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Clean, new, Windows 8 style interface
on 8 August 2013
Office 2013 is most likely the last version to be sold as a boxed item, since Microsoft is now heavily pushing the Office 365 format where you rent the latest version of Office on a subscription basis. This version is the home and business edition, which comprises Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook.
If you have been using Office for some time, then you will mainly find two areas of difference, which are the interface and the connectivity.
This is very Windows 8, which means minimalist design, lots of white, icons kept small, and a certain silky smoothness to the way the cursor progresses. Gone are the gaudy ribbons of earlier versions, and the cluttered, semi-3d tabs of the most recent one. It takes a bit of getting used to, but the whole thing seems much more unintrusive than in the past. Although the look is Windows 8, it seems substantially easier to find your way around than Windows 8 does, which is helpful. As with each reorganisation of the Office family, it will take you time to find things you were familiar with, and used a lot. It's good to see easy access to mail-merge appearing again, and a pane for references, which will help academic writers, but I'm at a loss to find the 'Design Mode' which enabled me to produce a design and then send it to someone else in a format where they could put text and pictures in the boxes I'd set up, but not interfere with the design itself.
This is by far the most connected version of Office I've seen. Without leaving Office you can access online data gathering and translation services (though not genuine translation, so be careful what you are putting your trust in!), introduce additional Office apps that enhance Excel and Outlook (mainly, though there are some for other components), instantly acquire new templates and pictures, share with other users, save on your SkyDrive, and do many other things. Microsoft is keen to emphasise the benefits of cloud working, even though some bits don't really offer much yet.
If you've not used Office before, or not for some time, then what you are essentially getting is a suite of the four kinds of things which most people do most often in relation to work:
* Writing, editing, manipulating documents (Word)
* Running a spreadsheet (Excel)
* Creating presentations (PowerPoint)
* Sending and receiving emails (Outlook)
You also get OneNote, which is perhaps most use if you are using this on a tablet device.
Office combines these four things into a slick, integrated interface which does its best -- and this is considerably better than in previous versions -- to offer you maximum flexibility with minimum clutter. Given that Microsoft has been adding every conceivable feature to this basic suite since the 1980s, it's quite a feat to get so much in and it still feel as clean and clear as it does. Some of the things are very whizzy. The latest PowerPoint transitions, for example, will entertain you for hours while you choose between crunching up the paper, turning it into an aeroplane, or (always best) simply having it appear and disappear as you go from slide to slide. Other parts, on the other hand, mainly in Excel, are very little different from what we were doing in the 1980s, though most of the clunkiness has now been removed from the interface.
Overall this is a welcome refresh to what was getting very cluttered and fussy indeed. Office has no realistic challengers as the world's leading business productivity suite, and it's nice to see that Microsoft has worked hard on making the standard better.
Your only real choice will be whether to take this version, the more expensive one which includes Publisher (meh) and Access (excellent), the cheaper one that doesn't include Outlook, and whether you want to buy outright as with this box, or pay the monthly subscription.