Microsoft Office 2013This latest version of Microsoft Office brings not just new features but show us where Microsoft is heading. Microsoft Office 2013 reveals some interesting things. This time the new features are not the main show. Arguably the biggest change is in how to buy it. Yes, you read that correctly. There are changes in each of the programs. The look of the ribbon is understated and there are really great templates added.
The real story is how you’ll buy Microsoft Office and it affects home users differently than those who get Microsoft Office at work. Zing. Exciting right? First of all, most of us using any version of Microsoft Office have always had it purchased by the office. We don’t pay for it. For those of us in this camp, there’s really little changed. (Read on for what those few things are.) For those of us who buy it for the home you can now buy it according to the price on the box or you can pay about a quarter the price but you will pay on an annual basis to keep using it. If you don’t pay annually to renew your license the software goes into reduced functionality mode.
Who exactly does Microsoft think its customers are? Judging on the lock they have on their market I think Microsoft knows very well that most of us will be upgrading loyally with each new release. But what else does this release think they know about us? Well, allow me to speculate:
1. Microsoft thinks that we are OKAY with the features in the current version of Microsoft Office.
For the first time, the story of a Microsoft Office upgrade is not about features. You won’t find anything new here. Well, unless you consider adding Touch support and editing PDFs. Touch is a big deal for Microsoft but not yet for most of us. I don’t really want to imagine the frustration of trying to drill down into one of the sub-sub-menus on a tablet but that’s for another review. The real story here is about what Microsoft thinks you want.
2. Microsoft thinks that we really want more options to buy their software.
In the past it was easy to decide – do you want only Word, Excel, PowerPoint? Buy Home and Student. Want Outlook also? Then get the next version up called Home and Business. For the 2013 version of Microsoft Office, the number of versions has essentially doubled since you now can either buy outright or subscribe. Decide on an edition of Microsoft Office and pay for an annual subscription and you are allowed to install that edition on up to 5 computers.
Those who think it’s silly to subscribe instead of purchasing outright, may want to compare costs. Microsoft is making this attractive by:

The standalone version gets you a license to install it on one computer. The subscription version will be known as Office 365 and is a combination of Microsoft Office 2013 software plus services. The math works out to your favor if you’re installing this on your computer, your spouse’s and a few others in your family. The services perks include more storage in Microsoft’s SkyDrive and some Skype calling credit. These won’t be deciding factors for anyone considering purchase vs. subscription but signal what comprises the Office suite of the future. I imagine as Microsoft lives out their embrace of “the cloud” they will continue to make this more attractive.
3. Microsoft thinks that we want apps, apps, apps, apps, apps.
Microsoft thinks you can’t get enough of them. Which is why they have opened up their applications to be extended through the App Dev Center. In the top right corner of each separate programs you can log on. Once you do that you get to access the online services including adding features to extend, for example, Microsoft Word.
Microsoft has a web site to complement Microsoft Office all the way back to Office 2003. You can download new templates and images. With 2013 they have opened it up to, yep, apps. How about downloading legal forms and dictionaries? Geographic Heat Map for Excel? Interesting to be sure.
Is Microsoft too late to the apps game? Is this too clunky? I’d say yes but Microsoft and developers, developers, developers have a stake in this and there will be fans and there will be people who will never hear of this.
4. Microsoft thinks that we’re online all the time.
They’re right of course. Microsoft has been changing course for ages and wants to be known as an on-the-web company, embracing The Cloud. We’re used to thinking of Microsoft Office as a program on a computer that you open and close. But, I am less and less dependent on any particular computer these days, as you likely are as well. I use Google Docs and combinations of internet-connected storage to save my docs. For this review I primarily used Google Docs but moved between several computers over several days.
Microsoft knows that I’m using Google Docs and that I really want to be mobile in this way. I don’t want to be tied down to the software that is or isn’t installed on this computer. So they want to be there whether you’re on your work computer, mobile on your laptop. They envision this might be helpful for you when you’re on a borrowed computer or even, as they say, “at the library”. (The problem with this last example is that you still need to install an add-on to the browser and that’s not realistic at a computer that you don’t own. I’m surprised that they even suggest that this is possible but hey, why not?)
So Microsoft can deliver a “Web App” version of Office to you. Log on with your Microsoft ID (Live ID) to run a fairly full featured version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access (is this still even used these days?), and Publisher. Outlook isn’t there but that’s because webmail is really better in this type of scenario. The Word Web App looks great and so does Excel Web App in screenshots.
Final thoughts
There isn’t much new in Microsoft Office. There are some nice touches. In addition to the few features mentioned in #1 above, there is the nice Reading Mode in Word which acknowledges that sometimes you just need the toolbar out of the way so you can get to reading and reviewing your documents. Outlook allows you to reply “in-line” which means that you click Reply and rather than pop the email out into a new window you just reply right where you’re reading. Those are small touches but you’ll find lots of little polish here and there. Even the ribbon looks more subtle now and has lost its 3-D look.
Microsoft is redefining what Microsoft Office is about. It’s about the web. It’s about mobility, touch and subscriptions. Microsoft doesn’t have to push this product hard because almost every company using this will continue to for the foreseeable future. They’re just giving us more options to pay the Microsoft tax each year or two years and now you’ll be able to pay annually. It’s a compelling price, but I’m not sure this is what most of us have been clamoring for.
For those of us who get it from work, it’s essentially free to us. We aren’t paying directly. Microsoft Office may have the longest list of features. Compare features to, for example, Google Docs and you can’t possibly choose Google Docs as the superior product. Do I recommend it? Yes, if you need Microsoft Office. It’s mostly the same as it was before and when I need to really slice and dice a spreadsheet, set up an automatic Table of Contents then Microsoft Office really shines. Is this one better than the previous version? No. Should you buy it? If you’re asking then, yes, go ahead.