Word 2013 Preview Accessibility and Usability Review – First Impressions [Update 2 on uninstall]

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In case of problems: How to uninstall Office 2013 Preview

If you have trouble with the Office 2013 Consumer Preview and cannot uninstall it, you can use this tool from Microsoft [Link downloads file]. You may have to associate your file extensions with the previous version of your Office application.

This is what happened to me. After using the preview for about two weeks, something went wrong and the applications will no longer start. What’s worse, I couldn’t even uninstall the Preview. There are many people with the same problem and the first solution offered on Microsoft’s answers site is very complicated and only solved my problem partially. The good news was that Office 2010 apps worked perfectly but I couldn’t associate them with the office extensions so have to open everything from within the software. The solution above fixed the problem completely but I did have to fix the file extension associations for each extension.

More updates at the end.

Introduction

Once I found out that I can run it alongside Office 2010, I installed the Office 2013 Consumer Preview to see what’s new, better and worse. I am one of the few people I know who’s actually used almost every feature that’s available in Word. I’ve used it to create language textbooks, books, long report, mail merges, complex tables, you name it, I’ve done it. I’ve also done lots of training and troubleshooting in Word for people at all levels.

Recently, I’ve been focusing on productivity and accessibility of Word and Word documents. This post is a summary of my first impressions (based on about 1 hour of testing) of what Word 2013 has to offer and what I wish was in it that is available in Word 2010.

Highlight accessibility and productivity changes between Word 2010 and 2013

The good

  • Document navigation in Read View
  • More display options in Read View
  • Possibility to zoom in on objects (like tables and charts) in Read View
  • Possibility to collapse sections marked with Heading styles within all views including Print and Web layout (not just Navigation pane)
  • New Design tab including useful presets for paragraph spacing
  • New ‘Simple Markup’ option for reviewing of Tracked Changes and a separate interface for comments
  • Recent documents list shows up on start of application
  • PDF editing much better than expected on even relatively complicated documents (incl. 2 column layout, footer layout, footnotes, simple tables, )

The bad

  • No editing in Read View
  • No way to set fixed column width in Read View
  • ALL CAPS labels for tabs and ribbon sections
  • Full screen mode does not cover task bar
  • Default template Heading styles use colour and size only to differentiate headings from text (no bold – which means printed documents will not have high enough contrast)
  • Can no longer choose a default object (most importantly Headings) to jump by for Ctrl-PgDn/PgUp
  • Lower contrast icons in interface (might suit some but subjectively seems to make me strain my eyes a bit more)
  • Recent documents is only accessible after clicking Open in the file menu when a document is already open
  • Ctrl-O does not open into browse but requires additional options to select files from folders
  • PDF editing predictably limited on complex documents with layered images, large footnotes, and complex tables- also very processor intensive

Miscellaneous observations

The one thing that Microsoft finally got right is the ability to run both versions of Word and PowerPoint side by side. So far, I have had no problems with defaults and what’s more Office 2013 can read in most of the settings of Office 2010 and not mess them up when you switch back. This sync is one time only, so Word 2010 does not remember your recent documents from 2013 and vice versa.

The spell check of multilingual documents also seems to have improved. Which would be a boon for multilingual documents such as textbooks. But I’d have to do more testing.

The collaboration and syncing features will obviously be a great addition but only time will tell how well they will stand up to scrutiny.

I was genuinely impressed by the PDF editing feature. It far exceeded my expectations although it is far from perfect. The thing it got flawlessly is reflow. Even documents with indented paragraphs, two columns and relatively large tables and images can be edited. From now on, if I need to get some text from a PDF, Word 2013 will be my first port of call.

A few notes on PowerPoint

I did have a quick play around with PowerPoint and I must say the Presenter view is much better (KeyNote-like, actually) and the ability to zoom into slides during presentation is also very helpful.

For some reason, the ability to set the slide show resolution is gone. I’ve only used it for testing, so I’m not sure if it will make any difference to people.

There also seem to be some improvements to paragraph editing in slides – although I do wish Microsoft would make it easier to get away from the typical outline system.

I prefer to use my own templates but there are some nice clean new templates shipping with this version.

Conclusion

As with every new version of Word, Microsoft has made some worthwhile improvements that will probably make me upgrade. But as with every new version of Word, Microsoft decided to take away some features that I use every day and will miss. These decisions tend to be capricious, probably made as part of a misguided attempt of trying to simplify Word by making it it less useful for powerusers. The problem with this philosophy is that no matter what you do, typical users will still never use any more functionality than they would in the Word Starter edition. I look over people’s shoulders as they use Word every day and so many of them would be just as happy with WordPad.

There are some significant text accessibility problems with this version. The use of ALL CAPS for section headings and the removal of the Browse by Object options are particularly painful. I was advising a teacher only last week about how to get around its limitations for their blind student. Instead of fixing it, Microsoft removed it. Also, on wide monitors, the Reading View is much less useful if you cannot set a fixed line width limit.

But I must say, the ability to edit PDFs makes it worth keeping the preview around. Particularly, since it doesn’t interfere with existing versions.

So as usual, the upgrade will involve a lot of smiles and a lot of gnashing of teeth. Such is the Dao of Microsoft Word Updates.

Updates

I have now been using Office 2013 for a week and I stand by my conclusions. It is certainly ready for full time day-to-day use but it is also clearly beta software. Unfortunately, it’s not obvious which of the issues are bugs and which are new features. Here are a few more observations.

  • I’ve noticed that the Zoom in Word is noticeably slower. The fonts take a lot of time to redraw and when you zoom out to see multiple pages, this can take as long as 5 seconds to redraw in a larger document (but one where Word 2010 on the same computer had no trouble with).
  • Files now seem to always open in Reader View even when the setting to prevent this is turned on.
  • Also the zoom is still limited to only 500%, so you have to go to a PDF to get more.
  • The shortcut that jumps between last edited places in a documents (Shift-F5) now seems to jump between open documents too. Unfortunately, it’s still only limited to three places and not always the useful places (like beginning and end of line).
  • Outlook calendar reminders no longer pop up over other windows so you have to rely on sound or the notification on the Task bar icon (which now also helpfully changes when new message arrives).