Microsoft has so much going on this year, it’s difficult to conceive how it could also deliver a new version of its office suite. Office is a vast behemoth. Each of its many applications are stuffed full of features, developed after years of constant upgrades; adding anything of note must be a near-impossible task.
Yet three years on from its last release, and 24 years on from its 1989 birth, Ballmer and Co. have managed to give it a new lease of life. Part of this makeover is enforced: three years ago, the tablet market didn’t exist as it does today; we were still using laptops and desktop PCs, and touchscreens were for masochists and vertical markets.
A major part of Office 2013 is incorporating support for fingers and thumbs, and the brigade of tablets, sliders, hybrids and touchscreen laptops that is now beginning to swamp the market. Every app in the Microsoft Office stable now allows users to scroll, zoom and pan using gestures, and every one benefits from ribbon-hiding capabilities and touch mode, enlarging icons in the interface, and creating space between icons to make them easier to tap.
With broadband continuing to increase in speed and availability, and falling in cost, Office 2013 also attempts to bring the cloud into its all-encompassing embrace. And we aren’t talking just about integration with Microsoft’s cloud storage service SkyDrive here, although there are many new features on that front. For the first time, Microsoft itself is offering its suite as a service for which you pay a yearly subscription, in addition to the traditional boxed copies.
There’s also a slew of new features, user interface tweaks and, inevitably, a handful of new frustrations; we’ve been testing the suite to find out what they are and how they work.
Is Office 2013 a triumph? Should you stick with what you have or consider upgrading? You’ll find our answer to those questions on the following pages.