Microsoft has a good week at the Office

New Office 2013
Office 2013 introduces new features and a new look

The words "office" and "exciting" usually go together like "underpants" and "blancmange", but Microsoft has changed all that: the new version of Office, Microsoft's 15th, is a big leap forwards. Office 2013 is to its predecessors what Windows 8 is to earlier Windows: better looking, more useful and quite different - and like Windows 8, you can download it for free to put it through its paces.

There are three big changes to Office: the interface, its use of the cloud, and the ways in which you can buy it.

As Mary Branscombe explains, "One major difference with Office 2013 is that there's a new way of buying it. Although boxed copies and online downloads are still available, you can also get an Office 365 subscription that gets you all Office core apps for all the platforms you use (there are Home, Small Business, ProPlus and Enterprise plans to choose from). Instead of having to pay again for Mac Office or the iPhone OneNote app, you just get them all."

The most obvious change is the "metrified" interface, which is particularly good on OneNote: as Branscombe says, it "really shines in Metro, taking advantage of touchscreens to make it easy to navigate between pages and notebooks or to have the whole page for taking notes on.

"Even if you don't use a pen to take notes, touch comes in handy for editing; when you select text with your finger a radial menu opens with contextual tools for formatting text, undoing edits, applying tags or snapping pictures with the camera on your tablet."

The rest of the "metrification" is more subtle, Microsoft general manager Chris Pratley says: Office 2013 is the Office you know, in fancy new trousers. "We didn't mess around with the ribbon; we Metrified it but we didn't change a lot of stuff. Instead it's all about connecting to the cloud, making it your Office regardless of device. Making it Metro and smooth and live and digital."

Key new features include "the in-place email replies in Outlook, Excel's Quick Analysis lens for suggesting chart and pivot table layouts and the Flash Fill tool that makes it easy to get information out of badly formatted data".

So is it any good? In her typically exhaustive Office 2013 review, Mary Branscombe says Office 2013 isn't just a pretty face. "This is another big advance in usability, combined with some extremely clever new tools. There are features for power users, especially in Excel and PowerPoint, and there are far more features that either make it easier to use the power of existing tools or give you whole new ways to achieve what you're trying to do without having to be an expert."

It's not perfect - there are still some rough edges to be tidied up, and the Metro interface makes some features, such as Autocorrect, harder to use, but "mostly Office 2013 gets the right balance between streamlining and oversimplifying" - and as it's available as a subscription service, "you won't have to wait as long to get updates and improvements".

The price and UK release date haven't been announced yet, and Office 2013 might not ship until well after Windows 8 does: the Windows 8 launch date has been confirmed as 26 October. Sadly Windows XP and Windows Vista users won't be able to join this Office party.

Call or text? TEXT

When did you last call your mother? According to Ofcom, you probably texted her instead: Ofcom's latest research found that texting is now more popular than making calls. Kate Solomon was quick to sing the praises of the humble SMS.

"I'm talking about the post-date afterglow, the short late-night note that lets you know someone's thinking about you, the in-jokes and even the outlandish ones that make your throw your phone across the room in frustration... you can say things in a text message that you can't say out loud, especially when you're caught up in that heady cocktail of hormones and boredom."

The phone call is heading into history, Solomon suggests, and that's okay: mobiles replaced landlines, and landlines replaced letters. "Before long," she says, "something new will come along and we'll do the whole dance all over again."

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