Microsoft Office has changed. It's not just that Office 2013 gets the Windows 8 treatment, with a touch-friendly interface and a sparser look, as well as new features in every application. Office is also going to the cloud, with subscription pricing, on-demand installation and automatic syncing of settings and documents you save in the cloud – if you want to pay for it that way.
As usual, there are multiple versions of Office 2013, but this time around the different editions are not just about whether you're using them at home or in a business or which applications are included.
You can download the Office programs temporarily on another PC if you're away from your usual PC (even if it already has another version of Office installed). So if you have a document on a USB drive or on SkyDrive that you need to edit on another PC, and using the Office Web Apps from SkyDrive doesn't provide of the features you need (like seeing revision marks in a tracked document you're collaborating on), you can use Office on Demand to get the full version of Word in just a few minutes.
You manage all this from the revamped Office.com and there's a link to your account there in the ribbon of all the Office applications. (To activate the Skype minutes you have to link your account to the Microsoft account you're using for Office 365, which can be done on the Office.com site.)
Office 365 Small Business Premium includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, Publisher and Lync. The annual $149.99 subscription lets you run them on up to five PCs or Macs at once (again, you can use Office on Demand to download Office to any PC you're using temporarily, and you get regular updates and new features).
You can host online meetings with audio and HD video conferencing in Lync and run a public website on SharePoint, plus you get Exchange with a 25GB mailbox for each user and SkyDrive Plus storage on SharePoint.
That gives you 10GB of secure cloud storage with an extra 500MB for each user, but you can choose how the storage is allocated between users and you can control how they use it – like forcing them to encrypt confidential documents.
Office 365 ProPlus (short for Professional Plus), is aimed at midsize businesses (10-250 employees) and includes the same desktop Office software as Small Business Premium. But it also has tools for business intelligence, consistency checking to Excel and automated deployment, as well as more options for the SharePoint, Lync and Exchange Online services.
Office 365 Enterprise has the full Office 2013 set of features in the desktop software and SharePoint, Lync and Exchange Online services, like archiving, legal hold, Data Loss Prevention and rights management to protect confidential information.
Office 2013 is about more than a new interface. From little touches such as animating calculations as they change to new tools that help you get the Excel chart that shows what's important in your data, from in-place replies in Outlook to change tracking and commenting in Word that doesn't make your document look like a battlefield, the desktop apps get worthy new features.
We like the new tools for designing presentations in PowerPoint. We like the new presenter tools even more. Whether you create presentations or just sit through them, PowerPoint 2013 should make your life better.
If you switch PCs often, you'll love the fast streaming install and seeing your recent documents on every PC. And we're looking forward to getting more new features through Office 365 instead of waiting three years for neat new features that you might want without paying for an upgrade (or spend the time updating every PC in the office).
Sometimes cleaning up for the Windows 8 look means dumbing down. Advanced features such as Split View and Autocorrect are now harder to use, which is a step backwards not forwards, and strangely at odds with the clear and simple way other powerful features such as Pivot Charts are exposed.
The newer your PC and the higher your screen resolution the more you will like the new interface. If you have an older PC with a low resolution screen, you'll have to minimise more of the interface to see the same amount of your document.
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