Enhanced Features in Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint

By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2012-07-16 Print this article Print

Aside from the overall changes brought about by the Metro interface, here is a look at some of the new or enhanced features in Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Subsequent reviews will evaluate Lync 2013, Microsoft€™s unified communications and presence tool, OneNote 2013, Publisher 2013, Access 2013 and InfoPath 2013.

Probably the biggest change in Outlook 2013€”Microsoft€™s email, calendaring, contact and to-do application€”is the unification of these functions on the main application page. In Outlook 2013, there are four oversized hot spots labeled €œmail, calendar, people, tasks€ at the lower left position. When I selected one of these options, the main display shifted to that functional area without opening a new window. It will be easier for office workers to use Outlook 2013 without creating a mushroom field of different windows. I was easily able to look through my email, schedule meetings, organize my contacts (now called €œPeople€) and keep track of my tasks in using the new interface.

Long-time users of Outlook who shift to using the application on a tablet or smaller, touch- enabled device like a smartphone should adjust quickly to using finger taps to call up the menu bar, which is otherwise hidden to save space. Probably the biggest adjustment I had to make was getting used to hitting the €œfile€ menu pulldown. Instead of just dropping down the familiar menu, which is the result from tapping any of the other menu options, an airbag-like menu bar slides in from the left. The function menu items in the file menu, including €œprint,€ are large and easy to hit with a finger tap. Functions on the other menu dropdowns (Home | Send/Receive | Folder |View) retain a familiar look and feel. For me, this meant it was much harder to select items with a finger tap when I was working quickly.

The €œPeople Peek,€ or summary card, is available anywhere in the Office 2013 suite, but is especially useful in Outlook. New in the Office 2013 customer preview is the ability to link Office components with social networks, including Facebook and LinkedIn. I was able to connect Outlook 2013 with my LinkedIn account, which then pulled in social media information about my contacts, including photos and other social media activity into the Peek card.

IT managers should highlight this linking capability in front of their organizations' human resources and legal departments right away. Much of the information can be controlled using Microsoft Active Directory Group Policy settings. IT managers should become familiar with the controls so that privileged personal information isn€™t sucked into corporate data stores and applications.

IT developers and applications managers should be aware that Microsoft provides API access to tasks, people, locations and other commonly seen data in Office 2013 so that applications can provide additional help to users. For example, in Outlook 2013, if information that looked like an address appeared in an email, a map link appeared at the top of the message box. Application managers should plan now on evaluating the fitness and suitability of these add-on apps for their organizations.

New in Word, Excel, PowerPoint

Much of what I€™ve said above about the Metro interface changes in Outlook applies equally to Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Tapping the file menu in any of these applications slides in an oversized menu bar that is easier to work than the other menu dropdowns when I was using a touch-screen device.

My tests of Word 2013 showed that it does well in maintaining document fidelity in full editing mode. Opening a document from either the Outlook previewer or in the revised €œreading mode€ didn€™t work well when viewing heavily formatted files.

Word picked up an alignment feature from Microsoft€™s Visio diagramming tool that made it much easier for me to center elements such as pictures in my documents. I was also able to align video widgets in my documents, a new feature that enabled me to add video directly without first saving it to my PC.

Excel gains incremental productivity €œEaster Eggs€ that just appear when tables and other data are selected. These changes include recommended charts and pivot table options. Like the alignment feature in Word, these changes make it easier for experienced users to create more professional content without spending a lot of time fussing with design choices.

Similarly, PowerPoint 2013 gained professional enhancements, including widescreen themes, an improved presenter view, including the ability to see slides in a grid while presenting just one slide to the audience.

Cameron Sturdevant Cameron Sturdevant has been with the Labs since 1997, and before that paid his IT management dues at a software publishing firm working with several Fortune 100 companies. Cameron also spent two years with a database development firm, integrating applications with mainframe legacy programs. Cameron's areas of expertise include virtual and physical IT infrastructure, cloud computing, enterprise networking and mobility, with a focus on Android in the enterprise. In addition to reviews, Cameron has covered monolithic enterprise management systems throughout their lifecycles, providing the eWEEK reader with all-important history and context. Cameron takes special care in cultivating his IT manager contacts, to ensure that his reviews and analysis are grounded in real-world concern. Cameron is a regular speaker at Ziff-Davis Enterprise online and face-to-face events. Follow Cameron on Twitter at csturdevant, or reach him by email at csturdevant@eweek.com.

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