By Mary Branscombe
From little touches such as animating calculations as they change to new tools that help you get the Excel chart that shows what's important in your data, from in-place replies in Outlook to change tracking and commenting in Word that doesn't make your document look like a battlefield, the desktop apps get worthy new features.
We like the new tools for designing presentations in PowerPoint. We like the new presenter tools even more. Whether you create presentations or just sit through them, PowerPoint 2013 should make your life better.
And OneNote Metro is the first real Metro application; it dismisses arguments that Metro is only good for toy apps and games, with a powerful app that has most of the key features of the desktop version and shows how much you can achieve in the Metro interface with the WinRT framework. If you switch PCs often, you'll love the fast streaming install.
Sometimes cleaning up for Metro means dumbing down; advanced features such as split view and Autocorrect are now harder to use, which is a step backwards not forwards – and strangely at odds with the way other powerful features such as Pivot Charts are exposed.
There are a few too many ways to get rid of interface elements; hopefully those are the kind of rough edges that will be tidied up before release (and the mismatch between the clean Metro windows and the Aero Glass look of Windows dialog boxes will go away with the RTM of Windows 8).
We had very few problems with performance or reliability, but an incompatibility with SharePoint 2010-hosted sites stopped Outlook from syncing mail until we removed the SharePoint connection. As always, pre-release software isn't necessarily up to full-time use.
If you look at a list of the new features in Office 2013, you might not see any one feature you can't live without, but after even a few days of using the new applications there are plenty of features you'll miss. This is another big advance in usability, combined with some extremely clever new tools.
There are features for power users, especially in Excel and PowerPoint, and there are far more features that either make it easier to use the power of existing tools or give you whole new ways to achieve what you're trying to do without having to be an expert. And while we'd like to see more true Metro applications (Outlook that you can search from Metro and keep up to date during Connected Standby needs to be high on the agenda).
Mostly Office 2013 gets the right balance between streamlining and oversimplifying; there are some places where we miss specific power user options, though. But the great thing about a subscription service is that you won't have to wait as long to get updates and improvements.