Daily Dispatch

Power User

Office 2013: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

By | May.13.13 | Daily Dispatch, Law Practice Management, Legal Technology, Power User

Power User Vivian Manning

Microsoft Office 2013 has been available for several months, but Office 2010 has been stable and mostly well-received in our firm. And with staff and lawyers already overwhelmed by the never-ending stream of new technologies hurtling toward them, I wasn’t eager to push yet more change on them. So I put off the idea of installing the new Office on any of our firm’s computers.

Until now, that is. Having nabbed a new desktop computer that came bundled with Office 2013, I’ve finally had a chance to complete an install of it. It didn’t make much sense to downgrade to Office 2010. It was time to take the plunge. And what better workstation to start with than mine!

The Good

The best thing I can say about Office 2013 is that users of current Ribboned versions of Office won’t have much of a learning curve at all. And that’s no small thing. The Ribbon is virtually the same throughout (though see caveat below about default settings), and most commands remain exactly where you expect to see them.

Also, the new “pick up where you left off” function is very useful. When you save and close your document, then re-open it later for editing, Word will open as usual—but it will also offer to take you directly to your last edit locations with a simple click. Click it or ignore it, your choice. Very nice.

There are a number of multimedia and desktop publishing improvements, too. But, for the most part, I don’t see these having much use in a law office. I do like that Microsoft has added the insert a screenshot or screen clipping function (formerly only available in OneNote) to the entire Office suite.

One added functionality many lawyers will find useful, though, is the ability to edit PDF files directly in Word. Well, Word won’t let you actually edit the PDF, but it does let you open the PDF right in Word. Then Word does a pretty good job of converting the PDF to a Word document, allowing you to edit and then convert it back to PDF. Pretty neat. Here’s a good explanation.

Oh, and thank you, Microsoft, for letting me once again add “Advanced Find” to the Quick Access Toolbar. Apparently you had to take away the pop-up (Ctrl+F) Find box (not nice), but at least I got the old-fashioned and still incredibly useful Advanced Find back on my QAT, where it belongs.

The Bad

Subscriptions and licensing—ugh. Try to figure out the intricacies of the monster that is Microsoft licensing and the best financial course for your firm. Home users have it easy: $99 per year for up to five devices is not a bad deal at all (if you have more than one device). For business users, it’s quite a different story. If you can stomach it, take a gander at Microsoft’s Business Plan Pricing page, but grab a strong cup of coffee first.

The big baddie, though, is the hit to Adobe Acrobat users. If you use Acrobat in conjunction with Word, Outlook and Excel, especially the PDFmaker function, you will find that you are forced to upgrade to Acrobat XI to get the PDFmaker functionality back. Not Microsoft’s fault, but not nice—and very expensive. It doesn’t appear Adobe has any intention of patching Acrobat 9 or X so that the PDFmaker function will work with Office 2013. As a side note: If you do upgrade, the PDFmaker function will be enabled automatically in Word but must be manually enabled in Outlook (at least that was my experience).

What else is bad? Skydrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage offering. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Skydrive and use it side by side with Dropbox. But I don’t want to be forced into it, and Office 2013 does its best to do so. There is a way to avoid going there: Go to Word and Excel Options, and under Save, simply uncheck “Show additional places for saving, even if sign-in may be required,” and check ”Save to computer by default.” In OneNote, where Microsoft really tries to strong-arm you into Skydrive, just click “Cancel” at the point at which it asks you to “Sign Up or Sign In,” and the program will continue to load properly.

Here’s one last bad: Office Tab add-in users need to update to the latest version of Office Tab. (This is my favorite Word add-in, giving me tabbed browsing in Office, just like in web browsers.) If you don’t upgrade, the add-in either won’t work or will cause Office to become unbearably slow. Depending on the version you are running, the upgrade may be free.

Other add-in users be warned: Your mileage may vary—do your research first to ensure your add-ins are usable in Office 2013.

