New Features of Microsoft Office 2013: Worth the Transition?

Microsoft recently released Office 2013. Compared to their marketing blitz for Surface, it almost went unnoticed. After some research I decided to perform this upgrade. I didn’t have any specific need, but really just wanted to see how disruptive it would be to my work. My intention was to perform the upgrade without any assistance from my IT staff.

Let’s start with my setup. I run Windows 8 Pro on my 2011 MacBook Air laptop. The Air has 4GB of RAM. Unlike my previous setup, Windows 8 is not connected to our company server. (Read more about Windows 8 in my recent article.)


The first thing to notice is that this Office install was the easiest I’ve ever encountered. Unlike the switch from Office 2007 to 2010, the upgrade from 2010 to 2013 required no input on my part. I accepted all the defaults and the installer detected all of my previous settings. Suffice it to say, I think this may be an install where you don’t have to contact IT support. 

The Look:

Office 2013 is slightly altered but generally there isn’t a significant difference in the interface as it relates to use or interaction. The look is more contemporary and clean. During my first use of OneNote, the default background was reset (or changed) to all white. At first I liked the clean, sparse look of the white background but quickly found that it was just too harsh on my eyes. However, changing the background to light gray (accessed from File > Options > General) was an effective solution and immediately improved my experience.

Using Visio 2013, although not much has changed here, some of the stencils in the library have been updated to match the new style of Office 2013. The stencils are rounder and use softer color tones giving my Visio drawings a more professional look. With the new features my organizational charts look more like a designer created them than something a novice threw together.


Although I imagined that there were many new features in Office 2013, I intentionally didn’t do heavy research prior to my upgrade – I wanted to venture in with few expectations. In using Office 2013 I found that everything I did before on the previous version I could do moving forward without any learning curve. A nice change compared to my experience upgrading from Office 2003 to Office 2007. My impression is that anyone with experience with Office 2010 can make the transition to Office 2013 with few hiccups.

One of the things I was relieved to find was that Outlook 2013 worked with our Exchange environment without any coordination from IT support. I had some concerns about the difficulty with connecting, but it came up the first time without much effort on my part and with no help necessary from our IT staff. I can’t say that this will be everyone’s experience as every Office installation is different.

Should you switch?

I don’t see much of a reason to switch to Office 2013 unless you are looking for a specific feature set, or you have other products that are integrated into Office 2013, such as Office 365. However, if you need to upgrade, then I don’t think you should hesitate, it is a better product than Office 2010. However, if you are an Office 2010 user and find that the transition would require a license upgrade or completely new license, you may want to weigh the cost against any expected gain in usage or productivity. Unless you qualify for a free upgrade I wouldn’t recommend it without having a very specific need for the new version.

If you do upgrade, I would be interested to hear about your experience.