The new Office

by Mary Branscombe

Cloud integration is fundamental to the latest version of Microsoft Office, as Mary Branscombe discovers.

HardCopy Issue: 60 | Published: May 1, 2013

The clean, sparse, Windows 8 style interface of Office 2013 and Office 365 may be the most obvious change in this new generation of Microsoft Office, but cloud integration is actually a more fundamental change to Office itself, and to the way you work with it.

From setup to synchronisation settings, from collaboration to cloud storage and cloud-hosted add-ins, this is the cloudiest version of Office yet. That doesn’t mean pared-down Web apps – although they are there if a browser is all you can access. You do get the familiar desktop applications that work whether you’re online or off, but all have new cloud-enabled features, cloud storage, cloud collaboration and (if you want it) cloud-based licensing.

The improvements start from the minute you install Office 2013: if you’re used to twenty minutes of picking settings and waiting for files to copy, you’ll certainly notice the difference. Depending on the SKU and licence you choose (see panel), you can install Office on multiple PCs and Macs – even machines you’re only using temporarily. Whether you’re installing on the only PC you use, or on a PC in an office that you’re visiting for the day, you will find that traditional installation has been replaced by the latest version of Click-to-Run application virtualisation. And you can trigger it simply by opening a document from the Office 365 site on a PC that doesn’t already have Office installed, or by explicitly choosing to install Office from the Office 365 portal.

The Office applications are streamed to your PC in just a few minutes, installing the most common features first so you can start work on your document straight away. Click a tool on the ribbon for a feature that hasn’t installed yet and Office grabs that next; and on a fast connection, you might not even notice the delay. If you’ve already used Office on another PC and have signed in with the same Office 365 account then you’ll get the same custom dictionary, AutoCorrect entries, Quick Access Toolbar shortcuts, email accounts and Office apps, all installed automatically.

Where you’ve saved documents to the cloud, in the form of SkyDrive, SkyDrive Pro or SharePoint Online, you even get the same list of recent documents. Office 2013 encourages you to use the cloud at every opportunity. Although you can still press F12 to open the Save As dialog, choose Save or Save As from the File menu in an Office 2013 program such as Word and Excel and the first option you see is SkyDrive or SharePoint, with recent folders listed for convenience. If you want to put a file on your local drive, you have to explicitly pick the Computer option.

Even more conveniently, when you re-open a document, Word and PowerPoint 2013 will pop up a link to the last page you were editing, which means you can close a file on your desktop and open it on your laptop and still be in the right place.

Office 365 screenshot

Office 365 where you can stream the various Office 2013 applications to your machine.

One foot in the cloud

Start a document from scratch and instead of a blank document you get thumbnails of a selection of templates and themes you could use. Some are installed on your PC but many are on the Office Web site which you can search for a specific template. It’s another example of Office 2013 putting cloud features where they’re actually useful.

These days, if you want to put a photo or a video into a PowerPoint presentation or a Word document, the image or clip could easily be online rather than on your PC. Office 2013 lets you insert images from your Flickr account or from SkyDrive, pick videos from YouTube, search Bing for something suitable, or paste in the embed code that the sharing features on media sites generate. Furthermore you can edit the media live in your document, cropping a picture that came from the Web or adding effects and fixes to online videos; so if you want to open your presentation with the first 30 seconds of a viral YouTube clip with a sepia filter added, Office 2013 makes it easy.

Office startup screenshot

You can start using Office 2013 surprisingly quickly – even before it’s finished installing.

The social network and Lync integration in Outlook 2013 brings you information about the people you’re getting email from and inviting to meetings. If you’re writing me a message, for example, you can check the bottom of the email window where you might see that I’ve just sent a tweet about the project I’m working on, or you can glance back at my last few Facebook updates, which might be what you want to mail me about. If we both use Lync then you can see if I’m online for a chat, which could sort things out more quickly than sending messages back and forth. And when you’re creating a meeting in the calendar, you can choose to set it up as a Lync meeting which opens up the Lync client where you can finalise the details which will also show up in the calendar entry. After the meeting, Lync mails a copy of any text chat from the event to your inbox.

