Microsoft Office is found on more PCs and laptops worldwide than any other productivity suite, so a new version, something which happens roughly every three years, is a major event. Office 2013 sees a couple of strategic developments for the company, as well as the usual spate of feature improvements. See all: PC Advisor software downloads.
This is the first version of Office to support the use of touchscreens, a method of interacting with a computer which was still something of a novelty even just three years ago. The huge expansion of the tablet and hybrid PC market, which includes Microsoft's own Surface machines, has brought on a rapid maturity of the technology. Any company who ignores the requirements to operate software with fingertips is not just missing a trick, but may well miss the sales, too. For more business software reviews visit Business Advisor.
Microsoft would also like to move the market away from outright purchase of its software, to a leasing paradigm, where customers pay for continued use annually. This method of payment can already be seen as a viable approach if you look at the Internet Security market. There, it's perfectly normal to sell a one, two or three-year licence, rather than a perpetual one.
To encourage this swing, Microsoft introduced Office 365, a heavily cloud-based distribution system for Office. Although the software is still run locally on your PC or tablet, you're encouraged to store your documents online and free storage on Microsoft's SkyDrive is included in the package. There are distinct advantages to using cloud storage, not least that you can access your files anywhere, on any machine where you have an Office account running.
It's probably no coincidence that the deal on Office 365 Home Premium looks a lot better than for Office Professional 2013. Although the Home Premium product is restricted to non-commercial use, you get five separate installations of the same seven applications, which may be used on PC or Mac, for your £80 a year. With Professional 2013, you pay £390 for a single, perpetual licence.
There are individual changes and improvements to each of the applications in the new Office, of course and we'll examine these in the following detail sections.
Office 2013: reviews
- Word 2013 review - much-loved productivity tool gets an overhaul
- Excel 2013 review - new features mean powerful analysis tools for everyone
- PowerPoint 2013 review - some new features keep PowerPoint on top
- Outlook 2013 review - spare design and streamlined workflow save time
- Onenote 2013 review - serious note-taking on tablet
- Publisher 2013 review - page-design program enjoys marginal improvements
- Access 2013 review - new look and feel for database tool
Office 2013: the verdict
Putting more and more emphasis on the Cloud for document storage, help and updates assumes you have a fast, reliable broadband connection. This is fine if you live and work in a city, but a potential pain in some suburbs and many rural areas. Some of our testing was done in a rural setting with a
satellite link and though this is rated at 18Gb/s, it can be much slower and there were noticeable pauses while moving documents to and from SkyDrive.
It's clear Microsoft is ‘encouraging' its customers to move to Office 365, the subscription model, by offering more flexible licencing terms. You can have up to five installations with Office 365, which can be on any combination of desktop and portable PCs or Macs. You can also move them around, by deactivating an installation on one machine and activating it on another – as it should be.
Until recently, however, the perpetual licence for the standalone version could only be installed on one PC and couldn't be transferred. So, if you replaced your machine or upgraded it with new components, you couldn't move your Office 2013 onto the upgraded or replacement machine.
At the time of writing, Microsoft has just changed the standalone licence, responding to customer complaints, so that it is transferable, once every 90 days. The ‘once every 90 days' proviso still seems a bit mean-spirited, as if you add Office 2013 to a PC which is then stolen, for example, it's hardly fair to have to wait three months before re-installing it.
There's also a financial incentive to buying the Office 365 subscription, assuming you can use all five installations you're allowed. Office Professional 2013 and Office 365 Small Business Premium contain the same seven core applications and both can be used for commercial purposes – Office 365 Home Premium can't, so that wouldn't be a direct comparison.
The Professional product costs £390 for a single, perpetual licence, so you'd need five to compare on cost. Assuming a three year cycle before the next version of Office you may want to upgrade to, the Office 365 Small Business Premium route will cost £1,575 (£105 per person, per year), while the Professional Plus one will cost £1,950. At the end of that time, of course, you'll still have your five Office 2013 Professional licences, while the Office 365 ones will expire, unless you pay again to renew them. Also, you could pay less for perpetual licences if you went for Microsoft's Professional Plus volume licencing.
Aside from the arguments over licencing, the new version of Office includes a number of useful improvements to some of its main applications, with minor tweaks to all of them. Word's round-trip PDF editing, Excel's Quick Analysis and Flash Fill and improvements to Presenter View in PowerPoint come to mind. Better integration with SkyDrive and the ability to use the Office apps anywhere, with documents downloaded from the Cloud, is clearly the way to go, for many people working out of an office.
These days, Competition for Office comes mainly from free suites, like OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice and GoogleDocs, than from commercial rivals like WordPerfect, and although they can do all that many people want, if you have to work in collaboration with Office users in a business or client-base, there's no real substitute for have Office on your machine, too.
Office remains the most comprehensive productivity suite available and there are things each of its applications can do that the opposition can't. It may be a truism, but if you're working with Office documents, there's nothing more compatible than Office.