Microsoft Office 2013 part 2

Giving Office the Metro feel

Office 2013 is a traditional Win32 desktop application, although it’s joined by a pair of Windows 8 Metro-style companion applications in the shape of new OneNote and Lync versions. Even so, it’s definitely got the Metro look-and-feel, with a near chromeless user interface, even on Windows 7.

The ribbon is still a key component of the Office user interface, although ribbon tabs now get new all-caps titles and elements have flatter, more Metro-like icons. Microsoft has chosen to automatically collapse the ribbon on some screens — a 1,200-by-900-resolution notebook has the ribbon on by default, for example, whereas it’s collapsed on a 1,366-by-768 tablet. You’ll find much of the UI now optimized for 16:9 screens, with sidebars where earlier versions of Office used dialogue boxes (although it’s possible to detach sidebars).

There are also new Metro format icons for the Office applications, all of which use the same metaphor of an open file folder stamped with the application’s initial letter. Oddly, while most icons keep the familiar colors, Outlook drops the yellow for blue (with yellow overlays for incoming email). It’s an unusual choice, and makes the new Outlook icon easy to confuse with Word’s.

A touch Office

Touch is finally a first-class citizen in Office 2013. The new Metro user interface takes advantage of the touch features built into Windows 8, and while most of Office still comprises desktop applications, it’s as easy to use on a tablet as a traditional PC or notebook. Microsoft has actually given Office 2013 two subtly different user interface modes, with a single button to switch between the two (a button we were surprised to find wasn’t a default part of the Quick Access Toolbar, although it’s very easy to add it). Tap the Touch mode button, and UI elements move slightly apart, making them easier to touch. Buttons get bigger, and there are additional cues that build on the Windows 8 touch features.

Touch mode also adds additional touch controls to applications — for example, in Outlook 2013, message controls are added to the left of the screen, where they’re easily accessible with a thumb. With Touch mode Microsoft is trying to make it easier for touch users to work with a traditional desktop application. It’s not entirely successful, but it’s certainly a lot more usable than earlier versions of Office on touch devices. In practice you’re still more likely to use Office with a keyboard and a mouse or trackpad, than purely as a touch application. However, reaching out to touch the screen could prove a useful way to interact with a document, as an adjunct to the familiar desktop tools.

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