch control either. Although the Ribbon buttons are nicely spaced out and fairly large, other controls are tiny. The windowing controls are too small, as are the icons on the Quick Access Toolbar in the top-left corner and the zoom controls and view shortcuts found in the bottom right corner — although these look as if they’re intended for mouse users, as zooming with touch can be achieved with a simple pinch of the fingers.
Overall, our initial impressions of Word 2013 are mixed. We like the minimalism of the Metro-inspired interface more than expected, and it’s good news that Microsoft isn’t forcing the full-screen approach of Metro on users. On the other hand, combining touch with keyboard and mouse use raises a number of irritating problems, and some of the touch controls don’t appear to be wholly suited to tablets, which could be a problem for users of Surface, which will come with the new Office Suite built in.