Word continues to be the best loved word processor in use today, but the new version looks quite different from 2010's. Its most obvious update, which applies to all the Office 2013 applications, is the new, 'flatter' look. Rather than have the ribbon raised and coloured like an extended menu bar, its new minimalist presence is only separated from the page by a horizontal rule. Tab headings are capitalised, which makes them a bit more noticeable. See all Office software reviews.
This helps on smaller screens and if you're using a touchscreen, there's a viewing mode which gives more room between ribbon icons, so you're less likely to miss-hit. The changes to Read Mode are also aimed at those with smaller screens. In addition to being able to scroll through a document you're reading with swipes, you can hide the ribbon to make more room available for document display. Those whose machines have display diagonals over 12 inches, though, will probably find it just as easy to load a document in Word's Print Layout mode. See all: PC Advisor software downloads.
Backstage view, the screen you come to when starting Word or when you click File, has seen some redesign, too, with a cleaner, less fussy menu down the left-hand side. The Open page now includes SkyDrive as one of the sources to load documents from and you can add favourite places of your own. It doesn't automatically open the file browser as Office 2010 does, though that's still available when needed.
PDF conversion and editing is now integrated into Word and you can select a PDF file directly from the browser. It's then converted to a Word document and opened for editing, where you can make changes pretty much as with a native docx document, before saving it back out as a PDF – though this has to have a different name from the original. The round-trip compatibility with PDF depends on the PDF being created as editable, of course.
Word 2013: collaboration
Collaboration has always been an important feature of Word and version 2013 sees Simple Markup view added to what's been available before. In this view the page doesn't have alterations highlighted, but marks them discreetly in the left-hand margin, while comments appear as tiny speech bubbles in the right-hand one.
You can switch easily to full Markup, where the usual highlights appear but, also, details in the margins of the person that made them – with a picture, if available – and a direct connection to them via social media, so you can respond to their comments. In fact, with the proper connections, you can have a discussion in the margin of your document. On a touchscreen device, you can also 'ink' (draw) over a document to mark it up.
Whether it's an advantage to debate document changes in a word processor is debatable, but if Office is the house standard throughout an organisation, it may prove convenient.
At the page design level, Microsoft has incorporated alignment aids similar to those it introduced in Publisher 2010. As you drag objects around the page, green guidelines pop-up to show useful alignments, such as margins and tops and bottoms of paragraphs. They make it much quicker to set up the main elements of a page.
Word 2013: Live Layout
Live Layout helps this, too, by showing text wrap in real time when a graphic or frame is adjusted or moved – it reflows as the frame size changes. A popup button attached to these elements gives quick access to the text wrap function, too.
There are still things that hurt when using Word, like its styles, which sometimes work and sometimes don't. There are esoteric rules which decide when they work, but many people who have better things to do than learning them, just avoid using styles. This is a shame, as they were once a worthwhile productivity tool. Read our full Office 2013 review. For more business software reviews visit Business Advisor.