Yesterday I posted on the press conference announcing public availability of the beta of Office 15, otherwise known as Office 2013. Actually, the story is more complicated than that. What is available for preview is the Office 365 web subscription version. As I explained yesterday, Microsoft is moving to a cloud-based subscription model for their primary cash cow (Office, according to some sources, accounts for 70% of Microsoft’s earnings). That means that you download a small installer from the preview web site, and it in turn loads local copies of the software that are connected to Microsoft’s cloud-platform. To use the software you must sign-in to it, which connects you to the cloud service and saves, by default, all of your documents to your Microsoft SkyDrive.
From what I have seen so far, there are not a lot of new features in the new Office programs. Just better (perhaps) expressions of existing features, and in some cases enhancements to them. That’s OK, since there are already way too many features to learn, and most people don’t know how to use even 10% of them. At this point, ease of use trumps novelty as far as these workhorse applications go. The addition of cloud computing and the somewhat dubious connection to social networking will be enough novelty for most people anyway.
There are a few things to like about the general idea of a cloud-based subscription service: your documents and settings travel around with you; you always have the latest, updated versions of the software, with no more pesky service packs to install; you get up to five installs of the software, and can deactivate any of them for flexibility; you always have access to Microsoft templates, or custom templates of your own making; collaboration, with markup and tracked sessions, becomes much easier. There are also some worries, mainly about document security and unforeseen vulnerabilities.
In any event, the die is cast and this is the direction Microsoft has elected to take. Whether it will result in long-term profitability, or Office use will dwindle as the web platform opens the door to competitors remains to be seen. Let’s get down to practicalities: Today I will be taking a look at the new version of PowerPoint on the Windows 7 platform.
For the first time presentations default to a 16:9 perspective, rather than the traditional 4:3. The ribbon is still the heart of the User Interface, and the commands are all pretty much where they are in Office 2010, but the look of th ribbon has been Metro-ized, emphasizing grey colors that some users will find difficult to distinguish and a very minimalist look. The ribbon is also much easier to disappear which shouldn’t much matter when working on a desktop or laptop, but could matter a lot on a touch-based tablet with reduced screen real estate.
Many of the context dialog boxes have been replaced with side-panels. Right-clicking to format an object, or format the background, for instance, used to bring up a complex dialog box but now brings up a better designed and easier to understand panel on the right of the screen.
Some of the dialog launchers from the olden days of Office still persist, but not nearly so many.
Place markers still exist on the default slide, but the markers are different, now making a distinction between Pictures and Online Pictures. Online Pictures permit insertion of Flickr pics, for example.
The old SmartArt and Shapes galleries are virtually identical to the old versions (there are a few more SmartArt options). WordArt is somewhat changed, but not much, and all of the old picture options are still intact, like colorization, color correction, artistic effects, etc. Context sensitive tabs work the same as ever also. When it comes down to doing business with the program, it is essentially the same as the 2010 version.
PowerPoint 2010 came with a boat load of themes. The number has been cut down with Office 2013 to 10, and the themes are less complex, with a new Variants gallery that contain common variations of colors schemes associated with a basic theme.
New also to the Design tab is a Slide Size command, where you choose between 16:9 (default) and 4:3 perspective. Gone are the commands that allow fine tuning of them color combinations, fonts and effects on the Design tab because they have been moved to Slide Master view, which is really more appropriate.
There are a few new inter-slide transitions, but apparently no new animation effects.
Pictures and Video
As indicated above, there is an online pictures insert option that behaves differently than the old insert clip art from Office.com, that included “official” Microsoft pictures in Office 2007-10.
As can be seen from the illustration above, Bing search has been integrated throughout the program when it comes to inserting resources. There does not seem to be a way to change this to Google image search, which is really annoying, but there you have it. It hardly matters since pictures can be located via Google image search, saved locally, and then inserted as pictures from your hard drive. And yes, the Clip Art search still returns not only photographs but the cheesy clip art that has been the perennial signature of terrible PowerPoint presentations.
Arranging pictures is easier with Alignment guides, which existed in PowerPoint 2010 but are more visible now. All of the old Picture formatting tools are still with us, as are all the familiar layering, alignment, cropping and sizing tools. Color selection tools remain the same also, but the addition of an eyedropper tool, a much requested enhancement, has now been made.
The Merge Shapes tool, which combines Merge, Combine, Fragment, Intersect and Subtract is now in a very obvious position on the Drawing Tools tab, making it much easier to create new, creative shapes, which goes a long way to justifying the inclusion of the tired old standard shapes.
More video types than ever are now supported, and improvement on PowerPoint 2010, which in itself was groundbreaking in the support of media types. Unfortunately, inserting YouTube videos just got more difficult. In PPT 2010 it was a fairly straightforward procedure of copying the object code from YouTube into a dialog box in PowerPoint. Now the Insert Online Video command brings up a Bing Video Search tool. If you can locate the video you want, it will be inserted, but I tried it with a number of videos and they all failed to play in preview mode. This will have to be fixed before the product is finally released. Why PowerPoint cannot support the virtually universal new iframe embed technique is not apparent.
Presenter view has existed for some time in PowerPoint, but you needed two monitors to make it work. Now it works with one as long as the “second” screen is the projector–what presenters have always asked for. The presenter’s screen shows the current slide, the next slide, speakers notes, annotation tools (including a new slide zoom tool to magnify a part of the screen) while the projector shows the slide itself. Presenter view also includes a simple way to flip the two, so that the audience can see the presenter’s screen–for teaching PowerPoint, one supposes, or perhaps as the simplest way to fix a confused A/B switch.
Presenter View also contains a thumbnail navigation grid, like Slide Sorter View, so that you can easily jump around in the presentation if need be.
BackStage (?) View
What used to be called Backstage View has now been placed on the File tab, where it always should have been–though some of the control options there have nothing to do with file handling. The Share tool in particular is an improvement, making it easier to initiate collaboration by inviting people and also to presenting online. In fact it is a mystery to me why the state continues to invest in online meeting technology when it is free and secure via PowerPoint, which is mostly what gets shared anyway. Audio support can be, as it usually is with the paid technology, through conference call.
Create a PDF, Create a Video and Create Handouts have moved to the Export menu, which is fine, but otherwise they appear to be unimproved, which is too bad.
It is surprising how little changed–other than some very obvious cosmetics–the program really is. Those hoping for dramatic changes in this version will be very disappointed. Those hoping for incremental changes–and slight at that–will have their hands full just getting used to SkyDrive, the subscription model, and the sharing and social networking components. My least favorite addition is the restriction to Bing searches for web video inserts and the failure of inserted YouTube videos to play in my tests. My most favorite is the default 16:9 behavior–undoubtedly a nod to the tablet-based future Microsoft sees for their Office products–and the small touches such as the eyedropper tool, auto-alignment guides, and presenter view.