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Microsoft Office Home & Student

Office 2013 Home & Student has embraced the principles of what is popularly called Metro design and incorporated it into the aesthetic of MS Office Home & Student. The team at Microsoft have energized the principles of the Microsoft Design Language and have applied these principles to desktop apps. The primary concept is to take your documents and place them center stage.

Additionally, MS Office 2013 is also designed to be able to incorporate Windows 8 touch features. This includes the desktops apps having touch technology as well as Windows RT versions. If your laptop boasts touchscreen technology, all you need to do is click the touch mode button that’s located on the quick address toolbar. The layout immediately changes so the interface is much more conducive for touch screen functionality.

Word 2013

Again, following the increased touch functionality, users can now read Word documents as though the document was laid out like a book. It works well, and it’s not excessively chunky to use, so it’s accessible with a mouse and keyboard.

The MS Office Home & Student 2013 version has some noticeable improvements from the Office 2010 version, improvements to the design with more logical placing and formatting.

The layout features have been significantly improved. Embed videos directly into Word documents, and search Facebook and Flickr for photos that you want to place into Word documents without having to save them to file first, saving you time and storage space.

Positioning things on the pages such as pictures is also made easier to move and format. Alignment guides appear as you drag the images around the page with various layout options.

These new features for layout control have a positive effect on other components, such as the PDF reflow features. You can actually open PDF files as if they were Word files all while maintaining the same layout to look like the original PDF.

Read Mode now enables you to view more of your document by removing most of the Word interface and tools. It reorganizes the page so the document can fit the screen and makes buttons located on the sides of the page touch friendly. You can tap on images, videos, charts and other elements so they pop out in a large window and collapse other sections.

With the touch version, you do lose some of the available tools, but you are able to divide the screen into two scrolling panes. The AutoCorrect features are no longer available when you right click the spelling mistake; rather, you will need to visit the Options menu to add the corrections. However, you can add AutoCorrect to the Quick Access Toolbar.

MS Word’s brand new interface works really well on a touch-friendly screen, if you have Windows 8 installed as your operating system.

If you want to collaborate on your documents, you can use the more user-friendly tracked changes and comments feature. Rather than cluttering your documents with red strikeouts and blue underlined sections, you can view the final version with small marks along the side to show where changes have been made.

Excel 2013

Excel gets the same interface “facelift” as the rest of the Office suite, along with return of some of the same features (for example, the dialogue for inserting images from the web that's also in Word and PowerPoint and the apps for Office gallery, but not Word's new comment interface). And like Word, Excel offers more help for using existing features as well as some very powerful new ones.

With the 2013 version of Office Home & Student, Excel has updated conditional formatting. It provides a visualization of various ‘chart like’ hints in the cells. Just click the cell to see the changes, and simply click back again to return to the original view. When you see a speech bubble, it signifies that a comment is written there that you can click on to read. It also has the drag feature, so you can move it around the page as needed.

Select a range of cells with numbers and the Quick Analysis tool will pop up next to the selection with a gallery of conditional formatting charts that show the most information from that particular data, formulas, table formats and in-cell sparklines. Hover over an option and you see it either in your data (for formulas such as average or heat map formatting that highlights the highest and lowest figures) or in a pop-up for charts.

The Chart Advisor comes from Microsoft Research, and a prototype appeared on the Office Labs, but it's much more useful to have it integrated with the other analysis tools in Excel.

It's a baby version of the intelligence built into analysis tools such as Tableau – it doesn't go as far as suggesting colour palettes, for example – but it makes complex tools such as Pivot Tables (possibly the most powerful and least used feature in Excel) far more accessible, and helps to get the charts right the first time.

If you do need to edit a chart, the contextual tools that pop up make it faster and easier; you can preview different designs and checkboxes, add and remove chart elements or sections of data interactively. This takes something you've always been able to do in Excel and makes it easy and engaging.

When you change the data that a chart is based on, the chart doesn't just update, it animates to show the change happening. If the new figures are significantly bigger, the rest of the chart shrinks while the new bars grow on screen. Update a single figure and the line moves up or down to its new position, so you can't miss the impact. If you want to dig further into your data, there are several new tools, including a Timeline slicer that organizes data by date, so you can filter a specific period or jump through figures month by month to see the differences.

Even as you move between cells or add a figure that changes a formula, there are subtle animations to draw your eye to what's changed or to where the cursor has moved. Click a cell and the highlight appears to fly into place, leading your eye there; change or delete a figure that changes a calculation and the result rolls over to show the new figure.

New contextual tools make it far easier to change what's included in your chart

This makes it much harder to change or delete information that changes your results without noticing that it makes a difference. It's simple, but it makes Office feel alive and responsive while conveying useful information.

Even error messages are more useful; drag a cell across the worksheet when you only meant to click somewhere else and Excel gives you a truly informative warning that there's already data in that cell. It shouldn't be a breakthrough, but in the past Excel has been more prone to flat refusals to save your documents, or flashing confusingly cryptic errors – this is, mostly, a new and friendlier Excel. There's a new add-in available that looks for errors and inconsistencies between worksheets and Power View – which used to be a Silverlight-based web tool for exploring and visualizing data used with SharePoint or saved as a PowerPoint. It's not relegated to a separate window; when you insert a Power View, you get a new tab and the tools for pivoting and filtering data, plus a number of simple layout options.

Of course, the first problem is getting data into Excel. If you try to paste from a badly formatted report or an online credit card statement, the new Flash Fill feature is much easier than splitting data into columns. After you type a couple of examples, Flash Fill uses them as a template and works out the right pattern – and fills in the other entries for you. You can extract multiple patterns from the data, so you can get the date, the business name, and the amount.

Again, this is a feature from Microsoft Research that uses machine learning. It's the kind of artificial intelligence that websites such as Tripit use to scrape information out of emails and web pages. It's enormously powerful, and it's blissfully simple to use. And it's not often you can say that about Excel.