Coming Soon: Microsoft Office

“Oh, no,” you say. Not another new version of MS Office, just when you were getting used to the or versions. Calm down. This version is both very much the same and very different from previous versions. If you’re comfortable with the newer Office suites, it’s not at all a problem to learn. The main differences are found not as much in the specific programs as in the overall look and purpose of the suite. Office is designed to be compatible not only with PC’s, but also with the new devices that Microsoft is rolling out, like the Windows phone and its new tablet called Surface. To compete with rivals Google and Apple, Office is also highly integrated with Microsoft’s cloud area, SkyDrive.

An Office preview came out in mid-July. The reviews I read from the tech writers were quite positive, which made me decide to download the preview and give it a look. I was immediately impressed with most of the changes that have been made to the programs of the suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc.), some of which will be discussed below, but the overall appearance took some getting used to. They call the new look Metro, which means a cleaner, more modern design. The text on the ribbon is simpler, less ornate than in previous versions. And it is easy to hide the ribbon details and toolbars, leaving only the tabs. There is much more white space, giving a less cluttered feel. And if you use Office on a touch screen device, even more white space opens up for easier touching. I found I could accomplish more in Office with fewer clicks than in Office..

Besides a cleaner look, the other big focus of the new Office is storing files on the Internet, where they can be accessed from and synced with other devices no matter where you are. This is certainly the future of computing. For example, the default saving location in Office is no longer “My Documents,” but SkyDrive. It took just two clicks for me to save a document to my SkyDrive location. If I edit it there, the changes will sync with the same file on my PC.

Another general change is the demise of “add-ins,” which are optional downloads that provide extra features to Office programs, like the International character toolbar. Instead, Office will offer “apps” from a new Windows Store, much like the app store in Apple’s iTunes. Apps stay on the host website so they can be accessed from any device at any time.

Program changes:

Microsoft got quite a bit of resistance to the ribbon in Office. so changes within the new Office programs have been few, but useful. Here are a few of my favorites:

Word has added the ability to edit PDF documents, a real time-saver. In versions and. you could save a document as a PDF, but it was “read only.” If you wanted to edit it, you had to save it as another file type, like a .docx, then re-save as a PDF.  Read Mode (different from Reading Layout View) displays a document in landscape orientation (wider than it is tall) and removes all the toolbars and rulers to maximize the reading area. As I know from my iPad experience, this is something especially suited for mobile devices. Another upgrade is the ability to insert online video from within a document.

The move to make things simpler for Office users is represented by the new, updated templates found in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. When you open the program, a group of templates appears on the screen, ready to be used. Many more are available online. One, of course, is a blank document or spreadsheet or slide.

Excel has a couple of helpful changes. For example, it includes a Recommended Charts button.  Selecting a group of data and pressing this button will show a short list of charts best suited to display your type of data. Flash Fill will sense that you are performing repetitive actions and complete them for you, as long as the data is in the same form.

PowerPoint has new, updated themes. This pleased me because some of the themes had been in existence since the early 90’s and had become a bit stale. Another nice upgrade is the Presenter view, where the presenter can see on his laptop not only the projected slide, but a small version of the slide before and after, not visible to the audience. The Zoom feature lets the presenter zoom in on a graphic or text on the screen during a presentation.

The Outlook email program can display your Facebook or LinkedIn accounts at the bottom of the screen. The new Peeking feature opens a mini-window as you are composing an email so you can refer to your calendar or contacts list without having to open another program to get information.

All in all, I like Office. Much of what exists in Office is still there, and the new feaures helped me complete tasks more efficiently. After a small period of adjustment, I like the modern look. I have had no trouble saving documents to my SkyDrive area and really appreciate the advantages of accessing files on multiple devices. The one feature that I haven’t yet been able to get used to is the change in the Save As window. To save a document to My Documents, I had to go through four clicks: Save As – Computer - Browse – My Documents. If I save to SkyDrive, the clicks are reduced to two: Save As – SkyDrive. Perhaps before the actual Suite is released, that problem might be fixed, or maybe there is an easier way that I have yet to find.

According to Microsoft, Office will not run on Windows XP or Vista; it will run on Windows 7 and 8, but is designed to integrate best with Windows 8, which itself is advertised as being compatible with mobile devices of all kinds. Windows 8 is scheduled to go on sale October 26,. Office won’t be released for a year or so. It will have several versions for home and business, and claims to have versions compatible with Mac and open-sourced formats. Pricing has not been set. As a reviewer said, “It will cost more than Google Docs, but it has many more features.” Anyone can preview the suite. Don’t be confused. The download will be called Office 365, which is the subscription-based version of Office.