Should you buy Office 2013?

By Andrew Collins
Tuesday, 05 February, 2013

Should you buy Office 2013?

Office 2013, the latest version of Microsoft’s productivity software suite, hit shelves last week, sporting user interface updates, multitouch support and more integration with the cloud.

Microsoft Office is considered a staple of office life by many, and if numbers are anything to go by, people like it, or at least can tolerate it; the product had one billion users halfway through 2012. But with the emergence of another version, users and IT departments alike are left wondering: should I bother upgrading?

The answer to that depends on your specific needs. Let’s take a look at some of the opinions so far, which have been particularly mixed.

The good

Touch. The new touch-screen features are said to make Office usable on a tablet. Users can tap to click or long press to emulate a right click. There’s also an on-screen keyboard.

Cloud. The default save location in Office 2013 is SkyDrive, which some users have found to be particularly handy, given they can save a document on one machine and have it available on another, without having to cart around a USB stick or email it to themselves.

Interface. The infamous Office Ribbon, which was widely derided by users when it first appeared in 2007, has returned. But in Office 2013 you can turn it off.

Various miscellaneous tweaks - including new start pages for Word, PowerPoint and Excel, and new document templates - make life slightly easier, according to some users. Other handy tweaks include a navigation pane and the ability to collapse parts of a document to streamline reading.

Media. Videos can be viewed within Word documents, assuming you have an internet connection.

Value. Despite gripes about the cost (see below), more than a few reviews mention that you get a good chunk of value for what you pay.

New application features. A few of the component parts of Office - specifically, Excel, Publisher and Access - have features that range from mildly interesting to potentially helpful.

The bad

Price. At AU$119 a year, alternatively AU$12 a month, the subscription seems pricey. The equivalent desktop version - with the same applications (minus some of the cloud stuff) - will set you back AU$599 up front.

OS requirements. At this point in time, you’ll need either Windows 7 or Windows 8 to run Office 2013.

Lack of innovation. Many users may never notice anything different about the new version of Office aside from the interface changes.

The ugly

As is often the case with business software, there are a bunch of versions of Office 2013 available, each with a different selection of potential features. This makes selecting a version confusing, particularly with the choice of a boxed copy and a subscription service. There is, however, a table of the different versions and their features on Wikipedia. However, given the nature of Wikipedia, the table may or may not be entirely correct.

Others have devoted entire articles to describing the differences.

Subscription options also muddy the decision: if you want to buy a copy of Office that you can use until the end of time, you won’t be able to download major updates that Microsoft produces. But if you subscribe, you may only use the product to create or edit documents while your subscription lasts. If you cancel it, you may still view and print documents, but you’ll have to use SkyDrive (which is free).

That said, some believe the decision is pretty easy, saying the subscription model is flat out a better deal. Others consider the decision much more nuanced.

So is it worth it?

Given the amount of use that the average user will get out of something like Office 2013, the fact that their needs may change over time, and that the product has only been out a week, it’s hard to give a straight up answer to that.

That said, consensus so far seems to be: if you desperately want to use Office on a touch-screen tablet, get Office 2013. Or, if you don’t currently have any similar productivity software, Office 2013 presents a good overall package.

But, if you’re happy with what you’re currently using, maybe give it a miss.

Lastly: if you’re going to read one review on Office 2013, read PC Pro’s, or techradar’s. The above is a quick summary of Office 2013’s most notable successes and failures. But the aforementioned two reviews are easily the most comprehensive ones we’ve found.

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