So I’ve been using the Office 2013 Preview now for a couple of weeks and I thought I’d take a few minutes to give you my thoughts. In a word, Wow! I know it might be hyperbolic to use and exclamation point when talking about a “Productivity Suite”, but Microsoft have outdone themselves on this release.
At first blush, my reaction was “Oh, its Office 2010 with the Metro (or Visual Studio 2010) UI treatment”. And while this is an evolution of 2010 to keep it in line with the UI flavour MS seems to be pushing down to all its products, it’s the fine polish on the subtleties that really shine.
The first thing you will notice with this release is the installation. The download itself is quite small; shockingly so. But that does seem to be the way of this “app centric” world we’re moving to: start with a small bootstrapper and pull the rest from high capacity CDNs around the world. This is not a new trick for MS either, but the usability has gone WAY up. You see, I installed this on a machine where my “normal” credentials have internet access, but my “administrator” credentials do not. As you can imagine, this puts a bit of twist on bootstrapped installs. But this installer was impressive, with only a single prompt to get my administrator credentials, the installer was smart enough to pull its packages using my normal ID and run the installer via the admin id. Seemlessly. Probably the most impressive part of the installer, though, is that the core executables were installed within seconds and the installer went into background mode. You might think that a mere convenience, but Word was usable in the first 60 seconds of the install, while the full install didn’t finish for close to 8 minutes. If you’ve ever tried to build a software installer, that will blow your mind…or at least it did mine.The installer does, at the end, loop you into integrating your @live ID since Office 2013 is tightly integrated with SkyDrive, and I’d guess Office 365, although I haven’t tried that yet:Finally, you’ll note that I didn’t mention anywhere that I or the installer un-installed my old office installation. The two happily run side by side, with very little in the way of incompatibilities (there seems to be something about fonts, but I haven’t ironed that out yet):That’s 2013 on the left and 2010 on the right with the same document open (a new online template from MS)…and to boot, that image was captured with the builting Word 2013 screen capture tool which saves by default to png.
While I could talk about the all CAPS menus, or the Metro style file menu or even the many different personalization templates available for the app itself (see the circuit like stuff in the menu bar above?), its really the real time rendering that has truly impressed me. To some it might be visual skulduggery or wasteful showing off, but to me, its pure magic. I’m a visual person, at the end of the day, and so little touches mean a lot.In word, typing feels almost liquid. The letters seem to pour out of the simple bar cursor like ink from a fountain pen. Carriage returns have a tangible delay that feels almost like an actual carriage floating down the page. Simple Markup in review mode makes editing feel more like taking a red-pen to a document. Overall the MS engineers have made this version of Word more like actually working with a piece of paper than any before it. There are some subtle things I don’t like, defaulting images to floating, for instance, but overall the enhancements over 2010, subtle though they are, seem eminently worth it.Its not just word though excel is just full of nifty animations and visual queues that make me smile every time I use it. The “marching ants” of a selected cell are more robust and the colour matching of cell and cell references in a formula are somehow softer (more pastel than neon maybe?). The active cell box positively skitters across the page when you move it a distance…if I can get a screen capture of it, I’ll update the post, but its so fast that the screen caps I’ve tried miss it. An that’s the point: all this visual sugar and the apps feel 100 times snappier. No more the lagging as you scroll past an embedded object or TOC. No more pause as you scroll past thousands of rows. And all that with a visual flair to put Fred Astaire to shame (ok, that might be a bit much).
Online Integration & SkyDrive
As I mentioned about, this release of Office firmly blurs the line between on-premises and on-line. Microsoft obviously has a strategy to get people off the desktop and into the cloud and this is the cornerstone to that strategy. You can’t use this version of office without a live ID. You can’t disable SkyDrive integration. To some extent, it feels almost like the “save to my computer” feature was met by the developers with a “Do I have to?” whine. Especially where you can feel MS pushing us all to their cloud offering Office 365, the thought of un-synced local storage is painted with the “old-school” brush.Now, in my world where Patriot and PIPEDA and, and, and have a direct impact on what and where I can put data, this is a bit worrisome. I don’t know where SkyDrive is putting my data. I haven’t reviewed the user agreement with my lawyer. But I’m pretty sure that the Chief Justice of Alberta isn’t going to be saving anything to SkyDrive and to the Enterprise implications of this direction are interesting. Perhaps their’s a GPO that will remove that option for the Enterprise…perhaps not. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. This is certainly no different that the thousands of organizations migrating to Google everything, so I imagine that for most people, this is becoming the norm.
In the end, I love the Preview and I can’t wait for it to go RTM. If you have the ability, I’d heartily recommend you switch now (although be careful with the online “profile” information as apparently it will get blown away at the end of the Preview).