Microsoft recently announced the next version of Office suite – Office 2013 (codenamed Office 15). Steve Ballmer, the current CEO of the Redmond giant, unveiled Microsoft Office 2013 Consumer Preview, in San Francisco, but as of now, Microsoft is calling the new version as Office 365 Consumer Preview, and has made it available as Home, Small Business and Enterprise editions. This is the first time in history that the Office suite is designed by keeping desktop and touchscreen devices in mind, particularly when Windows 8 is just months away from its GA launch. One of the most powerful and frequently used applications in Office, is the Outlook. Outlook 2013, akin to other programs in the suite, has received much love from the developers, and now looks more polished and elegant. Basically, it’s the same old Outlook with an improved functionality, aesthetics and ergonomics. We decided to do a brief overview of the new Office Suite, and an in-depth review of the new features, changes and enhancements that are made to MS Outlook.
Overview of Microsoft Office 2013
One of the biggest changes Microsoft brought to the table is native SkyDrive and SharePoint Integration, which is quite helpful to instantly access, share and collaborate with your team members on important tasks, from remote locations. The productivity suite now has full touch screen support, which was quite imminent, especially when Windows 8 is not far from launch and Microsoft itself is entering the tablet market with their Surface tablet. The Redmond giant has also made subtle UI changes to make Office more Windows 8 friendly, a lucrative step to move people closer to their next OS.
Meet The New Outlook
Since the article mainly focuses on finding new features in Outlook 2013, let’s take a look at the most significant improvements and new features that Outlook 2013 has to offer.
Fascinating New User Interface
Microsoft has always focused to employ simple user interface design in its office suite, but the new Outlook looks even more simple yet lavishly elegant. There are no fancy colors here and there, and the whole interface is carved out of the white background from top to bottom, the only exception being the status bar, which is in blue color. Menus flip more fluidly and are more dynamic, and navigation bar looks sleeker, as some of the items are moved to bottom lane.
A New Feel To Backstage View
Backstage is the area where all your Account Information is displayed. Here, you can manage your accounts from a single window. Well, it’s not completely built from the ground up, Backstage view now has a blue bar at the left side. There is also an encircled Back button button at the top left that takes you back to the landing page. The navigation tabs are also rearranged. The Info tab is now placed at the very top, with Open & Export, Save As, Save Attachments and Print tabs right below it. The rest of the tabs’ positions are not changed.
Quickly Switch Between Outlook Main Elements
As you may know that Outlook offers management features for Mail as well as Contacts, Calendar and Tasks. Most users are more inclined towards the trio, that is, Mail, Calendar and People, and Outlook 2013 doesn’t disappoint them in any department. In Outlook 2010, the navigation buttons were all aligned in the main navigation bar. In Office 2013 however, the navigation buttons are now placed horizontally, right above the Status bar. Talking about Status bar, it now looks more fascinating and vivid, making it perfectly blend with the overall color scheme. The new placement of the navigation controls is a welcome change, since it’s become easier to navigate between Outlook windows. Moreover, when switching between the tabs, the transition animation is quite fluid, and looks amazing with that subtle fade in and fade out effect.
It’s advisable to know your local weather condition before scheduling the meetings. Outlook 2013 offers a new Weather Bar in the Calendar that provides real-time weather forecasts, so you may plan your meetings and appointments accordingly. It provides a three day forecast by default, and hovering the mouse pointer over each forecast gives you further details such as Wind condition, Humidity level and Precipitation. Another noticeable feature is that you can add multiple locations to keep an eye on the weather of the frequently visited cities; simply click the miniscule arrow button next to your current location, it will list down all the locations that you ever added. From within this list, you can click Add new locations to add as many different locations as you want.
Miniscule Peek Windows For Calendar, People &Tasks
Outlook also shows Peek windows when you hover the mouse pointer over the Calendar, People and Tasks. While Mail doesn’t provide any Peek, the rest of the Outlook components do allow you to search the items, view today’s events etc. For instance, you can hover the mouse pointer over the Calendar to quickly find out about your today’s schedule, such as events and meetings. Likewise, People tab also has this option, and lets you easily search for a particular contact from within this small window. It must be noted that you can Pin these Peeks to the right edge of the application window; clicking the small Pin button at the top right instantly pins the item.
Mail Simply Looks More Elegant
It seems as if Microsoft went back to the drawing board and made the Mail section much more fluid. It now supports a quick way to mark your email messages as read without opening them. All the unread messages are now marked by a thin blue line to the left, and hovering the mouse pointer over the line broadens it up, clicking it marks the mail as read. Furthermore, the Inbox feels more attractive to work with — the read mails are highlighted with bold blue text and are easy to sort out. In preceding version, the email folders and main elements (Mail, Calendar, People, Task), were all placed in main navigation bar, but since the main elements of Outlook are placed horizontally now, it provides a clear view of each section. Moreover, the message list pane feels more dynamic, as resizing it changes the way it looks and behaves accordingly. Another noteworthy addition is that, should you save the email as Draft, the Draft word is highlighted with red color, and appears next to your message.
Insert Online Picture
Another major addition we found is inserting Online Pictures from within the message body. Should you need to send a reference picture attachment and simply couldn’t find in your local archive, you can use the Bing image search. To search images, click Online Picture button on the toolbar to open a small window and enter search keywords. You can search it in Office.com Clip Art, Bing or you SkyDrive account. It also supports downloading images from Flickr.
Another noteworthy addition is the People Card, which works as a one-stop-shop for all contact details. This card shows your contact’s social happenings. It contains the person’s name, contact details, company information, IM etc. Furthermore, you can quickly schedule a meeting with your contact from within the People Card.
Outlook 2013 now has better SharePoint integration, as SharePoint groups can now enjoy their separate mailboxes. All the document files you have stored in SharePoint can be viewed easily from within the Outlook.
Exchange ActiveSync Support
The application now lets you connect Outlook with Exchange ActiveSync, which gives push notifications of your emails akin to that of your regular Hotmail or Gmail account. Previously, ActiveSync wasn’t possible.
Overall, Outlook 2013 now looks more polished, although with not many new feature-sets, the changes brought to the table are quite major. Features like People Card, Navigation Bar, Social Connectors etc., seem to have already won the show. Even in its Consumer Preview, the application runs without any issues, whatsoever. However unlike other Office 2013 suite applications, Outlook 2013 doesn’t work if the previous version of Outlook is running in the background.