Late Addition: I absolutely cannot believe this: Microsoft has removed the “Add to AutoCorrect” option in the right-click context menu and in Spell-Check itself for Word. Are they kidding me? You now must MANUALLY (yes, I am shouting!) add words to AutoCorrect! And, unless you add AutoCorrect Options to the QAT, to access it you have to dig through the Options menu. Do they really think people want to work harder to access such a useful tool—even if it means a decluttered right-click menu? This is infuriating. I’ve moved from “Hey, this isn’t half bad now that I’ve tweaked it out,” to, well, the air being unspeakably blue in my office.

The Very Ugly

Maybe my eyes are just getting old, but the new all-white default Office theme is awful. Once I changed it to dark gray, I liked the new cleaner interface a lot, and my eyes thanked me.

Also, Backstage view? Way too prominent. By default, Word and Excel will open and save by first going to the Backstage view. I have no idea why Microsoft thought this was helpful—it’s just annoying and time-wasting. If you don’t like it, go to Word and Excel Options, and under Save, check the “Don’t show the Backstage when opening or saving files” option.

The default collapsed Ribbon? Not helpful at all. Today’s monitors are very large and inexpensive—it’s not a place to scrimp and save. You and your staff stare at those things all workday long—make ‘em big and make ‘em quality. Then, to uncollapse that Ribbon, because you have the space for it, look to the right side of the monitor, at the top of the Office window and to the right of the Help question mark. You’ll see a new icon. Click it to reveal the Ribbon Options. I chose “Show Tabs and Commands all the time.” Ribbon goodness restored.

Finally, a minor niggle (but it’s the little things that annoy the most—just ask my husband about my forgetfulness): Microsoft, why did you change the Outlook icon from yellow to blue? I used to just glance at my Outlook taskbar icon and locate it immediately by color. Now I find it difficult to distinguish the Outlook from the Word icon because both icons are blue! Sigh.

Vivian Manning is the IT Manager at Barriston Law LLP in Barrie, Bracebridge and Cookstown, Ontario. Prior to moving into IT, Vivian practiced law at Barriston LLP (formerly Burgar Rowe PC) primarily in the area of Municipal Land Development. In addition to Attorney at Work’s “Power User” column, Vivian indulges her love of teaching tech through her blog Small City Law Firm Tech. Follow her on Twitter @vivianmanning.

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6 Responses to “Office 2013: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”

  1. Deborah Savadra
    13 May 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    I *never* expected that an Office upgrade would require an Adobe upgrade just to create a pdf. With Adobe’s prices being as outrageous as they are, that’s one expensive upgrade. And Microsoft, et al., wonder why people skip versions!

  2. Ronnie
    17 May 2013 at 9:08 am #

    I completely agree about having to upgrade my Adobe. Since we handle the majority of our documents via pdf, Adobe is as essential as Office. I had to upgrade to Acrobat X when I got Office 2010 (for outlook conversion), and we can’t justify that cost at this stage.

  3. Jeff Anderson
    16 August 2013 at 11:23 pm #

    Very good review, spot on. I am piloting Office 13 as a test group for my employer and agree 100% with each of your observations. I am from the “Computer Gen X generation” but find the grey/white look of 13 to be atrocious. I am also constantly stumped by the blue Outlook icon and the blue Word icon, that makes no sense at all. I am very disappointed by the lack of options/tools to customize the look/color/themes of Outlook, Word and Excel. They look like they just walked out of a 386 PC in 1988. Horrible, horrible. I’ve been using it for about a month now, and I am not a fan. Definitely skipping 13 on my home computer, hoping Microsoft’s next product is a “wake up and smell the coffee”: revolution.

  4. BobJ
    22 August 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    Office 2013 is ugly and terrible, all time Microsoft spent on reducing size of tollbars wasted as 1/3 of the reading email window taken by useless large contact Icon! and massive size ribbon!
    Microsoft destroyed all good they have in Windows 7 (start button) and Mouse optimized Office 2010 trying to imitate Apple touch products. End result – alienated mouse users and ridiculed by touch users.
    And these primitive icons feels like cheap half built software.


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