First look: Microsoft Office 2013

The next revision of Office adds touches of Metro without itself being a Metro app

Ever since the first beta editions of Windows 8 appeared, rumors have circulated over how Microsoft would revamp its other flagship consumer product, Office, to be all the more useful in the new OS. Would Office become touch-oriented and Metro-centric, to the exclusion of plain old Windows users?

Now Microsoft has whipped the drapes off the preview edition of Office 2013, providing the short answer to the above question: no. Office 2013 has clearly been revised to work that much better in Windows 8 and on touch-centric devices, but the vast majority of its functionality remains in place. The changes made are mostly cosmetic -- a way to bring the Metro look to Office for users of versions of Windows other than 8. Further, Office 2013 has been designed to integrate more closely with online storage and services (mainly Microsoft's), although those are thankfully optional and not mandatory.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Why Windows 8 tablets don't threaten the iPad, despite the inclusion of Office 2013. | Get familiar fast with Office 2010's key applications -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook -- with InfoWorld's set of Office 2010 QuickStart PDF guides. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

The new look and feel
Microsoft has demonstrated before how the Metro look can be ported to apps that don't run on the Metro desktop -- such as the ill-fated Zune client. Office 2013 is the latest test case, but for the most part, the Metro look is confined to places where it makes sense: the File tab, for instance, or what Microsoft has called the "backstage areas" of Office. Even when Office 2013 is installed on Windows 8, it runs on the conventional Windows desktop -- yes, even when Windows 8 is itself installed on a slate PC.

Aside from the Metro makeover, you're likely to notice a certain detail about Office 2013, one that many people also noticed with Windows 8 itself: an expanded degree of integration with Microsoft's Windows Live. Office can be used in a local mode, without being attached to any online service. Sign into Windows Live via Office, however, and the "open or create documents" pane that appears upon opening an Office app will contain a link to your SkyDrive account, where users get a handy 25GB of storage for starters. The hard part, at least in the preview beta, is signing back out; the Office preview only lets you switch Live IDs, not sign out completely and use Office only in local mode again.

The Account pane shows all the online services (Microsoft and otherwise) currently connected to your copy of Office. Additional services at this time include LinkedIn, Flickr, and YouTube.
The Account pane shows all the online services (Microsoft and otherwise) currently connected to your copy of Office. Additional services at this time include LinkedIn, Flickr, and YouTube.
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