The latest information on Office 2013

Review: Microsoft Office 2013 features new look, prices

At a Glance

The latest information on Office 2013

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PowerPoint's enhanced media support includes the ability to play more video formats and the option of having background audio play across your entire presentation.

For presenters with two screens at their disposal (one for the audience and one for themselves), the Presenter View makes it easier than ever to access notes and preview upcoming slides. If the Presenter View somehow winds up on the wrong screen, the Swap Display command quickly deals with the problem.

PowerPoint 2013's Presenter View gives you a look at upcoming slides.

Coauthors can collaborate on a presentation using the PowerPoint Web app. And for those people who skipped Office 2010, the ability to broadcast a presentation online by sending a link to audience members bears mentioning as a very cool feature.

A cleaner Outlook

Last time around Outlook got a ribbon, but it also grew cluttered. Microsoft has addressed this issue in Outlook 2013, which opens with a simple two-pane design consisting of the list of messages and the selected message in the preview pane. You can quickly respond to the message by clicking the Reply button in the preview pane.

Replying to a message should be faster in Outlook 2013.

If you want more than two panes open, Outlook 2013 will oblige. You can choose between several layouts in the View tab, including ones with panes for your calendar, your to-do list, or the People (formerly Contacts) pane, where you can also see updates from social networks you’ve set up using Outlook Social Connector (introduced in Office 2012).

At the bottom of the screen, you can click either Calendar, People, or Tasks to switch views, or hover to get a peek—via a small pop-up—at your selection. This Peeks feature allows you to access information without having to change views completely.

A new feature called Mailtips will bring possible issues to your attention, such as if you fail to forward an attachment. In corporate environments where IT pros set policies for email, Outlook will point out potential violations.

One curious innovation: The Calendar view now includes a couple of days’ worth of weather information.

Outlook's new pop-up Peeks feature squeezes more information into one screen.

OneNote, Publisher, and more

Microsoft has endowed other Office apps with design improvements similar to those in the big core programs, including the capability to suppress all or part of the ribbon, and the landing page at launch. OneNote, for example, benefits from the easy screenshot capture in Word and PowerPoint; it also sports improved tools for modifying tables, and it can update embedded Excel and Visio files when their content changes. As with other Office apps, you can share a OneNote notebook stored online by sending a link for viewing and, if you allow it, editing the content from a browser.

Publisher gets the same new design tools as other Office 2013 apps do.

Publisher 2013 offers the same design, formatting, and design tools as Word and PowerPoint do. It now lets you collect images on the area next to a document, and then try them one at a time by using a Swap Image button.

Visio 2013, Microsoft’s business-diagramming app, gets new styles and templates. It also supports collaboration features, but only for SharePoint users or Office 365 subscribers—there’s no free SkyDrive support, which makes sense for such a hard-core business program. A new wizard helps you link graphical elements in your diagrams to data sources, so if the data changes, the diagram does too. Sources supported include Excel, SQL server, and SharePoint External Lists.

Sharing a OneNote notebook? Here's what you'll see.

Microsoft offers two versions of Project 2013 with standard perpetual licenses: Project Professional and Project Standard. But the push with Office 2013 is clearly for the Office 365 version, or at least a version that can be hosted within a business.

Bottom line

Is Office 2013 a must-have upgrade? Not necessarily for Office 2010 users. But people whose interactions with Office occur primarily on desktop computers within the big four core apps—Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook—will generally find more formatting options than ever, plus some new view modes, including options for collapsing or even hiding the ubiquitous ribbon introduced in Office 2007. (In collapsed view you see only the tab headings.)

Overall I’m happy with the changes introduced in Office 2013. They refine a lot of the features in Office 2010, and if investing in the subscription-based Office 365 license makes sense financially for you, the upgrade is a no-brainer.

But for people who work on a single desktop, or who are happy using third-party cloud services such as Dropbox or Google Drive, upgrading—especially from Office 2010—will probably be less appealing, given the expense. Microsoft has done good work, but this year's suite is not necessarily an essential upgrade.

(Additional reporting by Elsa Wenzel.)

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