What You Need to Know About Microsoft Office 2013

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Last week, Microsoft took the wraps off of its next-generation Office suite, dubbed Microsoft Office 2013. The software won’t launch until next year, but Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer provided an overview of what to expect and said that a consumer preview is now available from Microsoft’s website for anyone who wants to give it an early whirl.

Microsoft Office 2013 adds support for touch-based input, which is a large part of its Windows 8 operating system that will launch on October 26th. That means users with Microsoft’s new Surface tablets (and other Windows 8 devices) will still be able to access all of the features that Office has to offer. It includes swipe navigation, the ability to pinch to zoom, and even stylus support.

Unlike other releases of Windows, Windows 8 will rely heavily on touch. That means tablet users will have a similar experience to those who use the OS from a desktop or laptop computer. So Office 2013 has to be up-to-snuff — so anyone without a keyboard or mouse can be just as productive as those who do have those peripherals.

Office 2013 will rely heavily on the cloud so that users can access documents anywhere from their SkyDrive accounts, too. This will become even more interesting as Office for Windows Phone 8 is integrated with Office 2013, which should allow users to edit and view documents on the fly from their Windows Phone smartphones. You can already do this, of course, but fully integrating the cloud into Office should make it all much easier.

We still don’t know how much Microsoft Office 2013 will cost, but we’ll know more this fall. Microsoft also said that it isn’t ready to discuss support for Mac computers, but an update of sorts will be issued to current Office for Mac 2011 users when Office 2013 hits retail store shelves.

Now for the bad news: Microsoft said that Office 2013 will not support Windows XP or Windows Vista. Instead, you’ll need to be running Windows 7 or Windows 8. We’re sure part of this has to do with the reliance on touch, but it also seems like Microsoft is pushing people to upgrade to its newer operating system.

This could be particularly tough for IT departments that still run older versions of Windows, and could ultimately leave potential Office 2013 customers out in the cold.

The big question for consumers will be whether or not Office 2013 will be a worthwhile upgrade over Office 2011 or even Google’s free Google Docs software. I think this is going to depend heavily on whether or not you’re planning to purchase a Windows 8 system. If not, I’d recommend that you stick with what you have until we see any newer, more groundbreaking features that will make the upgrade worth your time — and money.

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