I’m coming to the end of my trial period with Microsoft Office 2013. Over the weeks it has been a reasonably solid experience with one or two quirks causing me no end of frustration. But do I want to upgrade? Do I want to pay for a subscription or full purchase or would I prefer to stick with Microsoft Office 2010, a suite that I’ve been using successfully for several years now? Indeed, should I even think of abandoning Microsoft in favour of an open source alternative?
While I mulled these questions, I had a bit of a play with Office 2013. It soon became apparent that Microsoft seem to be playing a very interesting – and risky – game. Microsoft Office 2013 might have a new user interface and offer “new” features (see below) but all in all it is just the same package as released previously, plus a few free add-ons.
What this essentially means is that by adding free downloads from Microsoft to Office 2010, you can save hundreds of dollars.
Why You Think You Need Microsoft Office 2013
SkyDrive integration! New views in Excel and PowerPoint! Facebook integration with Outlook!
If any of those three things make you sit up and think “Hmm, I reckon I should be upgrading to Microsoft Office 2013″, then think again – if you’re running Office 2010, you already have these features included. Sure, there are a few new features in Office 2013, but on the whole these are nothing to write home about and certainly don’t justify an expensive upgrade from Office 2010 (except, perhaps, in extreme cases).
What has happened is that basically Microsoft have repackaged the existing Office suite with a new “Modern” user interface and integrated some features that were available via free downloads. Elsewhere, tools and functions that were overlooked in promotional campaigns for Office 2010 have not been highlighted.
For the past few months, Microsoft has been heavily promoting Outlook.com, its new online email, calendar, task management and contacts system that is available as a free upgrade to Hotmail users.
Not only is the name evocative of the famous email client, but so is the user interface – so much so, in fact, that for standard users it is more or less indistinguishable from the Microsoft Office 2013 tool of the same name.
If the basic features of Outlook.com aren’t enough, don’t worry – there are ways to get some of the added bells and whistles free, too, either in your browser or in your previous version of Office Outlook:
Weather alerts can be added in Options, where you can select and save Show weather on the calendar (in Celsius or Fahrenheit). Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can be integrated with Outlook.com by clicking your profile image in the top-right corner, selecting Edit Profile > Connect and adding your social accounts.
If you would prefer this feature in Outlook 2010 rather than having to use the browser email client, don’t worry – Microsoft Office Social Connector can be downloaded adding Facebook, LinkedIn and several other social networks to the email client.
Outlook 2013 offers a “new” feature that displays a one-line preview of each message in your inbox. This isn’t all that new, however. Simply a default setting and one that can easily be setup in Outlook 2010 in View > AutoPreview.
A new feature for Word 2013 is the ability to drop photos into Word documents and place them wherever you want. This DTP-esque function is complemented with the ability to annotate documents freehand with text and illustrations.
Earlier versions of Word don’t offer anything quite like this, although there are alternatives. If you’re running a previous version of Microsoft Office that has Publisher in the suite, then this is one application that already offers the DTP function. Meanwhile, Serif PagePlus Starter Edition is a free DTP application that enables you to import and edit .DOC and .DOCX files, place images wherever you like for the text to flow around and a pencil tool for annotations, much like in Word 2013.
The ability to edit PDF files is another big selling point of Office 2013, and this is one of the few genuine improvements. In Office 2010, only the ability to save a document in PDF was available.
If you want to be able to edit PDFs without upgrading to Word 2013, however, you can do so using CutePDF or PDFescape – the first enables the extraction of pages form a PDF document, along with other editing tools such as rotating, deleting and cropping pages, while the second provides tools for removing and adding page elements such as text, pictures, links and notes.
One of the best features in Word 2013 is the document bookmark, which enables you to quickly jump to the last viewed or edited page in a document. However, this is another tool that is available in Word 2010, and can be activated by manually inserting a bookmark – go to Insert > Bookmark, name the bookmark, then Location > Add. You can then jump to the bookmark via Insert > Bookmark > Go To.
Similarly, Word 2013 opens documents in Read Mode by default. Although frustrating for some, this can be activated in Word 2010 via View > Full Screen Reading.
Finally, multimedia options for Word documents have been improved in 2013, but they’re not all that bad in Word 2010, either. While Word 2013 supports importing images and videos from Bing, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook, Word 2010 users can still embed JPG and PNG images via Insert > Picture – the image URL should be inserted into the File name box.
Meanwhile videos on your hard disk drive can be added to Word 2010 using Insert > Object > Create from file. If you want to add an online video you will need to download it first – this shouldn’t be too difficult as there are many ways in which you can download a YouTube video!
With Excel 2013, the bonuses from a Microsoft sales department point of view all concern features that already existed in Excel 2010, namely filters and slicers.
You can easily add filters to your tables in Office 2010 via Data > Filter. To acquire more advanced options, meanwhile, you will need to first create a PivotTablet (this is done by selecting a cell in your worksheet and selecting Insert > PivotTable.) You can then filter your data using the PivotTablet arrows, and this can in turn be formatted into a chart via PivotTable Tools > Options > Pivot Chart.
It is from using the chart that you can enjoy the filter options, which can be viewed by clicking the chart. Elsewhere, slicers can be added via Insert > Slicer > Existing Connections > Show, where you will decide how the slicers should appear. Slicers enable you to filter PivotTable data, and are a particularly popular function among heavy spreadsheet users.
Two key features are being used to promote PowerPoint 2013. Presenter View is a tool for displaying speaker notes and enabling the annotation of slides as you conduct your presentation – but this is possible in PowerPoint 2010 with the Use Presenter View option in the Slide Show tab.
A feature of PowerPoint 2013 that isn’t available in 2010 is the ability to Present Online, an online streaming tool for your presentation. However, by signing up to Prezi, you can take advantage of a free service that enables online sharing and live presentation streaming.
Free Alternatives For OneNote
As good as OneNote is, it hasn’t made any considerable leaps and bounds in functionality since the last release. Indeed, you might prefer to avoid using anything other than the 2010 version as in most cases this will probably do what you want.
However if you want a better level of flexibility for searching notes and online sync, then you should probably be considering Evernote, the hugely popular app that is available for pretty much any platform you can think of. As an alternative, you might also want to take a look at Google’s new Keep app, which is based on the same premise.
On top of all of these options, there is also OneNote MX, the excellent Windows 8 version of the application which is arguably the most touch-optimised aspect of Microsoft Office. This is available free in the Windows 8 Store.
SkyDrive Integration Is Already Here!
One of the biggest selling points for Microsoft Office 2013 is the inclusion of SkyDrive integration – the only thing is, Microsoft seems to have omitted to inform its customers that this too was already available for free.
All you need to do is head to the SkyDrive download page and install the application, which will connect with your existing SkyDrive account (every Microsoft account has access to cloud storage). One installed, it will add a SkyDrive entry to Windows Explorer and whenever you click the Save as option (in Office or any other application) you will be able to save directly to the cloud, where your data will be available to view from another PC, through the web browser or via the SkyDrive mobile app.
Don’t Pay More Than You Have To
We’re not about to start prescribing financial advice concerning your software purchases or anything else, but you really should have a good think about upgrading to Office 2013 before you sign up to anything. Microsoft’s Office suite has served millions of people well over the years, but the differences between the new package and the old one – certainly in terms of regularly used features – are negligible.
Some of you might remember the observations back in 2009 (when Office 2010 was previewed) that the new release wasn’t all that different from the previous one. In my opinion, there were features worth paying for in Office 2010 even if you had Office 2007; this time around, however, it simply doesn’t make sense.