Quick tour: 10 new features and tweaks in Microsoft Office 2013

The next Office combines Metro stylings with a heavier emphasis on cloud integration

Two big themes stand out about Office 2013: The Metro makeover, and an expanded degree of integration with Microsoft’s Windows Live. Sign into Windows Live via Office, and the “open or create documents” pane that appears upon opening an Office app will contain a link to your SkyDrive account. (The hard part, at least in the preview beta, is signing back out: The Office preview only lets you switch Live IDs, not sign out completely and use Office only in local mode again.)

Outlook 2013

The Metro look for Office is best demonstrated by Outlook 2013, which gives the program the clean-lined look of a paper day planner. Note the quick-reply buttons at the top of the message preview.

Word 2013

Many of the new Office features, apart from the general Metro makeover, are little ones. Comment tracking in Office (here, specifically, in Word) allows comments from multiple authors to be tracked like a message board conversation. Note also the revised navigation pane at right, which is that much clearer and easier to use than in previous editions of Word.

Excel 2013

Excel’s Metro-izing has changed the functionality of the application very little; note the right-click contextual-editing menu, which is much the same as before.

Windows 8 on-screen keyboard

The Windows 8 on-screen keyboard for touch devices is designed to integrate well with Office 2013. It’s still no substitute for the real thing, but it makes actual work that much more possible.

Autosuggestions that work

The new Windows 8 on-screen keyboard is indeed a major improvement over its Windows 7 counterpart. On-screen content is automatically moved around whenever the keyboard is invoked. It’s also more responsive when typing, and it provides autosuggestions that actually work.

Office 2013 Touch Mode

Office 2013’s Touch Mode makes visual elements in Office a little more widely spaced and thus easier to single out via a touch interface. At top, Touch Mode off; at bottom, Touch Mode on. The blue circle in the Quick Access Toolbar toggles Touch Mode.

Office 2013 login icon

The icon in the top right of each Office 2013 app indicates if you’re logged into Microsoft’s online services for file storage and collaboration. (The smiley to the right allows beta testers to provide feedback.)

Office 2013 Account pane

The Account pane shows all the online services (Microsoft and otherwise) currently connected to your copy of Office. Additional services at this time include LinkedIn, Flickr and YouTube.

Recent locations

When you switch to the File tab and elect to open a document, you’re given not only a list of recently opened documents but a list of locations (folders, network paths) where documents were recently opened. If you're constantly squirrelling around in the same directories for different files, this is a godsend.

Office Web Apps

The biggest “feature” touted with Office isn’t actually part of Office itself but the suite’s integration with SkyDrive and Office 365. Most of this is still in the vein of allowing people without a copy of Office to see and interact with an Office document, as in this preview of a Word document in a Web browser.

Also see: Office 2013 beta review: Microsoft (almost) nails it