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Three months after Windows 8 came to us, Microsoft at long last posted Office 2013 in its numerous versions online for download. Now, a word of caution right at the outset: in many locations not all Office 2013 versions are available online. Depending on which one you want and where you reside, you may need to look for a physical retailer and obtain a box version.

Here’s some of what was available to me from the Microsoft store:

Interestingly, you now have the option to get Office 365, which denotes a subscription-based product. You can pay US$99 per year or US$9.99 per month (pricing varies). I opted for the monthly subscription, which sounds flexible – you can cancel any time, according to the mid-sized print (did not read ALL the fine print). There’s a trade off, as this model in the long run will cost you more than a one-off purchase, but you get more features with Office 365, and it’s more cloudy in nature with easier connectivity to your other devices. Mind you, all versions require a Microsoft account from what I can tell. If you have one this is great and maintains continuity with other Microsoft-related platforms and services.

While optimised for Windows 8 and touch-friendly, Office 2013 works fine with Windows 7. It is not compatible with Vista or XP.

Was initially tempted by the more traditional Home and Student edition, but then felt it offered less than Office 365. You can see from the icons that this version contains the essentials, but not much more. Also, Office 365 can be used on up to five computers, while the standard version is limited to one. With 365 you can even mix and match PC and Mac installs.

Oh yes, I got the Office 365 Premium version, though I seem to recall it’s the only Office 365 edition on hand. Once more, in the digital era your screen may vary wildly from mine thanks to the wonders of IP localisation.

In a similar vein to Windows 8, Office 2013 (or simply Office to give it its new name) has an interactive tutorial that sort of masks the unpack/install phase, which is very short – no more than five minutes. The entire process is smooth and seamless.

The tutorial explains many of the new features, and accentuates the cloud-based design, with a focus on SkyDrive and other storage services. Microsoft Program Manager Greg Akselrod has volunteered to be the public face of Office, and you’ll see a lot of him during the install process and after.

After install completes, your Windows 8 start screen will show tiles for any Office components you’ve purchased. They also appear in the traditional programme list. Note venerable Word, Excel, PowerPoint et al are now apps, no surprises there, and are numbered 2013.

Word 2013 home screen with the various templates shown.

And the main interface, which looks simplified and much neater compared to Word 2010. This actually reminds me of Word 2003, while having many new features over the 2010 version. I didn’t delve into it yet, but this looks like a really intuitive and fully-fledged Word.

New PowerPoint 2013 look, with templates shown.

Excel has likewise been redesigned, but underneath the new look, it’s all very familiar, only easier to use.

The new Office complements Windows 8 wonderfully. While this isn’t a review or even an in-depth assessment, even my quick tour of it revealed a much more efficient and naturally-appealing product suite that more users than before should find easy to get into.

Which version you choose is up to your local availability and budget, of course, but I do recommend the Office 365 option.

Happy productivity!

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