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Good, but not a significant step forward from Office 2010
on February 2, 2013
TL;DR: Office 2013 is a good product in its own right, but it's pretty much the same as Office 2010 with SkyDrive integration, touch mode, some new annoyances, and higher pricing. I would not recommend upgrading from Office 2010. If you do not have Office 2010, see if you can live with the competition (OpenOffice, Google Drive) before buying this.
About a month ago, I installed Windows 8 and the final version of Office 2013 on a Dell XPS 13. A bit about me: I'm a graduate student and a long-time user of Microsoft Office. I've used Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote almost every day for the past 5 years, but OneNote the most by far. I've used every version of Office since 1997.
As other reviewers have pointed out, the biggest changes to Office 2013 from Office 2010 are SkyDrive integration, touch gestures, and a flatter UI to match Windows 8. Since I don't use SkyDrive often, don't have a touchscreen, and am indifferent to the flatter look, I'll leave those aspects to other reviews. If you're like me and aren't particularly excited by SkyDrive (which still isn't as versatile as Google Docs for real-time collaboration), then Office 2013 is practically the same as Office 2010 in terms of how everything works - most of the time. This is not a bad thing, at least in my opinion, since I really liked Office 2010 and its improved Ribbon UI.
What I wanted to talk about here are the changes that Microsoft has made to Office 2013 from Office 2010 that I've noticed, changes that might impact daily workflow for users upgrading from previous Office versions.
I spend at least 4 hours a day in this program, so I'll start with this. As far as I can tell, there are no significant changes in terms of features. Buttons on the ribbon are shuffled around a bit, but the feature set is still the same, as is the file container (*.one) and notebook type ("OneNote 2010-2013").
However, there are 5 new issues that annoy me every single day.
(1) Full screen and pinning the ribbon. In 2013, going into full screen mode means that everything is hidden, except for a very short horizontal bar across the top of the screen. To access anything on the ribbon, I have to click on this bar to show the ribbon first. If I want to pin the ribbon so that tabs are visible at all times in full screen mode, I have to click on this bar, click a menu button near the minimize button (also hidden in full screen), and then click Show Tabs. However, OneNote does not remember this setting. Thus, every time I exit full screen mode or restart OneNote and then reenter full screen mode, I have to re-pin the ribbon again. On an ultrabook, I want more space for taking notes, but I also use the ribbon extensively and would prefer to have it available. This problem did not exist in OneNote 2010, which remembers the user's full-screen ribbon settings.
(2) Inserting multi-page printouts. The new default behavior in OneNote 2013 is to place each page of the printout on a separate "page" of the notebook. I prefer to put one entire lecture on each "notebook page", regardless of how many pages or slides the professor gives us. I've also never come across anyone who prefers to have only one printout page on each notebook page. So for instance, if I were inserting a 30-slide Powerpoint, OneNote 2013 would create 30 new notebook pages. There is an option to turn this off in the options, but OneNote then shows a dialog box asking me to choose between the two options every time I want to insert a printout. Since I insert several files a day, this gets annoying very quickly. Once again, OneNote 2010 did not have this problem.
(3) Inserting more than 1 multi-page printout on the same notebook page. If I try this, then the second printout is somehow inserted under the first printout, i.e. the first printout overlaps and covers up the second printout. It only happens when the printouts are both at least several pages long or if I've annotated the page already; the program disregards my cursor location. To work around this, I have to put the second printout on a new notebook page and then copy/paste the printout pages back to the first notebook page. This problem also did not exist in OneNote 2010.
(4) Zoom level changes when inserting printout: it always defaults back to 100%. I take notes at 115% on my ultrabook, so every time I insert a printout, I have to readjust the zoom level.
(5) Drawing tools. I have no idea how Microsoft managed to mess this up when going from 2010 to 2013, but half the time I try to draw an arrow, it ends up being a line with a V in the middle, or the arrowhead is completely detached from the line. In fact, I can't even draw a plain line properly sometimes. I haven't tried the other shapes much, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were problems there too. I've given up and resorted to drawing arrows freehand with the pen tool instead.
These issues may seem minor to some, but they affect me every day, so I wanted to give a heads-up to anyone else who uses OneNote the same way I do. I wish that Microsoft had spent more time implementing useful features (e.g. still can't rotate or crop a printout; search results are still clunky) or at least providing options to change these new behaviors in settings.