Choosing SkyDrive Pro

SkyDrive integration is great for home users and employees who take work home, giving you 7GB of free storage and Office Web Apps that allow you to work anywhere, even on an iPad. However the Office 365 plans allow you to use the cloud in a more business-friendly fashion, either through SharePoint Online document libraries which give you 10GB plus 500MB per user, expandable up to 25TB; or through the 7GB of personal storage that all Office 365 users get, which Microsoft refers to as SkyDrive Pro (except on the Office 365 ribbon where it’s called SkyDrive to save space). You can’t buy extra space for SkyDrive Pro, and you can’t choose how it’s allocated – unlike SharePoint Online quotas which you can distribute amongst users.

Office 2013 applications screenshot

Office 2013 applications prompt you to save your documents in the cloud.

Your 7GB of SkyDrive Pro space is actually stored in SharePoint Online, so you apply policies to both in the same way. If you want to enforce encryption, set a workflow or have documents checked in and out, you can do all of that with SkyDrive Pro. In fact you can think of it as the latest version of a SharePoint My Site document library.

Better together?

Office has long been more than just desktop applications such as Word and Outlook. There are also the Office server products. Some features in Outlook only work if you connect it to Exchange or Lync. SharePoint doesn’t only offer shared document libraries, workflow and security; it also includes Excel and Project services that deliver Office functionality for intranet apps and document automation, plus your own copy of the Office Web Apps.

Similar to the free Office Web Apps available to those using Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud storage, these are simplified versions of Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint that are useful for creating, viewing and editing documents through SharePoint when you find yourself without access to Office itself. They are particularly useful as even the formatting that Office Web apps ignores is round-tripped correctly – unlike Google Docs which strips some of the formatting from Office documents.

In Office 2013, the server products are more closely integrated. If you want to use the new Office apps add-in model, which lets developers create apps that work in Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook using HTML5 and JavaScript, then the apps have to be hosted on SharePoint 2013, or Exchange 2013 in the case of Outlook apps. Outlook has new mail tips that also need Exchange 2013, and extensive integration with Lync. The cloud save option on the File menu in the desktop applications can save files directly to SharePoint document libraries. Exchange has always been the way to get Outlook Web Access, and if you have Exchange 2013 then OWA has the same interface and features as Outlook 2013. It even gives you offline access to email (including writing new messages) in modern browsers like Internet Explorer 10.

Likewise, Office 365 isn’t just a convenient way to get the latest versions of the Office servers, with improvements such as DLP (data loss protection) tools in Exchange, or advanced document search capabilities in SharePoint that you used to have to pay extra to get. Office 365 plans now include both hosted online services and subscription licences for Office 2013 (and the most recent version of Mac Office), with the promise of regular feature updates and Office on Demand installs.

Office 365 Small Business Premium includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, Publisher and Lync with a subscription licence that lets each user run them on up to five PCs or Macs at once, as well as the usual Office 365 hosting. Office 365 ProPlus adds InfoPath to the mix while Excel in particular has extra BI features, and you get integration with on-premise Active Directory. Office 365 Enterprise adds archiving, rights management and compliance features, together with Yammer integration and access to Project Online.

If you have an Office 365 licence that includes both SharePoint Online and Office 2013 then you’ll see the SkyDrive Pro location on the File menu alongside SkyDrive and Computer, and you can open and save files directly from the site when you’re online. As with SkyDrive, you can sync documents to your PC from SkyDrive Pro, so you can create and edit cloud documents even when you’re offline.

