Make Office 2013 more powerful with 10 killer apps
There's no dictionary, geographic mapping or flow chart tool baked into the core Microsoft Office 2013 software, but you can still get all these functions for free or a small fee. Developers from Microsoft and beyond have created a variety of apps that you can embed within Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Outlook to work faster and more intelligently.
The new apps for Office are available only for the Office 365 subscription, Office 2013, and some of the Office Web Apps—not for earlier versions of Office. There are three types of apps:
- Task pane apps typically provide reference information, such as a dictionary. They're supported by the 2013 editions of Excel, Word, Project Professional and PowerPoint. These apps open a task pane on the right side of the current program window, where you work them.
- Content apps are supported by Excel 2013 and the Excel Web App only. They are embedded inside your worksheet and saved with it. Examples are a calendar date picker or additional charting designs.
- Mail apps are supported by Outlook 2013 and the Outlook Web App, and they require you to be using Exchange Server 2013. Mail apps won't work with POP and IMAP email accounts, so they're effectively limited to business use. Mail apps display next to an item in Outlook, such as an email message or a meeting request. They access data from the Outlook object to provide additional content—for example, a map showing the location of a meeting.
Additional apps are compatible only with SharePoint Server 2013 Enterprise edition.
How to install apps for Office
Click the Insert tab from within your Office application, then click Apps for Office, See All. A dialog will open, showing My Apps and Featured Apps. In Featured Apps, you can click More Apps to open a browser window leading to the Office store, where you can see the apps available for the program you’re using. Or, you can go directly to the Office Store. Here are 10 apps to check out now.
1. Mini calendar and date picker
Need to enter dates into your Excel spreadsheet over and over again? This app embeds itself within a worksheet and pops up a calendar that you click on to insert a date or time into the currently selected cell. You can set your own week start date and color scheme, and enable or disable week numbers. You can do a free trial for this $1.99 app. The apps buying process needs work; after we purchased the app, it still described itself as a trial version. However, the developer was quick to assist when we reached out.
2. Avery templates
Not a paperless office? If you ever print address labels or name tags, then get this free app for Word 2013. This task pane app lets you search for printable Avery products and create a document based on each one. This spares you from having to search for a suitable template or creating one from scratch, for example, labels using the Mailing labels feature in Word.
3. Bing dictionary
Surprise! Microsoft Word no longer ships with a dictionary, so you'll need to find one on your own. There are a few dictionary apps in the store, but the free Bing Dictionary for Word and Excel 2013 offers convenience detail. It provides a small amount of information in the task pane. You can click See Moreto view more information, including sample sentences for context.
4. LinkedIn for Outlook
This freebie installs into Outlook 2013 and the Outlook Web App. It provides details of your LinkedIn connections, groups, profile information, and recent activity. If you are using the Outlook Web App you will need also to be using Internet Explorer 9 or later, and Windows 7 or 8. If you can't access this app because your email isn't handled by an Exchange Server, don't despair; its functionality is similar to that of the Outlook Social Connector that's already built into Outlook 2013.
5. Range Applications
This free tool performs calculations, such as multiplying or dividing a range by a value, or adding a value to or subtracting a value from a range. It can also add percentages to or subtract percentages from a range. While you can do this using Excel Paste Special options, it's neither intuitive nor easy for beginner users. This app lets you select the range, the type of calculation, and the value to work with, and then it does all the work. When you click Calculate, it warns you that formulas in the range will be overwritten with values after processing. At that point, either click Yes to continue or Cancel to exit.
Next page: More tools for Excel and Word...
6. Bing Maps
This fast, free app embeds into your Excel 2013 worksheet, allowing you to plot location-based data on a map. You can zoom in and out of the map, and choose from either a road or a bird's eye map view. It can chart more than one series of data. However, because pie and circle charts are your only choices, you can only use a series of data with positive values. If your data meets these limitations, this is a useful tool.
7. Lucid Chart
This free app for Word lets you create a range of diagrams, such as flowcharts, mind maps, site maps, and organizational charts. The application installs as a task pane in Word, but to create a diagram you’ll be taken to the program's web site. There you can select from a range of shapes, including flowchart shapes and various text containers. You can color, resize and position these on the screen, and connect shapes to other shapes. The add-on is easy to use, and charts can be formatted to look neat and professional. When you’re done making tweaks, click Return to Office to return to Word. Your chart shows up in the task pane's list so you can insert it into your document.
MindMapper is an app for PowerPoint, Excel, Word and Project Professional. You can try it free of charge and it costs $2.99 to buy. MindMapper shows you what an app can look like if it is intelligently designed. It has a getting started tutorial and is very easy to use. Designers have built the entire app in the task pane complete with Open, New and Save buttons, and with tabs that contain multiple tools for working on a map.
Legal forms are missing from Microsoft Word's own document templates, but you can get boilerplate templates for things like a non-disclosure agreement or an apartment lease from LegalZoom. Once you download its free app, activate it by clicking Word's Insert toolbar, then Apps for Office, and Free legal forms. A menu of forms appears in the task pane. Pick a form, and download it. To make the form your own, make sure to select Enable Editing along the top of the open document. Naturally, LegalZoom invites you to register with its site for additional step-by-step help, but that's not required.
10. Trim Spaces
If you spend a lot of time in Excel, there's no greater chore than making manual formatting changes. Data that's imported from another source is often riddled with errors, quirky characters, or plain old blank space that yawns from a column of text. The Trim Spaces app from Add-in Express will free you from deleting every blank space by hand. Plus, it's free. Its makers provide additional Excel add-ins, including a random number generator and duplicate data remover. Huzzah!
Use Office apps efficiently
Although we're spotlighting some of the most useful add-ins here, some Office apps aren't always integrated in the most elegant fashion—starting with installation that makes you go back and forth between the Office Store and Office software. Nor is launching an app from within Office always swift. If you have several task pane apps running at once, your document all but disappears in the clutter. And, unlike with a web browser, there's no tabbed organization, so multiple Office windows can clutter your desktop. To make these apps enhance rather than frustrate your Office experience, use them sparingly, one at a time.