The use cases (or not) for upgrading to Microsoft Office 2013 editions

As IT shops consider various Microsoft Office 2013 editions, they should determine which revised and new Microsoft Office 2013 features work best.

As with Windows 8, enterprises must decide whether Microsoft Office 2013 is worth the expense and effort of migration. The latest version of Microsoft's office productivity suite includes enhancements to Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as changes in the overall look and feel of Office products. It also has better integration with social networking and cloud resources. However, there are 10 Microsoft Office 2013 editions, and the licensing scheme is confusing.

Organizations may balk at the Microsoft Office 2013 interface, but users accustomed to Web-based and touch computing might drag them toward adoption. Each IT shop will have to make its own assessment, so here's some information to help you get started.

Looking at the Microsoft Office 2013 versions, there are five traditional perpetual license editions: Home and Student, Home and Business, Standard, Professional, and Professional Plus.

Office 2013 also has five hosted Office 365 editions: Home Premium, University, Small Business Premium, Professional Plus and Enterprise.

There are a total of 12 products that fall underneath the Office 2013 banner, and each of the editions listed above contains a specific mix of those products. Different Microsoft Office 2013 editions are tailored for home users, educational users and enterprise users.

Out with the old, in with the new Microsoft Office 2013 features...

First, let's look at what hasn't changed. The file formats are unchanged in Office 2013. Keyboard shortcuts and menu structure within the Office suite also look familiar.

There are several significant changes in Microsoft Office 2013 features, however. The Office 2013 user interface now matches the touch-centric design of Windows 8. And, an enhancement to OneNote allows users to record audio comments directly into a note while they are in OneNote.

More about Microsoft Office 2013 features

IT pros can benefit as much as end users from Office 2013

Don't forget password recovery for securing Microsoft Office 2013

Office 2013 includes Active Directory volume activation, other admin tools

Windows 8, SkyDrive integration blurs the lines between desktop and cloud

Microsoft eases Office 2013 deployments with its revised Resource Kit

When a user logs into Microsoft's SkyDrive, it automatically saves documents. If the user opens an existing document in SkyDrive, Word and PowerPoint will remember where he was editing in the document and take him right back there.

Another example of Office 2013 additions is that Excel has an enhanced auto-complete feature called Flash Fill for quickly filling in commonly used words and phrases.

Office now also enables users to insert a picture or an audio or video clip directly from online repositories and social networks such as Facebook, Google Drive or Dropbox.

Microsoft SharePoint Workspace, Microsoft Office Picture Manager and Microsoft Clip Organizer have all been removed entirely from the Office 2013 product line.

Microsoft is no longer shipping product DVDs in the retail versions of Office 2013, just the product activation code. The Office suite must now be downloaded, and then you'll enter the activation code during the installation process.

The ability to edit a PDF document is a cool new feature in the latest version of Word. I estimate that half of the printing I do within Word is to a PDF file format, so I can disseminate secure versions of documents. Office 2013 adds the ability to read and edit existing PDF files and then resave the changes as a PDF.

Look Ma, no mouse!

The Microsoft Office 2013 interface has an aesthetic that is aligned with the look and feel of Windows 8. In other words, Office 2013 is now touch- and stylus-friendly. Some early adopters have even labeled Office 2013 as tablet-centric.

Users and organizations must determine whether the Microsoft Office 2013 interface delivers the desired user experience. Are you the cutting-edge type for whom the Windows 8 interface quickly became second nature, or are you a more traditional user, comfortable with the older Office interface from 2010 and previous versions of Windows?

There have been numerous debates online about the pros and cons of Microsoft's touch interface and finding or restoring the Start button in Windows 8. Who's correct? Each person should decide what's best for them.

The 365 perspective

Microsoft has been making great efforts to reduce software piracy by enticing users to use Office 365 on an annual subscription basis, rather than selling a perpetual license with each copy of Office 2013. Office 365 is an online version of Office 2013 available from Microsoft on a subscription basis. Obvious upsides to Office 365 include the following:

  • You can easily store and retrieve of all of your Office documents on SkyDrive, where they are backed up regularly.
  • You can access SkyDrive Office documents from a browser on most any platform, anywhere in the world, with an Internet connection. Note that storing documents in the cloud means you are always working with the latest version of a document.
  • You can now use Office 365 components in "disconnected" mode, for when you are working on an airplane or sitting on a beach with no access to the Internet.
  • There are no upgrade or licensing concerns for the Office end user. The software is always patched and up to date on Office 365.

One pressing question: Does Microsoft rename the product "Office 366" in leap years?

Which way to go for?

As with most software releases, there is a mixture of good news and bad news for established users who are eyeing the upgrade to various Microsoft Office 2013 editions. If you are already comfortable with the new Windows 8 user interface and you don't miss the Windows Start button, you will likely enjoy the aesthetic and functional changes in Office 2013.

Notice I said changes rather than improvements. Whether or not these changes are actual improvements is in the eye of the beholder. Do these enhancements make it worth paying cold hard cash to upgrade to Office 2013?

The suitability of an upgrade to Office 2013 is a something that each prospective buyer must weigh, but if you are a dedicated online aficionado, Office 2013 is probably worth the upgrade expense.

My experience is that the new Office 2013 user interface is sufficiently similar to previous versions that I can get vast majority of my Office-based work done with no problems. Your mileage -- and user experience -- may vary.

About the author
Earl Follis is a longtime IT professional who has worked as a technical trainer, a technical evangelist, a network administrator and in other positions for companies including Thomas-Conrad, Tivoli/IBM, Nimsoft and Dell. Follis has also contributed to numerous books, including ...For Dummies titles on Windows Server and NetWare, and he has written for many print and Web publications. His primary areas of technical interest include networking, operating systems and unified monitoring. Contact Follis at earl.follis@gmail.com.

This was first published in July 2013

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