Most helpful critical review
176 of 192 people found the following review helpful
Touch interface, faster performance, business subscription may have better value
on January 29, 2013
It has been 10 years since the new versions of office documents (docx, pptx etc) were introduced. For better or worse, Ribbon interface is here to stay. Is there something new that Microsoft can bring to the table?
I write as a sole proprietor who has been using Office 365 Enterprise for half a year. I installed Office 2013 RTM (i.e. final version) about a month earlier than the official release in late January 2013. My review will answer 1) why and who should upgrade to Office 2013 and 2) which version (Home & Business, Pro, Office 365 Home Premium, Small Business or Enterprise) to choose.
For Q1 (who should and why upgrade), my short answer is: upgrade if you are: a) using a touch computer; b) you own several computers and use all of them to edit the same documents; c) you are running on a slow computer and wants some extra speed. Otherwise there is no need to upgrade from 2007/2010. 2003 users will have to decide whether they want to make the switch to Ribbon.
1A - Using a touch computer
I own a Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro, a Windows 8 Pro tablet. Office 2013 automatically recognizes the touchscreen and increases the spacing between icons for me. Frankly the increased spacing is not much use on my 11.6 inch display as mis-clicks are still frequent. I still resort to the built-in pen for clicking the small icons (Save, undo etc).
More importantly, the new version supports gestures such as pinch to zoom and flicking the screen to scroll. This, together with Windows 8 Pro, make touch experience almost bearable on a PC.
Of course, to truly take advantage of Office 2013's touch function, you also need Windows 8. The on-screen keyboard in Windows 8 is simply better than the one in Windows 7. The most important improvement is the maximize icon next to the X button of the keyboard. Press it, and the keyboard becomes "one with the taskbar". The app will not occupy the space beneath the keyboard and make itself inaccessible (because the keyboard floats above it).
Word now supports a Reader mode, which is HUGELY useful and makes me want to convert all my ePub to word documents. The idea is simple: Word reflows the text to single column/double columns while maintaining certain formatting like italic, fonts, highlighting etc and discarding others (tabs, line spacing for example). This is similar to what we experience from other eReaders (Amazon Kindle, ePub readers etc). The great thing about reading document in Word 2013 is that you can save your annotation directly on the file - there is no need to worry about syncing annotation. Contrast this to reading ePub - each software saves its own annotation file that cannot be easily read by another software.
1B - Multiple computers, one document
Having multiple computers is both a blessing and a curse. Nothing beats turning off your office computer and take an early leave, knowing that whatever you failed to complete can be finished at home. However it is a nightmare to learn that the document (or the newest version of it) is not available when you arrive at home.
There are many ways to transfer files from office to home, from the tedious (USB, manual or software assisted) to the care-free (dropbox automatic sync). Your organization may or may not allow USB drives (for good reasons). Dropbox requires administrative privilege which 99% of the working force do not have. With Office 2013 you have a third option - save to your own Skydrive. If you purchase the non-subscription version, you get 7GB space of Skydrive, Office 365 Home Premium gives you 27GB. For the business version, storage depends on the base subscription and add-on plans. Skydrive is like a USB stick that connects to your computer through the Internet. You can create folders, save files, read files, delete files just as you would on a USB stick. The difference is that it is always available as long as you have connection to the Internet.
To save to Skydrive, you must first have a Microsoft Live account. If you have a Hotmail/outlook.com email account, you already have one. You can also register a Live Account with any email you own (gmail Yahoo university mail). You then login to this Live account from within Office, you only need to do it once for each computer, and you can do it in Excel/Word/etc. After you have logged in, you can Save the document to Skydrive by pressing the icon linking to your skydrive, and you will be prompted with your Skydrive's folder structure - just as what you would see if you were to save on C drive. To open a file, choose Open, then press the icon to your skydrive, and viola - your file is there. A little icon called Office Upload Assistant on bottom right area next to the clock (the notification area) tells you whether all documents have been uploaded.
I also like the fact that opening Word 2013 shows you a Welcome screen with built-in templates AND YOUR OWN TEMPLATES (provided they are saved in Skydrive/locally). No longer do you need to go through layers of folders before finding the template for Invoice etc. You can also "pin" your favorite templates so that they are one-click away from being created. You can of course still create new documents from templates the way you would in 2007/2010.
