Word 2013 in depth

Microsoft is making big accommodations for tablet users in Office 2013, and Word is one of the apps that’s best optimised for touchscreens.

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A new Read Mode, touch-friendly wizards and a ribbon menu that fades out of view when it isn’t needed are all signs that Word 2013 is aimed at the Windows 8 crowd. That said, there are notable additions for users of Windows 7 PCs and laptops too.

Read Mode

Read Mode is obviously targeted at tablet owners. The default view when you first open a saved document, it reflows the text into columns appropriate for the width of the screen. So on 16:9 tablets held in landscape mode, you’ll get two columns per screen, with all of the editing tools tucked away. You can flick to the next page with a swipe of a finger, or pinch and zoom to alter the size of the text.

For those who frequently plough through reports, Read Mode automatically bookmarks your last position in a document, so that if you come back to the document – or even open it on another PC – you can pick up where you left off.

Read Mode also includes a feature called Object Zoom, which theoretically allows you to hone in on tables, charts or photos embedded in documents at the tap of a finger or mouse click. In tests we found it erratic, especially for tables, where Word seems unsure whether you want to zoom in or edit the table when you click. Hopefully, Microsoft can smooth out the kinks before the full release.

Read Mode is also the default for laptop and desktop users, and here its benefits are less obvious. In fact, we suspect most people will switch it off and opt for normal editing mode.

New template

If you’re creating a document from scratch, you’ll notice another big change to Word right away: the new Start page. Instead of opening into a blank document (or whatever was saved in your NORMAL.DOT template), Word now presents a list of recently opened documents in the left-hand pane, and a series of predefined templates on the right.

Word 2013

If you can’t find anything suitable from the predefined list, you can search Microsoft’s online library – it contains thousands of different templates, many of them perfectly presentable. It’s also worth noting that one of the default templates is a “single-spaced” blank document, suggesting Microsoft’s decision to insert an extra line of space between every paragraph by default since Office 2007 hasn’t met with universal approval.

Another new feature you’ll notice from the off is the smooth-scrolling cursor. Now, instead of jumping from character to character as you type, the cursor glides smoothly across the page. This seemingly innocuous change has divided the PC Pro office: some admire the attention to detail; others regard it as a needless distraction. Either way, there’s no option to switch it off.

Advanced document layout

Many of the new tools in Word 2013 are aimed at people who plug more than words into their documents. In fact, Word 2013 is drifting more towards a desktop publishing suite than a traditional word processor.

Live Layout sees text reflow automatically when you drag photos and videos around documents. Green guidelines appear as you drag photos, allowing you to line them up with the top of paragraphs or textboxes, helping to keep documents looking tidy and professional.

Word 2013

In the Insert menu, you’ll now find two new options to embed online photos and videos into your documents. Images provides the option to search Microsoft’s online Clip Art collection, Bing Images, and your SkyDrive and Flickr accounts for relevant photos. The returned Bing search results include (by default) only images released under Creative Commons; although the pop-up menu urges you to review the licence for each photo before pasting it into your documents, it provides no easy way of doing so.

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