The Office team from Microsoft Singapore held an exclusive Office 2013 introductory session to registered HardwareZone members last Saturday morning on the 23 February. We were present as well for the event to find out what key pointers Microsoft had to share with our audience. Registration for the event was closed fairly fast as the response was overwhelming.
For a brief recap, Office 2013 was officially launched just last month on 29 January and it also marked the advent of Microsoft's cloud-based versions of its popular core productivity software, Office 365. For former users of the previous versions of Office, this marks a radical departure of the usual scheme of things; from the updated Software License (SLA) of the new software suite, its integration with online resource and social networks, as well as introduction of touch interface to Office 2013 applications. As a result, this introductory session by the local Office team is a much-needed outreach initiative by Microsoft to engage interested Office users.
Mr. Gerald Leo, who is the Lead of the Office team, took to the floor and gave the audience an overview of the morning's discussion. He also talked about the main difference between the retail box versions of Office 2013 and the cloud-connected Office 365 Home Premium, which is basically a subscription-based software that offers the best value in terms of non-commercial family usage. This is due to the unwieldy nature of the boxed retail versions of Office 2013 while Office 365 Home Premium offers the software suite in its entirety for up to 5 PCs or Macs with the option of a monthly or an annual subscription payment scheme. Another incentive thrown into the mix is the 60-minute Skype world minutes available each month to primary subscribers of the Office 365 package.
Due to its tight integration with Microsoft SkyDrive, the main subscriber to Office 365 will enjoy an additional 20GB of storage space on top of the default offered storage of 7GB. This means the user is able to enjoy a total of 27GB of SkyDrive secure storage. Mr. Leo also touched upon the two versions of Office 365 available; there is the Office 365 Home Premium for family usage, the other is the 4-year subscription of the same productivity suite that is exclusive to students and members of learning institutions. More comparisons of the new office packages can be viewed here.
The rostrum was handed over to Mr. Victor Wingsing, an Office team member, to highlight the new and exciting features of the different Office applications. His discussions covered the main points that were highlighted earlier by Mr. Leo.
First, the Office applications allowed users to work smart; for example, in Excel 2013, there is a new predictive text feature called Smart Fill where Excel 2013 is intuitive enough to understand the user's data entry needs and auto-fill the rest of the cells in the active spreadsheet without the need for complex formulae. The beauty of this feature is its ability to maintain data integrity when the Excel spreadsheet is shared with people who use non-Office productivity software applications as there are no Excel specific formulae present in the worksheet.
He also talked about the "souped-up" imaging prowess of PowerPoint 2013 where he described it as "Photoshop-like". Users of the new PowerPoint software are able to insert images into their presentation slides and perform simple image editing to enhance their presentation. Another feature that adds more pizazz is the collection of new animations and transitions during a PowerPoint slideshow.
For Word 2013, the application will open an existing document in read mode as the Office team said that, based on their extensive research; most users would want to read their documents first before editing them which can be toggled with just a click of a button. Besides the application themselves, Victor also talked about applications that are built to enhance the inherent capabilities of the application; for example, there is an application that exists as a separate download for Word 2013 which will allow the user to generate a "word cloud" or a weighted list of words in a visual design like the photo above illustrates.
Besides such extensions to custom tweak the Office applications, there exists a common backbone in the form of SkyDrive cloud storage. Both presenters were quick to emphasize the secure nature of their company's SkyDrive feature and besides acting as an online document repository for Office 365 subscribers, it also functions as a remote desktop where a user's Office application settings are stored. This is to ensure the personal settings of the user will replicated regardless of his physical location and all you need to do is login to the new system to retrieve and apply those settings and attributes.
The new applications also allow for sharing documents on the Web using the Office Presentation Service; Victor showed a demonstration where he shared a Word document with this service. His intended audience received a link where they can follow his document sharing session by simply using a WWW browser.
In order to allow for work collaboration, the intended audience is advised to log in with a LiveID or Microsoft ID whereby he can access the document with rights that are properly accorded from the owner of the document. This feature is only possible with SkyDrive Pro.
At the end of the introductory session, the attendees participated with enthusiasm during the Q & A session. One of the points raised was the weak integration of Skype and Outlook.com which Microsoft is aware and is looking into it as more feedback roles to assist on how best to tackle this aspect. One has to remember that the new Office package is undergoing tremendous change in usability, functionality and platform compatibility and it's likely that Microsoft will be addressing various unresolved aspects progressively.
Further to that, here are a couple of prominent queries that we may not have addressed before:-
Q1: What is the role of Office on Demand in the ecosystem of the new Office 2013/Office 365?
Answer: It is a feature that is exclusive to Office 365 subscribers so that users can still access their Office applications on a supported host with broadband connectivity. An important note here is the need for broadband connectivity as it streams relevant Office components to a system that isn't installed with Office 2013/Office 365 after a successful login to your account on Office.com/MyAccount.
Q2: When will mobile versions of Office 2013 applications be made available?
Answer: While we've reported that this can take place as soon as March 2013, those weren't based off confirmed official timelines. As such, the Office team at the event was unable to affirm the availability of these portable applications. However, they did highlight the OneNote application that is supported on Windows, iOS and Android smartphones that will allow users to experience a small subset of the rich features of Office 2013 at the moment.
Finally, besides taking away nuggets of useful information from the session, the attendees were each presented with one-year Not-For-Resale (NFR) license key of Office 365 Home Premium worth S$138. With that, we wrap up the event updates with the local Microsoft Office team and leave you with a note to stay tuned for more member events later this year based on various other topics!