1C - Performance
Performance is BIG thing nowadays. Finally Microsoft saw the need to reduce the footprints of its software and make them more suitable for the "average" machines. It used to be the case that business machines are evaluated by how many Internet Explorer and Microsoft Word can be opened simultaneously while running on Windows Vista!
Having used the RAM-eating Office 2007 and the atrociously slow Office 2010, Office 2013 breathes new life to my 4 years old Dell Latitude E4200 (running on an ultra-low voltage dual-core Penryn processor). I used to uncheck Outlook when I re-installed Office 2007/2010 because they start up painfully slowly. The speed of Outlook 2013 is almost tolerable (about 7 seconds). Outlook 2013 also does not cause my notebook to stutter.
The re-sizing on Word has also been improved. It no longer draws accurate snapshots of the document as you zoom. Instead it "blurs" the document as you zoom, and after you have settled on the zoom level, it draws a final, accurate snapshot. It may not seem much, but coming from a computer-engineering background, I suspect this reduces CPU workload (and thus energy use) significantly.
Saving, opening, and switching between Ribbon tabs now feel instant even on my crappy 4 years-old laptop. On my new Samsung tablet (sporting the newest Intel processor), starting Word is instant and outlook takes a mere 2 seconds to show. The whole experience is very much like using an iPad, where every app loads instantaneously.
I can only comment on Word, Onenote and Outlook 2013, which I use daily. I will let my more knowledgeable fellow reviewers comment on the rest.
New features include the reader mode, touch-icons, touch gestures (mentioned above).
Track Changes is now infinitely more useful as it shows comments like a conversation. The new Office Store allows you to install third-party apps (such as Merriam-Webster Dictionaries) to increase functionality. You no longer need to "hunt" for plug-ins as you would for all previous versions.
You may or may not need the add pictures from an online location function. The ability to embed YouTube video is also of dubious use - I prefer saving the youtube video offline, convert it and send it as an attachment to the word document. This way my client won't ring me at 2am complaining they cannot view the clip (whether it is due to their connection to YouTube or some technical problem I do not care to solve), but this is just me.
The much-touted PDF manipulation is trash. It seems that whatever PDF file I open using Word 2013, formatting is heavily messed up. Apparently Microsoft tries to convert PDF to DOCX first before you can do any meaningful operation. You are better off with a software that treats PDF as a PDF, such as the cheap but excellent PDF-XCHANGE software suites.
I could not be bothered to compare the feature sets between OneNote MX (free with Windows 8) and OneNote 2013. It suffices to note that MX has fewer features but a more touch-centric control.
OneNote still does not get the degree of formatting control like Word. You cannot make multi-layered lists or format text (and change formatting) using an umbrella category (like the Body, Heading 1, Heading 2). Still, I enjoy jotting notes with OneNote much more than with Word. Lists just indent to the proper place EVERY SINGLE TIME and there is no need to deal with page breaks.
I cannot think of any new features that are worth mentioning. Onenote 2010 already had some sort of integration with the predecessor to Skydrive (called Live Drive). The auto-correct still does not correct Recognise to Recognize etc (as Word 2013) does. You can still add Online picture as you do in Word 2013. There is also a new helper software that sits on the Taskbar and help you get screen capture quicker. I always turn off the helper software because it adds unnecessary complexity to my taskbar.
Microsoft has not gone enough to change Outlook 2013. Just as 2007/2010, it is extremely difficult to change account settings such as whether to download headers only or full text (with or without attachments). The data file (OST or PST) still reside in the elusive place of C:\User\(user name)\AppData instead of your own "My Document" folder. Sure you will forget to back that up as you re-install windows? You also cannot see all emails using an "Unified Inbox" as you would with a 2-year old android phone/iPhone without using a script (search unified inbox vba if you really want to know)
Outlook has always struggled to find a proper interface. I still recall using Outlook 2000 and being greeted with a Today's screen which shows some of my unread emails and upcoming appointments in extremely small fonts. Outlook 2013 is better, when you start it shows you the Inbox, and you can quickly switch to appointments/contacts from the bottom left huge icons.
One new feature is integration with Facebook/other social networks. The idea is to merge your contacts with Facebook's contacts. I only connected about 20% of my friends because Outlook doesn't know Charles Jeremy Moore in outlook is really Charles Moore on Facebook. You can of course manually link them as you could in the People app in Windows 8, but I cannot be bothered.
