Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow. Ralph Waldo Emerson

A Look Under The Hood of Microsoft Office 2013

11 December

Here at Dragon Corporate Training, we are working with more and more clients who are either upgrading to Microsoft Office 2013, or planning to do so soon. We met with a major municipality here in BC last week who are making the jump from Office 2007 to Office 2013 and they have been pleasantly surprised by what they’ve seen and what we’ve shown them.

As time has gone on, it’s become harder and harder for Microsoft to add ‘must-have’ features. Sure, each new version has been better than the last, but the reasons to upgrade haven’t always been exactly compelling.

So how does Office 2013 (or Office 15) fare?

  • Is it filled with new, must-have features?
  • Is it changing the way you work?

Our friends at Stratum UK wrote an Excelent article on this and with their kind permission we’ve adapted and added to it for your information.

Ready for today and tomorrow

Up front, we’re going to say that this was one of the bravest, boldest versions of Office yet. It’s designed with the cloud not only in mind, but built right in. It’s designed not only for PCs, but also for tablets. It’s modern, clean and grown-up. It’s clear that Microsoft has taken a deep breath – and embraced not just what computers are now, but what they are likely to be.

The interface

Fire up one of the programs and the first thing to hit you is the massively overhauled look and feel of Office – which is consistent across the board. The new interface borrows inspiration from many sources, including Windows 8’s tiles and Windows Phone. When you launch an application, you’re offered a panel showing recent documents and a selection of templates. The design of this panel is firmly Windows 8, website inspired, with a definite leaning towards those using tablets: there’s no doubt about it. Microsoft believes that the future is Surface.

Choose to create a new document and the shocks don’t end there. All of the shading has gone from the application to reveal something that is most at home in Windows 8 – tablet or desktop. It’s stark, clean and white – rounded corners everywhere are now sharp and angular.
It’s no bad thing – as you dive into your work, it’s clear that the intent is to get the interface to ‘back off’ and let you focus on what you’re doing. It works well.

Also evident is the tablet inspiration for Office. It’s clear from the size and positioning of interface elements that this version of Office is firmly targeting the wider screens of today, not the 4:3 ratio screens of yesteryear. For example, when you open Word, the ‘navigation’ panel is open to the left – offering headings, pages and search results should you need them. (If you’ve got even more screen real estate, the panel can be detached to float inside or outside of the application’s main window.)

Overall, it’s something of a shock – though not in a bad way. It’s as if you’ve been living in the past and someone has just plopped the present on your desk.
When you come to save a file, there’s that Windows 8-esque interface again – allowing you to easily save to your computer or to your SkyDrive. Make no mistake – this is the future look and feel for everything Microsoft, so expect it to seep into more and more applications in the future. We’re not complaining. It’s easy to use, clean – and makes sense on both a PC and a tablet.
The interface changes aren’t superficial, either. When you click on a ribbon button which has various options, these are often displayed pictorially – providing greater clarity over what the consequences of your choice will be.

While we’re about it, there are some surprising and subtle changes – a hitherto unseen friendliness to the applications. Take the spell-checking dialogue box which doesn’t just say: ‘spelling and grammar check complete’; no, it also says ‘you’re good to go!’


Across the board, performance is a treat. The applications move along, never holding you up – despite being loaded with more features than ever before. The only lags are when new content (such as templates you’ve not used before) are loaded from Microsoft’s website.
So, that’s the overall view. What about the individual applications? We don’t need to repeat the many in-depth reviews to be found elsewhere online, but let’s take a look at some of the top features.

Microsoft Word 2013

If there’s one program that’s regarded as a standard more than any other, it’s this one. Around the world, it’s used for everything from letters to novels, wills to leaflets and CVs to menus. Trying to be all things to all people has been Word’s success and its undoing. Its success – because one program is all many homes and businesses need. Its undoing – because it’s hard for a program to be great at all of those things.

Word’s weakest point has always been complex page layout. Trying to get pictures and text to line up accurately could be like playing tennis with a fish instead of a racket. You move one item and – oh – everything else moves too. Whether you wanted it to or not. The great news is that Word’s layout features are vastly improved – with alignment guides to help you position things as they are dragged onto the page. ‘Design’ now has its own tab on the ribbon, gathering together all of the features you need in one place.

A quite honestly jaw-dropping feature is the new PDF reflow. You can open up PDF files pretty much just as if they are native Word files. When you do so, the file – including layout – is converted on the fly, complete with design, images and fonts. The conversion is fast and, on the whole, pretty accurate. It’s one of those ‘simple’ features which makes a real difference to your workflow. Quite honestly, some people will find this so valuable that it’s worth the upgrade price on its own.

At last, you can now reply to comments others have made when reviewing a document. Again, it’s a simple feature – but one with substantial productivity gains.

