Posey's Tips & Tricks

First Impressions of the Word and Excel Previews

It looks like Microsoft is sticking with what has worked for earlier versions, while refining the experience for touch-based devices.

Hot on the heels of the latest Windows 10 preview, Microsoft has given us a preview of the next version of Word and Excel. Needless to say, I was really curious to take a look at these preview releases. As a writer, I use Word every day and Excel is something that I use on a regular basis too.

Downloading the Word and Excel preview was a really simple matter. I just installed the latest Windows 10 preview, went into the Windows Store and downloaded the previews just as I would any other app. The one thing that really caught my attention however, was how quickly the downloads completed. I live in a rural area and consequently have a slow Internet connection. Even so, the Word and Excel preview downloads completed very quickly.

I was curious as to how big these apps really were, so I decided to check out Windows 10's App Sizes feature. In case you aren't familiar with this feature, it is a built-in utility that shows you how much space each app is consuming and gives you the option of uninstalling apps. I am assuming that the App Sizes feature has not yet been completed, because all of my apps were listed as consuming 0 bytes.

Since the App Sizes feature clearly wasn't working, it was time to give up and move forward with testing Word and Excel. I decided to try out Word first. Upon launching Word, I was presented with a short but helpful tutorial on how to use the touch interface. When the tutorial completed, Word opened and I was a bit surprised by how much it looked like Word 2013. The initial screen allowed me to create a new document from one of the built-in templates. The left side of the screen listed my recent documents (from OneDrive) and gave me the option to open other documents. Incidentally, Excel offered a very similar experience.

I honestly wasn't sure what to expect from Word. I knew that it was designed for touch screen environments, but I hadn't actually seen any screen captures as of yet. As much as I hate to admit it, I was actually fearing the worst. It's not that I am a negative person, but rather that Microsoft had already established a precedent.

Prior to Microsoft's Word preview release, there was already a touch-optimized version of Word in existence. I am talking about the Word app that is included on Windows Phone. Those of you who read my posts on a regular basis know that I absolutely love my Windows Phone. Even so, Microsoft really dropped the ball on Word Mobile. It's fine for reading documents, but it is as bare bones as you can get for document creation. You can bold or underline words, set the font color, set the fill color, add a comment, add bullets -- and that's really about it. Word Mobile on Windows Phone 8.1 has more in common with Notepad than it does with Word 2013. As such, I feared that a touch-optimized version of Word might resemble the Windows Phone version. On a side note, I have never worked with the iOS or Android versions of Office, so I have no basis of comparison for these apps.

The Word preview ended up being a pleasant surprise. Because the Word preview is touch optimized, the interface is a lot cleaner than that of Word 2013. Admittedly, Microsoft did remove a lot of features (at least in the preview), but that's OK. Word has a lot of features that I have never used before, and I'm sure that most other people don't use either. Microsoft has left the core feature set and gotten rid of the more obscure features that clutter the Word 2013 ribbon.

If I were to be completely honest, I actually like the Word preview interface more than I like the Word 2013 interface. The only thing that I don't like about it is that the word count is missing. Word 2013 provides a page count and a word count in the lower left corner of the screen. As a professional writer I depend on this word count, but it doesn't exist (at least not yet) in the Word preview.

I found Excel to be every bit as clean and user friendly as Word. Unfortunately, the Excel preview is going to be completely inadequate for serious Excel power users.

In spite of the fact that Word and Excel are each missing features, I think that these apps will do a lot to improve productivity. The apps seem far less bloated and much more intuitive and efficient than Office 2013. There will inevitably be those whose job functions require them to use the full versions of Microsoft Office. For everyone else though, the touch-optimized versions look like a great alternative. Microsoft will probably make some changes before the apps are released for purchase, but if the previews are any indication then Microsoft has done a very good job with the next generation of Office apps.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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