Office 2013 is now available

It’s official: Microsoft Office 2013 is now available to the public. (It was made available to corporate customers a month ago.) Is it something you need?

Office has been around for so many years and so many versions, what features were left for Microsoft to add? For the most part, the answer is connectivity and collaboration. But that’s not all. Most of the screens have been streamlined to remove clutter, and of course there are new bells and whistles.

Most of the cloud connectivity revolve around services like SkyDrive and SharePoint. SkyDrive is free (with paid upgrades available) and targeted at individuals, and SharePoint can run either on a private intranet or as a paid service available from many providers.

And there are now four editions of Office. There is a traditional desktop edition, where you buy a license outright, install the software on your computer, and use it as long as you want without having to buy anything more.

As far as functionality goes, the traditional software looks and feels the same as Office 365. With 365, you pay for the software as a service, usually paying monthly. You’d use that if you need to run Office on a computer for only a short period of time, or if cash flow is an issue.

The Microsoft Surface RT tablet comes with a third edition of Office. Most of the functionality of that edition is the same as the desktop edition, but there are some limitations.

The fourth edition of Office are the Web Apps. These are free versions of the Office applications that run inside a Web browser (no surprise: best with Internet Explorer), and they have only the most common features. Web Apps aren’t new, but they have been updated for 2013.

My favorite, new features:

  • Flash Fill in Excel makes it easier to enter repetitive data.
  • Insert charts and PivotTables in Excel with just a couple of clicks.
  • Create videos directly from PowerPoint (yes, the Mac has been able to do this for a long time).
  • Word has threaded comment discussions, and documents edited with the Track Changes feature are less cluttered.
  • Outlook has direct connections to social networks and can link multiple contacts.
  • It’s easier to share workbooks in OneNote and connect with mobile devices. And it’s now easy to export individual sections and pages for other users.
  • OneNote no longer gets incredibly slow, even with large notebooks open in the cloud.

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