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Office 2013, the next edition of Microsoft’s flagship productivity suite, is available for business customers but won’t go on sale to consumers until the first quarter of 2013. This review focuses on the desktop applications, which you’ll be able to buy either on their own or as part of the cloud-connected Office 365 suite next year. We’ll review Office 365 when it becomes available.
Unfortunately, the suite also costs more. The $140 Office 2013 Home and Student version includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. The $220 Home & Business edition adds Outlook, and the $400 Office 2013 Professional package throws in Publisher and Access. Not only are those prices a bit higher than for comparable versions of Office 2010, but they also cover just one installation–and Microsoft isn’t going to offer discounted prices for multiple stand-alone installations. (Right now, for example, you can still get a three-license version of Home and Student 2010 for $150, or only $30 more than a single-license copy.)
Word, Excel, and PowerPoint no longer show a blank page at launch. Instead, a landing screen presents templates and other options for creating or reopening a document—that’s basically the screen you used to get when you wanted to open an existing document or create a new one from a template. This screen exposes ready-made design options that you might not otherwise consider.
The suite also offers easy integration with Microsoft’s online storage options, through the free SkyDrive or, in corporate settings, via commercial SharePoint server accounts. This arrangement makes documents available wherever you may need them. Microsoft has also worked on making Office more tablet- and touchscreen-friendly.
Word for reading, not just writing
One of Word’s most visible innovations is a new Read Mode that dispenses with the ribbon toolbar and lets you see documents as though they appeared within a printed book. In this mode, you can’t edit, but you do have access to find and search tools.
In Read Mode, you can click graphical elements to enlarge them for closer study (Microsoft calls this object zoom), and then click them again to return to the original layout.
Word also automatically bookmarks the page you were last on when you closed a document, and lets you return to that page when you reopen it. That bookmark travels with the document, which means that if you save the document to SkyDrive, your other Office 2013 installations will also open on the bookmarked page—useful when you’re working with lengthy documents.
The new Design tab gathers styles and other formatting options in one place, so you can easily try out different looks for your work. Word also now supports PDF editing (it converts PDFs to Word and then saves them back as PDFs). In my tests, regrettably, Word mangled the formatting somewhat on a complex PDF, but it fared better with simpler forms.
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