10 awesome new additions in Office 2013

Office 2013 combines functional improvements with cloud integration and support for touchscreens. Here are the changes that matter the most.

This is a heady time for Microsoft as it rolls out an ambitious OS and polishes off its productivity suite, billed as "the new Office." At the suite's core is Office 2013the desktop applications. Changes include a sleek appearance that reflects the look of Windows 8, functional improvements, and tie-ins to SharePoint and SkyDrive for storing documents online. In addition, the various components of Office Web Apps improve productivity in the cloud, while Windows 8 Surface RT tablets get their own flavor of Office.

You'll be able to get Office 2013 desktop software on its own (as usual) or as part of an Office 365 subscription that's newly open to consumers, and not just to small businesses. Though the software shipped to manufacturers this month, the final edition won't reach customers until sometime in the first half of 2013. A consumer preview of the subscription-based Office has been available in preview mode for public download since mid-July

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Should you be planning to upgrade? Based on my experiences so far with the previews of the new Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, ten features make the move worthwhile.

1. Modern Style Interface

In keeping with the Modern (previously called "Metro") style interface that you'll see in Windows 8, Office 2013 is getting a new  look. Gone are the multiple shades of color that decorated the older interface, as well as the shadows and shading that suggested three dimensions. Instead, everything is minimalist, flat, and starkmimicking the tiles on the Windows 8 start screen. The only hint of frivolity exists in a watermark design in the top right corner of the screen. The idea is that the new look will help you focus on your work rather than being distracted by the objects decorating your screen. Whether the redesign will achieve this goal or nottime will tell one way or the otherI certainly like the crisper look.

2. Start Screens

Each app supports a new color-coded start screenblue for Word, green for Excel, orange for PowerPoint, green for Publisher. Like the other applications' start screens, the one for Word displays a list of recent documents. Though creating a blank document is the default option, you can alternatively select a template, search online for templates, or click Open Other Documents to search for a document on disk or in a SkyDrive folder. These screens will help new users find their way around more easily, and experienced users will appreciate having all of their options in one place at startup. The top right of the screen shows details of the SkyDrive account that you are currently logged in to use.

3. SkyDrive Integration

Office 2013 is designed to integrate with the cloudwith SkyDrive and SharePoint, in particular. That's good news if you prefer to save your work online for anywhere-access, though most small businesses and individuals still save files locally. If you use SkyDrive, the account details wil appear in the top left corner of all the application screens, as well as on their start screens. Click your account details to switch accounts and to manage them. When you save a document, worksheet, or presentation, the application will default to saving to your SkyDrive account, but you can save to your local disk if you wish.

4. Syncing Across Devices

When you save your Office documents online, theyll be available to you (and others) from any device at any time, via Office 2013 on a PC or tablet, or via the WebApps. Microsoft has already upgraded the WebApps for Word, Excel, OneNote, and PowerPoint with the new Modern-style look and Office application color coding. In addition, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint will save the last location where you were working before you saved--down to the letter, cell, or image. This feature makes it easier to pick up where you left off working, even if you open the file on a different device than you last used.

5. Touchscreen use

Some new Office 2013 features are designed to make working with a touchscreen easier. The new Read Mode in Word opens a document in reading view, which lets you scroll through the document by swiping horizontally with your finger. On a desktop with a touchscreen monitor, you can change this behavior back to the more traditional page navigation mode if you wish. Click the Touch Mode button on the Quick Access Toolbarto the right of the program logo of each applicationand the ribbon toolbar spreads its icons further apart for easier access to fingers.

Apart from these useful changes, however, touch integration in Office is somewhat erratic. You can use gestures such as tap, pinch, stretch, slide, and swipe for various features. But on a 24-inch touchscreen monitor, unfortunately, the text formatting icons were too small for me to use accurately. So, right now, though the suite is usable on a touchscreen devicewhich is a step in the right directionit is still far from touch-friendly.

6. PDF Editing

In the past you could save a Word document as a PDF file, but until now you couldn't edit PDFs in Word without first converting them to Doc or DocX format. The new Word 2013 can open PDF files, edit them there, and then save them as either DocX files or PDFs. When opened in Word, the file retains the structure of the PDF file, even for elements such as tables. This advance will be a big plus for many users, who can simplyopen a PDF and get straight to work.

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