Book Review - Microsoft Office Inside Out: 2013 Edition
Back in May 2011 I reviewed Microsoft Office Inside Out 2010 and was favorably impressed by the book and its approach to covering the Office 2010 software suite. The authors, Ed Bott and Carl Siechert, are recognized experts with lots of experience in writing quality tech books and they were able to create a high-quality product. There's a new edition out now, covering Office 2013, and I was interested to see if I would still give this new book a positive review. What did I decide about the new Microsoft Office Inside Out: 2013 Edition? Let's find out.
Times Change, and so Does Office
Once again, the authors have put together a book designed primarily for people who have used one or more Office programs before, and who are comfortable using them—although I believe it's not going to be too difficult for the complete newcomer. The book covers Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and OneNote in satisfying detail, as before, and provides good introductions (but not the same comprehensive detail) about Access, Publisher, and Lync. The five programs that receive the most attention are the most widely used in both home and business settings, so this approach makes sense.
But wait, there's more! :) Microsoft Office Inside Out: 2013 Edition also covers the new Office 365 subscription service, SkyDrive and the Office web apps, which means the book can be used by just about everyone, a real plus. Some of the other books I've read don't do justice to Office 365, which is a shame, because I believe it will become more popular with time. While the web apps are similar to their desktop Office equivalents, their minimal command set and simplified interface is different enough that it's very useful to have a reference explaining what one can and cannot do.
The Introduction and Beyond
As in the previous edition, there's an extensive overview, designed to help people upgrading from previous versions. It appears to be assumed, however, that most readers will be coming from Office 2007 or 2010, rather than from Office 2003 as in the previous edition of the book. One of the introductory chapters is devoted to helping readers choose the most appropriate version of Office for their needs. Since there are so many more options than there used to be, including the subscription editions, choosing one isn't the simple matter it once was.. And there are new restrictions and limitations that a potential Office buyer needs to pay careful attention to, especially when purchasing a subscription edition.
Once again, the description of the installation process is both detailed and clearly written. Since there are many choices to be made, having all this information at hand should make the installation as painless as possible. And with a more complex suite of programs, there are more options for customizing each individual app to suit your needs. Microsoft Office Inside Out: 2013 Edition goes through all of them, and after reading this section, just about anyone should be able to end up with an interface that suits their needs perfectly. I always like it when the customization options are explained in detail, because despite experience with some Office components going back to the 1980s, I've never been satisfied with the way the program looks right out of the box. There's also a comprehensive explanation of the commands, file manipulation and formatting that are common to all Office applications. After reading the section called Office Fundamentals, most people should be confident to continue. The second section, Office on the desktop and in the cloud, explains using SkyDrive, the Office web apps, and Office 365 in great detail. Even if you don't plan to use any of those, it is well worth while to read this section, because understanding the cloud connection is going to be more and more vital as time goes on.
The Programs Included in Office 2013
The structure of the chapters covering the individual applications is the same. There's a comprehensive introduction, a chapter that goes into detail about more advanced use, and a final "Inside Out" chapter that contains less common uses (for example, doing mail merge in Word or collaborating on presentations in PowerPoint) and a chapter explaining the authors' favorite tweaks and tips, which is where the real gold lies in this book. Since the book is aimed at people who are upgrading from previous versions, I decided to really put it to the test by working through the section devoted to PowerPoint—which I have not used since the days of Office 2000. As you might imagine, I had a lot to learn!
Creating a basic presentation has always been pretty easy. The interface is not difficult to understand, and there have always been plenty of options for customizing text and graphics. But to go beyond the basics takes more attention to detail, and PowerPoint 2013 offers a lot more options than its predecessors, so having this kind of thorough, clearly written instruction makes the process a lot less confusing. You're not limited to text, graphics and simple animation; you can pull in all kinds of multimedia objects and graphics. PowerPoint also includes editing tools for photos, video and audio, and having those tools explained in detail is a big help. While I'm familiar with the Ribbon in general, I'd never used a "ribboned" edition of PowerPoint before, so I worked with the book open in front of me on the desk the whole time. The other thing that Microsoft Office Inside Out: 2013 Edition includes that should be required reading for anyone who's going to be working with PowerPoint is directions on how to create and deliver a presentation. I know we've all struggled to stay awake during PowerPoint presentations over time, and while I think everyone can recognize what's good and bad in other people's work, having instructions for creating non-sleeping-pill presentations is worth the cost of the book all alone. By the end of the section I felt like I'd at least got the basics of effective slideshows in hand.
Where To Buy
The previous edition's chapters dealing with file sharing and security are gone. Some of the material now appears in Section 2 in the chapter called Managing Office files. Given that the new cloud options are discussed in detail, I would have liked to see at least a chapter devoted to security, but that's a minor quibble. Once again, the Index of Troubleshooting Topics describes common problems and points the reader to the appropriate page in the book. This is an excellent approach and I think other authors should consider emulating it.
If you're going to use Microsoft Office 2013 or Office 365, this book will provide comprehensive and clear instructions. It would make an excellent reference book if it's not being used for active instruction. The authors clearly do know their subject inside out, and they know how to explain it to everyone else. Having said that, though, this book is somewhat expensive. Therefore you need to be clear on which Office 2013 applications you plan to use regularly. If you need to use only Word and/or Excel, then you might want to consider cheaper books for these applications. If you will use 3 or more of the applications included in Office 2013, then this book is a keeper.