As with SkyDrive, this needs a separate sync utility in addition to the Office 2013 Upload Center tool. You click the Sync button on the SkyDrive Pro site to install the SkyDrive Pro sync software and add SkyDrive Pro to Explorer as a favourite location so you can save files there from other programs as well. SkyDrive Pro’s sync tool co-exists happily with the Windows SkyDrive sync tool and there’s no limit to the size of individual files that you can upload, so if you want to keep large PDF catalogues or training videos there, you can.

Both SkyDrive Pro and SharePoint Online give you several options for sharing files with colleagues, customers or partners from other companies. They also give administrators a degree of control that consumer cloud services don’t allow. With SkyDrive Pro on Office 365 you can share a document with specific people; you can choose whether each person can edit the document or not, and once they have access to the document, whether they need to sign in to access it.

System administrators can control the sign-in settings centrally, and can restrict sharing to colleagues inside the company. It’s easy to see when a document is shared in the Office 365 interface, and you can stop sharing a document at any time.

SkyDrive Pro automatically sets up a Shared with Everyone folder so you can share with anyone who has access to your Office 365 tenant, rather than pick people individually. The Documents link that you see when you look at a colleague’s profile on SharePoint Online takes you to their Shared with Everyone folder, and you’ll also see links to any files they’re sharing with you specifically.

To share documents with the team on a specific project, it’s back to SharePoint – after all, this is what Team Sites are designed for. You can move a document to a PC by opening the document directly from SharePoint, opening the document library in Explorer, or using Outlook to sync the document library as a list.

What’s different in SharePoint 2013 is the social sharing through a Facebook-style Newsfeed. You can ‘follow’ documents you’re particularly interested in on SharePoint, as if they were people, in which case you get notified when other people edit the document, and you get a handy shortcut in your SkyDrive Pro section that takes you straight to the document without having to work your way through the pages of the SharePoint site.

Colleagues are notified in their Newsfeeds if you mark a document to follow, which can bring useful documents to their attention. SharePoint will also suggest relevant documents for you to follow, based on the kinds of documents you’ve followed before, the Team Sites you belong to, and what you’ve searched for in document libraries.

For less formal document sharing, all Team Sites come with a OneNote notebook for jotting down ideas. You can open these notebooks in the OneNote 2013 application, along with any OneNote notebooks that friends and colleagues have shared with you on SkyDrive. You can print or clip interesting documents or useful Web pages straight into the OneNote notebook for sharing with everyone else on the project, and you can access it later from the OneNote client on your iOS, Android or Windows Phone device (so far, OneNote is the only Office app to have made it onto the iPad or iPhone).

Collaborating in the cloud

Start sharing and collaborating documents and you’ll soon appreciate the improved comment and review features to be found in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. These work if you open a document that someone has edited and mailed to you, but they’re particularly useful if you store a document in the cloud that two or more people want to edit at the same time.

Word 2013, for example, shows in the status bar when other people have the document open at the same time as you. The paragraph each person is editing is locked to them, so you can’t accidentally change something a colleague is still editing, and they won’t start to correct your spelling mistakes before you’ve finished getting your thoughts down. When you save, Word updates the document to show changes that other people have already saved, highlighting them in green. The Comment facility is also improved in that you can reply directly to a comment, or hide it once you’ve dealt with it.

PowerPoint presentation screenshot

Insert a video from a cloud service into a PowerPoint presentation, then save it to the cloud so your colleagues can comment.

Open a Word document that someone has edited with changes tracked and the Word 2013 default is to show you the final version of the document with a new simple mark-up view. This gives you a readable document without all the red strikethroughs, but you can click to see what’s changed very easily. That works for documents that aren’t stored in the cloud, but the more you share documents with colleagues, the more you will get documents with edits that need handling. Collaborating in the cloud is the way more and more people will be working and – assuming you are happy to use Microsoft’s own cloud offerings – Office 2013 comes with it built in to the tools that you already rely on.

Find Out More

Licensing Office 2013 and selecting the right Office 365 plan can be complicated. Contact Grey Matter on 01364 654100 or email to discuss your needs in further detail.