Excel 2013

Like the new version of Word, Excel 2013 feels fresh yet comfortingly familiar. Microsoft has added several new whiz-bang data-analysis tools, including one called Flash Fill. When you take an element of data that you've already entered in one column and enter it in a second column, Flash Fill will predict that you intend to do that for every value in the second column, and will offer to fill in the second column for you accordingly.

Microsoft provided a sample two-column spreadsheet to demonstrate how this feature works. The first column contained email addresses in which each person's address was formatted as [email protected] The second column was to be used to store each person's first name.

Though that isn't the most realistic scenario imaginable, it works. You establish the reference example by typing the first name of the first person in the email address column; then, as you begin typing the second person's first name, Excel predicts that you want to do the same for every other value in the first column and offers to do just that automatically. Press the Enter key, and the second column automatically fills with first names.

Colours and symbols can help you analyse data more quickly, and Excel 2013's new Quick Analysis tool uses these elements to identify and highlight trends and changes. Select the rows and columns that you wish to have analysed, click the icon that appears in the bottom right corner, and choose the conditional formatting that suits your needs. Instead of looking at rows and columns of gray numbers, you'll instantly see a spreadsheet formatted with color scales, bars, and icons.

Charts and graphs provide another easy way to visualise data, and spreadsheet software has long permitted users to generate charts and graphs based on the data they enter into its rows and columns.

Excel 2013's new Quick Analysis tool will automatically suggest the most appropriate types of graphs - bar, pie, scatter, and so on - based on the data set that you select.

My early impressions of Excel 2013 are about as favourable as my corresponding impressions of Word 2013. Microsoft seems to have introduced some solid new features without imposing a difficult learning curve. Take that, ribbon haters.

Office 2013 and Office 365 on a tablet - First impressions

Microsoft is betting heavily on the idea that tablets are the future of PCs. Like Windows 8, Office 15 was built from the ground up to take advantage of a tablet's unique features, while at the same time addressing the limitations of the touchscreen interface for creating content.

I ran Office 15 through its paces on a Samsung Series 7 Slate PC running Windows 8 Consumer Preview to see how well it performs on a tablet. Bear in mind that this tablet runs Windows 8 Pro, not Windows 8 RT, and that Office 2013 and Office 365 differ from the Office for RT apps that will be available on ARM-based Windows 8 tablets.

Microsoft has done a great job of making the tools and functions of the various Office applications accessible from a touchscreen interface without lessening the capabilities. For example, holding your finger on a misspelled word will pull up Office's list of possible corrections; and holding your finger on virtually anything brings up the options you'd normally find by right-clicking a mouse.

I did sometimes find that the options on the ribbon interface were hard to tap. The buttons are a bit small for my fingers, and you can't pinch-to-zoom to enlarge the ribbon in Office 2013. On the other hand, you can make the ribbon bar disappear to maximise the area available for your document - in both Office 2013 and Office 365 - which is nice.

The Office 2013 suite I installed on the tablet included Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, Access, Lync, and a couple of bit players. The only apps available within Office 365, however, are Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Outlook exists in Office 365 as well, but the option was grayed out on the software I worked with.

One thing that I like about working with Office on the tablet is more a function of Windows 8 and/or the hardware its running on than of Office itself. The touchscreen virtual keyboard is sensitive and fluid enough to allow me to type at very nearly full speed. Also, tapping the symbols and numbers button brings up an actual number pad, which is much more efficient for entering figures in an Excel spreadsheet.

That said, it was a little annoying to have to tap the keyboard icon at the bottom of the display to open the virtual keyboard. It would have been nice if Office applications had recognised when I tapped on a text field, and responded by automatically opening the virtual keyboard. Perhaps, though, Microsoft wanted to respect the limited screen real estate of the tablet and let users navigate documents without having the keyboard pop up all the time.

Overall, the experience is solid. Using it differs from using a mouse and keyboard with a traditional PC, but it's a functional arrangement. Microsoft has obviously invested a lot of thought and effort in ensuring that the tablet experience that Office offers is worthy of the Microsoft Office name.

OUR VERDICT

Overall, the experience is solid. Using it differs from using a mouse and keyboard with a traditional PC, but it's a functional arrangement. Microsoft has obviously invested a lot of thought and effort in ensuring that the tablet experience that Office offers is worthy of the Microsoft Office name.