Assuming you have linked facebook contacts with Outlook, you can see a snapshot of your friend's profile while reading his email. Useful? I doubt it. It is not often the case that your business associates will write something you absolutely must know business-wise (gossiping is another matter). If there is some blogs/feeds you must read, the recommended course is to setup an RSS feed and read it regularly. Stumbling upon someone's relationship status only distracts you from the current work.
It may or may not be a new feature, but pinning Outlook 2013 to your taskbar allows you to create tasks/appointments quickly. Right-click the icon (not left click) and you will be greeted with a short-cut for New Appointment/Email/Contact/Task/Meeting. What is best is that using any of the above will not launch Outlook 2013, not the whole program at least. It is extremely handy for adding new appointments etc when you are talking on phone. The ability to quickly add appointment from Outlook 2013 is one of the reasons I ditched Google in favour of my Office 365 Exchange account for storing calendars and contacts. (note: Outlook 2013 cannot sync with Gmail's Exchange ActiveSync as of now, Outlook blames Google for not having the newest Exchange version).
WARNING: do not use the New Email function from the right click menu. After you have typed your email, it is stored at the Outbox but NOT send out. You have to launch Outlook to send it. I cannot understand what Microsoft is thinking...
2 - Comparison
I have been using Office 365 to host my business email address and website for half a year, so I am familiar with the subscription model.
Feature-wise Office Pro and Office 365 is the same (but note the difference in Skydrive storage). Simple math tells us that the price for Office Pro equates 4 years of Office 365. The catch for purchasing Office Pro is that you are limited to 1 PC while Office 365 covers 5. If you own more than 1 device, Office 365 is a no-brainer, or so it seems.
The reason why I gave Office Pro 5 stars while Office 365 Home Premium 3 stars is solely based on Price alone. If you are a sole proprietor/small business, you are better-off with the Office 365 business plans (as I am subscribing). If you are a Home User, as the name Home Premium suggest, I make the following assumptions: 1) your company pays for the office licence in your work computer(s) and 2) you do not have more than 1 home computer that needs Office. Under this assumption the 5 PC advantage practically falls away. The remaining question is whether you will upgrade in 4 years and whether the extra storage matters.
4 years is a bit longer than 1 product cycle (see 2003 - 2007-2010-2013). If you will buy/subscribe Office 2016/2017 (if there is one) when it is released, then subscribing to Home Premium will present better value. If you will skip one product cycle (i.e. skipping 2016/2017 and purchase 2020/2021), then Office Pro is better value. I think most home users can afford to lag behind more than 1 product cycle. New products are not always better, often the new features are useless to a home user and the new interface just spells frustration.
I think Office 365 HP is only appeal to users who match every criterion below:
1) You need Outlook/Access/Publisher
2) You have more than 1 computer
3) You plan to receive the next Office as it becomes available
4) You are not benefitted by Office 365 business versions
Regarding 1) above, most home users need Word/Excel/Powerpoint only, and their needs are well served by the cheaper Home versions. Please note that if you do not use Outlook now, you probably won't need it in the future. It is an overkill for checking gmail etc. Access and Publisher require you to sit down and learn, possibly taking 1 month each before you fully appreciate their use and advantage over Excel/Word. There is no point in going for Office Pro or Office HP just to get all software and be "future-proof" if Office Home Student/Home Business is good enough.
If you are willing to pay so much for the extra software (Outlook/Publisher/Access), but doesn't receive a free licence from your company, chances are that you work at a SMB. SMBs stand to benefit A LOT from Office 365 business (see below), and even though you may not implement all the features, Office 365 business is still worth considering.
Office 365 Home Premium is expensive compared with Office 365 Enterprise. At $20/Month Office 365 Enterprise gives you all Office software, your own exchange email account, Sharepoint and Lync (basic) servers. The website shows Office Professional Plus 2010, but you can download Office 2013 RTM from TechNet and use your Office 365 login name to get the software running. That was how I got Office 2013 a month earlier than the general public.
I wish only to add that regardless of whether you use Office 365 HP or Office 365 Ent, Office Web App is trash. The idea of being able to edit document from a web-browser (running on an iPad maybe) is attractive, but unrealistic. The reasons are: 1) Web App only supports DocX etc formats, but not the old formats; 2) more importantly, formatting is often MESSED UP when you use Web App.
More coming: the benefit of having your own exchange account and more importantly sharepoint server (in the coming week) and why it is much better value to sole proprietor/small business.