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Tech Report – Office 2013

Microsoft today released Office 2013, the first upgrade of its flagship software in 3 years and the first Office makeover since Microsoft released Windows 8 and started focusing on mobile devices with the launch of its Surface tablet.

The influence of mobile computing is clearly evident in both the look and feel of Office 2013 and in the functionality of the individual programs. The go anywhere, work anywhere philosophy is bolstered by an on-demand feature that allows users to stream Office applications to any Internet-connected PC, and the SkyDrive cloud storage option, which is now fully integrated into the software.

But perhaps the biggest difference in Office 2013 is in the way Microsoft is selling it. Although it’s still possible to buy the software outright – or, more correctly, purchase a perpetual license – Microsoft is for the first time steering individual consumers towards an annual subscription model. More on the pricing options later. First, let’s look at some of the new features that are included in Office 2013:

New tools allow users to produce far more polished documents in Word, including a drag and drop feature for images and the ability to embed and play video. Users can also finally open PDF documents to create a similar look and feel in Word. There is also a Read Mode for touchscreen devices, which allows users to flip through documents, and includes a number of other features for reading instead of writing.

Excel users are offered greater help in analyzing and presenting data, including easier formatting of imported data and the ability to preview a series of recommended charts. Users can also add tiny graphs called Sparklines to worksheet cells, giving a quick visual snapshot of the data: an increase, decrease, profit, loss, etc. Sparklines are just one of a number of tools that Microsoft has added to help turn worksheets into more presentation-style documents.

PowerPoint adds a new Presenter view that allows users to navigate slides behind-the scenes, and a zoom feature that allows users to highlight a specific bullet, chart or graphic. Other tools allow great flexibility in adding custom shapes and graphics.

Changes in Outlook include Peeks, which gives users the ability to get a same screen look at appointments or contacts, and Social Connectors, which automatically notify users of updates to LinkedIn, Facebook and other social networks.

Office has been fully optimized for mobile and other touchscreen devices, which means you no longer have to make due with an inferior version of Office when using a tablet running Windows 8. However, it should be noted that Office 2013 works equally well with Windows 7, so there’s no immediate need to run out and buy a Windows 8 PC if you want Office 2013 for desktop or laptop use.

Which brings us back to price. Microsoft is offering a myriad of pricing options for consumers and students, and that’s before Office 2013 for Business come out later in the Spring. One of those options is something called Office 365 Home Premium, which is offered as a 1 year subscription for $99.99. For that one subscription, Microsoft lets you install Office 365 on up to five different computers, each with its own customizable experience tied to different Microsoft account. Each person gets their own SkyDrive account and each person can access their own work from anywhere on any Windows-enabled device. Furthermore, Office 365 includes the full suite of Office programs: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access.

This compares to a one-time price of $139.99 for downloading Office Home and Student 2013 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote) or Office Home and Business 2013 (including Outlook) for $219.99, both for just one PC.

As stated above, Microsoft would clearly like consumers to opt for the subscription model, giving them a guaranteed revenue stream and smoothing out the impact of their once-every-few-years upgrade cycle. Each household will need to sit down and work out which pricing model works best for them. The thought that you may never have to worry about future upgrades is offset by the $100 per year price tag and the exposure to any future price increases.

Later this week, we will look at the factors that you should consider in deciding whether to buy (or subscribe) to Office 2013 now, or whether you can afford to wait a while.

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