Microsoft is aiming Office 2013 at touch-screen devices as well as PCs. So the company is starting to pull out the stops to convince tablet users that the new Office is just right for them.In a blog post yesterday, Clint Covington, a lead program manager for Microsoft's User Experience team, explained how touch works in the new suite. Products such as OneNote and Lync have been redesigned from the ground up to fully support touch. The other applications in Office have been "touch-enabled," which means they support certain touch features but remain true to their roots as desktop applications.
Designing apps to respond to a finger instead of a mouse can be challenging, so Microsoft had to enlarge certain elements in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. Users will find fixed parts of the interface larger, such as the Quick Access toolbar, the ribbon, the status bar, and folders in Outlook. Certain menus will also appear larger.
But the size only increases when touch mode is enabled. You can turn touch mode on and off, depending on what type of device you're using, and the interface adapts. The onscreen keyboard also provides a fuller view of your document by automatically minimizing the ribbon and giving you more room to work.
Drag-and-drop gets an assist in touch mode through the use of selection handles that appear when you try to move or copy an item. Other touch features have been enabled through the suite, and Microsoft says it's still working to polish them up.
The new interface across the entire suite of applications has been reinvented, mostly for the better. First off, the Ribbon, which disappointed many users when it first appeared in Office 2007, remains part of the new Office. But before you start grumbling, consider that Microsoft has made it optional this time around. So now you can show or hide the exhaustive collections of tools across every tab, and decide how much or how little you want to use them. In my review of Office 2010 I liked the Ribbon, but I've heard enough from users who disagree to know that Microsoft has made a wise change. Aside from the Ribbon, the interface is similar but much simpler than it was in Office 2010 and earlier. Flat buttons and plenty of white space make the interface look less crowded. Newly added start pages for Word, PowerPoint, and Excel help you get to recent documents and new templates immediately upon launch. Other interface tweaks are tablet-focused such as the radial menus in OneNote that show options (like sharing, search, and zoom tools) in a circle around the area you pressed. The general feel of the suite is more streamlined and more cloud-integrated, and it seems like it will be useful to those looking at the same documents on several devices.