The New Microsoft Office: A Closer Look at the First Looks

Posted by · July 16, 2012 5:05 pm

Keeping secrets in the tech industry is an art, and a fine one at that. Or should I say, maintaining the illusion of secrecy is something worth stopping and admiring for a moment. Just as soon as Steve Ballmer took to the stage this afternoon to reveal what everyone suspected but supposedly nobody knew for certain—that Microsoft is releasing a new version of its Office software suite—RSS and social media feeds were flooded with innumerable “first look” posts about Office 2013.

To be fair, once the Microsoft event started, an Office 2013 preview was uploaded for consumers to demo. However, it would be naïve to conclude that the purveyors of these “first look” pieces are so good at what they do that it took literally no time from the announcement of Office 2013 and its complementary preview version for these tech writers and bloggers to draft comprehensive reviews of Microsoft’s latest software.

That is, considering the publication of hands-on reviews of Office 2013 at precisely 12pm PDT (3pm EDT)—the time the event actually started—by big name publications including Wired, TechCrunch, Ars Technica, Gizmodo, and others, the release of Office 2013 was no secret at all. Instead, taking advantage of their VIP status among the tech elite, these savvy tricksters kept readers in suspense up to the very moment of the announcement—all the while with their fingers on that “publish” button, each hoping that their own review would be the first to be glanced by readers.

Meanwhile, smaller tech publications and blogs left in the reality dodged by their more fortunate counterparts were left to either play catch-up in hopes of drawing some of the traffic of those slower on the uptake or cut their losses and look for something else newsworthy. In the case of this tech blogger, I adopted the latter, but with what I thought to be a clever twist. That is, since other publications have already gone through the trouble of reviewing Office 2013, some of which have gone on to publish rather comprehensive reviews of Microsoft’s new software; why not save readers the trouble of reading all of them with a one-stop pros and cons list?

So that’s what I did.

MS Office 2013: The Pros

When it comes to Gizmodo’s take on the new Office suite, one needn’t read past the first couple paragraphs to get their first impression. Sam Biddle writes:

Does anyone really want to use Microsoft Office? Of course not. It’s a work tool. It’s a utility. But does it have to be so utilitarian? So bleak? No—not anymore. The new Office is the best Office.

Why is it the best office, you ask? According to Biddle, it starts with, well, the newly redesigned Metro Start Menu. With a few minor design tweaks, which he unabashedly terms “superficial,” the majority of what makes Office 2013 (or Office 15, depending on who you ask) is that it hasn’t changed too drastically.

“Office is still Office, through and through,” Biddle continues. “Word is a tool for writing, Excel is a tool for spreadsheeting, and PowerPoint is a tool for boring everyone with presentations.”

This sentiment seems to be shared across other publications that had the inside track.

“Microsoft Office is clearly getting one of the most significant facelifts in Office 2013 and Office 365,” echoes Wired’s Alexandra Chang. “All of the applications look a lot cleaner than before and are more intuitive to use.”

Such an increase in user-friendliness is what leads us to the other major pro for Office 2013—versatility.

By taking a more intuitive approach, reviews note the transcendent nature of the new Office across devices and communications platforms. Thanks to a UI that allows users to click or touch to navigate through the suite of programs, users have the ability to engage Microsoft Office using more than just their desktop, which is convenient considering the impending launch of Windows 8 Phone and the Surface tablet.

Such versatility, paired with the option of a monthly subscription to the new web-based Office 365, will put Microsoft in a better position to compete directly Google, whose Google Docs feature has been cleaning up over the past few years when it comes to conveniently the various documents that the Office suite generates.

Office 15: The Cons

While the specific tastes of an individual user may see more than one drawback of the new Microsoft Office suite, there is one that rises above the rest—that damned Ribbon.

“The dreaded Ribbon is still around,” observes TechCrunch’s Peter Ha, “but it’s mostly hidden unless you really need it.”

Adding his own take on the “ghastly” feature, Biddle adds, “Microsoft’s attempt to streamline everything with the ‘ribbon’ UI only confused most people, spreading the mess into new piles rather than actually tidying anything up.” However, in the new Office, “Those ghastly ribbons are minimized and formatting boxes can be hidden with a click.”

Joining in the celebration—particularly in terms of mobile usage—PCWorld’s Tony Bradley concurs:

Like Windows 8 and the rest of the Office 2013 productivity suite, Microsoft has gone out of its way to make Outlook 2013 touch-friendly. You can minimize the ribbon bar to free up as much room as possible for smaller displays like tablets, you can pinch to zoom on messages and calendar events, and you can hold your finger on an item to access the context-sensitive options available for it.

More user friendly, more versatile, and a Ribbon that’s still there but clearly making its way toward the door—Microsoft is definitely putting its best foot forward with Office 2013, or at least the parts of it that they’re letting us try out. Even its one drawback is a move in the right direction.

Then again, if you ask me, the real story should be why Microsoft chose to demo the latest version of its signature software using a Samsung 7 instead of its very own Surface tablet.

For more Microsoft Office 2013 reviews…