Now, when you open up Word (and Excel/Powerpoint), you're presented with a selection of templates instead of just a blank document, which is one extra click away (this can be turned off in Options). Other than that, the feature set for Word has remained largely the same. I have noticed significant lag when saving large Word documents, even to SSD - I was working on a 20MB file and Word would freeze up for 10-15 seconds every time I saved, despite my computer being pretty new. I tried tweaking the settings, disabling hardware acceleration, etc, but nothing helped. This was not an issue in Word 2010 either.
One of the most touted new features of Word 2013 is the ability to open PDF files for editing, but I have attempted to open and edit several documents, and Word does a horrible job of preserving formatting. I have third-party conversion software that almost always gets the formatting correct, no matter how complex, so this was a disappointment. I even tried to open a PDF file that was created from a simple Word document, and Word failed to properly center the title. I would not recommend relying on this feature.
I haven't had much of a chance to work extensively with these programs, but other than the template selection page when first opening the programs, they seem pretty much the same as Office 2010. Saving large files in Powerpoint 2013 usually seems okay, unlike in Word 2013. Powerpoint now defaults to 16:9 aspect ratio for slides, which is nice. There are some nice additions and tweaks to the Design tab in Powerpoint, but nothing spectacular. Excel has some handy pattern-recognition auto-fill functions now which seem to work well.
One more thing about Word/Excel/Powerpoint: Microsoft decided to add transitions to everything, which I find distracting. For example, when you type in Word, the letters fade into the page instead of simply appearing, and the cursor glides to the right. In Excel, when recalculating cells, the new values fade in, like a ripple effect. In Powerpoint, when applying a new background, it fades into all the slides as it is applied. There is no way to turn this off except through a registry tweak.
It may seem like I'm being overly critical of Office 2013, but I immensely enjoyed using Office 2010, and much of that experience has carried over here. Office 2013 will undoubtedly stand as the new standard of office suites this year. Microsoft Office remains a powerful and invaluable set of software for people in academia or business, which is why I'm still giving it 3.5 (~4) stars. But at best, Office 2013 is simply Office 2010 with SkyDrive integration and touch gestures. If you're like me, Office 2013 introduces little to no new functionality and a handful of new bugs and quirks that interfere with daily workflow. My advice? If you're considering upgrading from pre-2010, then I would recommend Office 2010, especially in light of the annual subscription-based model Microsoft is pursuing for Office 2013. If you're already on Office 2010 and are happy, I would not recommend upgrading to Office 2013.
UPDATE - SkyDrive collaboration
Recently, I tried using SkyDrive, Office Web Apps (free version), and Office 2013 together to collaborate on some files with other people, and the experience is a far cry from Google Docs. I will preface this by saying that I am not using the subscription/corporate versions of Office Web Apps, which (I believe) have better collaboration features. This is for users who want to buy the retail copy of Office 2013 and/or are considering using Skydrive and the free Office Web Apps to work on files with other people.
(1) Changes are not synced in real time - for instance, if someone makes an edit, all other users who have the file open must manually save and refresh the document to see changes.
(2) Conflicts. After the manual save/refresh, Skydrive roughly merges everything together - so, for instance, if both users write a sentence, both sentences will appear after the first user syncs their changes, the second user syncs the first user's changes plus their own changes, and the first user syncs yet again. If two users try to edit the same word, Skydrive gives an error message, complaining of a conflict and asking the user to manually resolve each problem. If this sounds like a mess, it's because it is.
(3) There is no indication of what other users are editing, where their cursors are, what they're looking at, etc., unlike Google Docs.
(4) In Excel, if a desktop user on Excel 2013 is editing the spreadsheet, then no other users can edit it.
(5) In Powerpoint, text appears in a different size and font when being edited, then reverts back after the user exits the text box...why?
(6) The web apps have been stripped of nearly all features, even basic things like header/footer in Word. This is to be expected, since it's free, but it also means that Google Docs provides a superior experience, at least for word processing.
I shudder to think how badly this system would work when trying to get a significant amount of work done. Google Docs may be inadequate for many power-user tasks, but it is absolutely outstanding when it comes to real-time collaboration - I've written 100+ page papers with other people using Google Docs, and while further formatting is always required in Word after everything is written, we've never had a problem with seeing exactly what has been written at any given time. Microsoft's free solution does not hold up well at all for multi-user scenarios; it really only works as a backup solution for single user use.