Cool Microsoft Office 2013 feature image

Microsoft Excel 2013

The developers behind Excel seem to have put a great deal of their focus into making the application significantly easier to use – so, most in evidence is a great deal more hand-holding when you’re doing something. For those of us who don’t earn a living crunching numbers, this is most definitely a good thing. For those who do, it’s not a big problem – Microsoft has worked hard to make sure that power users aren’t either patronized or annoyed by such help.

So, for example, if you select a range of numbers, a discreet little ‘Quick Analysis’ icon pops up at the bottom of your selection. It’s easily ignored – but clicking on it gives you instant access to the most likely things you’d want to do (depending on the selection).

Office-2013-ExcelAs with Word, options are displayed with a graphical thumbnail – so you have a decent idea of what’s going to happen. This menu can contain a surprising number of options – there’s a ‘submenu’ of items along the top, clicking on each of these gives you access to different functions. But it gets better. Hover over each one and you’ll be shown a graphical view of the output – based on your data – instantly. It’s a kind of ‘super-thumbnail’ that saves you making a choice, then undoing it if you don’t like it.

This works really well – and is a massive improvement on the old ‘right click, then see menu’ approach of old. It also means you can switch off the ribbon and only go back to it when you really need to (and yes those right-click menus are still there if you need them). In many ways, working within Excel can be more immersive than working within Word.

The friendliness of dialogue boxes which we found in Word is here too. Drag the contents of one cell onto another and instead of the pseudo-technical ‘Do you want to replace the contents of the destination cells?’ of Excel 2010, we get the friendlier ‘There’s already data here. Do you want to replace it?’ It’s a small thing, but it shows that Excel 2013 has had a genuine ground-up rethink.

New features abound. A great one is the Timeline Slicer – which lets you easily work with data that’s date-orientated, organizing and filtering it by date with ease. It lets you work through massive amounts of data very quickly.

Excel 2013 screenshot

Microsoft Outlook 2013

If Word and Excel are where the world work, then Outlook is where it lives. In business, especially, Outlook is the touchstone of the day – it’s the place you have to go back to time and time again, for e-mails, appointments and tasks. For many organizations, doing without Outlook would be unthinkable.

The new Office layout modernizes Outlook perhaps more than any other application – where it starts to feel almost as though it’s a social media website on steroids.

In addition to working well on desktops and laptops, Outlook is highly optimized for tablets. This is some smart thinking – people will use tablets both on the go and at their desks, and Outlook is the application most likely to be used on the go. So, there’s a Touch Mode, which simplifies the interface for (you guessed it) touch, taking away all but the most-needed features – and letting you zoom into elements such as the calendar when you need them. It also automatically makes buttons larger and more finger-friendly. When you’re editing an e-mail, pressing your finger down reveals a menu of most-used commands.

Across the bottom of Outlook, we have options for ‘Mail, Calendar, People, Tasks’ – again, that welcome informality to the terminology. This also makes it easy to move between tasks. Being a grown-up application, Outlook will add some nice touches such as adding in photos of people from social networks, where they exist.

Outlook 13 screenshot
The usability touches are very much in evidence. Position your mouse over ‘calendar’ and a pop-up window appears, showing you what’s happening today – both your appointments and tasks.

Microsoft PowerPoint 2013

And so, finally to PowerPoint. If there’s one application where the new interface is most at home, it’s here.
PowerPoint 2013 benefits enormously from the makeover and gives the application a whole new feel. The whole concept of being able to concentrate on your work, while the tools used to create it fade into the background, is no more important than here. Presentations are about content – but also need some serious functionality. You can work on each when you need to, without clutter.

PowerPoint’s templates have been revamped and are now available in a wider range of designs, colours and formats – some being optimized for widescreen tablets. As with other Microsoft Office applications, these are downloaded when you need them.

PowerPoint shares Word’s ability to easily add pictures, audio and video – yes, you could do this before, but not with so much ease.
New features range from the seemingly trivial yet surprisingly useful (an eye dropper, to select a colour from an object within your presentation) to the genuinely vital (such as having the same comment and review system as Word – including the ability to add replies).

Micosoft Office PowerPoint 2013 screen shot
There are new features for when you’re presenting, too. For example, you can now see a thumbnail view of your entire presentation and jump to any slide – without the audience being aware of it. Yes, it’s touch friendly too – so you can zoom in and out of the thumbnails with ease.


There’s more to Microsoft Office than Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint. OneNote, Publisher and Access also get an overhaul – bringing the new look and new features to the party.

It would be easy to say that this update is all about the way Office looks. After all, it’s the most evident change – and while there are new features, they’re not to be found in abundance. But the update is so much more than the sum of its parts.

It’s a considered change. It’s PC-savvy and tablet friendly. In fact, it’s just plain friendly too. The new features may not be that many in number, but they are so worthwhile in terms of productivity. It really seems to us as if the Microsoft Office development team have focused on what really matters.
Despite a few clunky interface elements, Microsoft Office 2013 is both powerful and a joy to use – a recommended and worthy upgrade.

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