Last week, Microsoft released their latest version of their Office Suite of applications, Office 13. Even if you are not a fan of Microsoft, they do seem to have the market cornered on the office suite. Sure there are open source applications that provide some of the same features and Apple has their own versions of the word processor and spreadsheet applications, but if you use your computer for work or have to share files with others to collaborate then you will probably at some point resort to using Microsoft Office.
There have been some changes to the office suite of applications but most of the changes are subtle in terms of the end-user. The first change that you will notice when you open up a document using one of the Office 13 applications is the new color scheme. The default color scheme is very white and void of much color, in addition, there are also new background images that give your menu bar a little character. Personally I didn’t care much for the background images or the default color but a quick trip to the settings allows you to remove the background and change to a different color scheme. I have changed mine to the darker color scheme and the new look actually has grown on me.
Another new feature that I really like with the new office suite is the ability to change the way the ribbon menu works. You have several options depending on the amount of screen space that you want to use by setting the ribbon menu to auto-hide, show tabs, or show tabs and commands. This is a nice visual touch that allows you to devote more of your screen to your document. This option is particularly useful when using Excel. The newest version of Office also has some subtle graphic changes with animations that make the program a pleasure to use without compromising the speed and reliability of the product.
There have been many changes under the hood of the office applications. In my opinion, each of the office programs run much quicker and smoother than any other previous version before. When I installed the new office suite, I chose to leave my old installation of office intact just in case the new version was not stable enough for every day use. I am happy to report that I am ready to delete the older installation. This new version is the best Office that Microsoft has released to date.
The biggest change to the programs is not really a change to the programs at all, but rather it is a change in the way that Microsoft allows you to work. Cloud computing has become popular for several years now and Microsoft has integrated it’s SkyDrive into all of the Office Suite applications. By visiting the settings programs you can allow the documents to always save to your SkyDrive so that they will be accessible from any computer. You also have the option under the “Save” and “Save As” dialog boxes to choose the SkyDrive as your location if you don’t have it set up for the default. I use many other different “clouds” for my documents but I can foresee me using the SkyDrive more and more since it is such an integral part of the office products.
In addition to the cloud computing, Microsoft also allows you to sign in to your Microsoft Office account on each program; allowing your settings to follow you between devices.
There are many subtle changes to the office suite but Microsoft has an understanding of the need to keep their Office application comfortable. If you are used to using Office 2010, you will feel right at home the minute you open up a document in Office 2013.
The pricing is where Microsoft has made their biggest changes to their Office suite. You can now purchase the Office 2013 suite of applications in only 2 bundles. The Office Home & Student 2013 bundle contains Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and One Note and is available to buy for $139.99.
The Office Professional 2013 bundle contains Word, Excel, Powerpoint, One Note, Outlook, Publisher, and Access for a cost of $399.99. Both of these products are priced about the same as the previous versions and can be installed on one computer.
Pricing has always been an issue for Microsoft Office. With the need to install it on all of your computers and the steep price of the full bundle has led the Microsoft Office suite to be one of the most illegally installed pieces of software. Of course, we don’t condone this practice (and neither does Microsoft) so now there is a new option available to the average user, Office 365.
Introducing Office 365
With the release of Office 13, Microsoft has introduced a new product (actually the same product, but a new way to pay and a different name), Office 365. With Office 365, you no longer purchase the software, but rather you purchase a renewable license or subscription to use the product. One license will allow you to install the newest Microsoft office suite on up to 5 computers. And for you Mac users out there, Microsoft doesn’t care what combination of PC’s and Mac’s you install the programs on, up to a total of 5. Now it must be noted that Office for Mac 2011 has not been updated, so this is the version you will be installing. Microsoft usually is about 16 months behind the PC version in their Mac updates. But regardless you can always keep the most updated version installed on both types of machines for one license fee.
With Office 365 you get Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, One Note, Access, and Publisher (the same programs in the $400 Pro bundle. In addition to the ability to install these programs on up to 5 machines, you also get access to Microsoft Office Online, a slimmed down, online version of their office suite.
By subscribing to Office 365 you are also given an additional 20 GB of SkyDrive storage and 60 Skype World minutes to use. These Skype minutes allow you to call phones in over 40 countries around the world from any device with Skype installed. With this subscription model you also have access to Microsoft’s online library of clip-art images and templates for your office suite.
But perhaps the biggest advantage of the 365 plan is that you will always have the most up-to-date version of Office programs to use on both your PC and your Mac.
The Office 365 bundle is available in two different options: $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year. There is also a 30 day trial that you can take advantage of as well.
I see this as a very viable option for churches and other organizations that have multiple computers and need to use Microsoft Office.
The Bottom Line
So should you upgrade? That’s really the big question. The answer depends on your situation. If you are currently using Office 2010 for the PC or Office 2011 for Mac and have purchased enough legal copies of the programs to satisfy your computing needs, then no you should not upgrade. The new features are nice but they are not life changing and not worth the money to upgrade.
However, if you are in need of a new Microsoft Office installation, then the answer may be different. (I was looking to install Office on my laptop and did not have a license so I needed to purchase a license.) If this is your situation then your only decision would be which version to purchase. The programs themselves are stable and I have had zero problems since upgrading. I would not hesitate to suggest that someone purchase Office 13 over previous versions if they are in the market.
Now your decision comes down to which version is right for you. If you only use one computer and don’t need Publisher, Outlook, or Access, then the Home & Student 2013 will serve your needs. However, if you are like most of us and use more than one computer at times, then I really think the Office 365 Bundle is the way to go. You get all of the programs that comes with the Professional version and can install the programs on up to 5 computers. By going with the subscription based Office 365 it will take you 4 years to spend the money you would spend on one license of the Professional 2013. When you factor in the fact that you can install on multiple machines, it will take you 20 years of subscriptions to pay for 5 licenses of the Pro 13. The extra SkyDrive space and Skype minutes are an added bonus, but the real value comes from being able to use the entire suite of apps on 5 machines and they will always be up to date versions.
The bottom line is that if you are in the need of Microsoft Office then you should seriously consider the Office 365 subscription model. If you are happy with your current installation of Office then there really is no compelling need to upgrade unless you just want the latest greatest look and feel for your applications.
You can learn more about the newest features of Microsoft Office 2013 and Office 365 at office.com.
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