One of the Missing Manuals series of books' greatest strong points is that they explain pretty much everything about their subjects. Their slogan is "The book that should have been in the box," and that's accurate. Most of these books are excellent references for their subjects, written by people who clearly are experts and who know how to explain things so that we non-experts can understand them. I have bought several of these books over the years (in fact, there are four of them in the office with me as I write this). So when I was given the opportunity to review Office 2013: The Missing Manual, I started out with high expectations. Were my expectations met? Let's see in this review.
The book's target audience
Unlike some other explain-it-all books I've read recently, this one is aimed at both total newcomers and people upgrading from previous editions. That's a tricky thing to balance because there has to be sufficient explanation for the newcomers, but not so much that people who already know something about the subject will get bored and wander off. I think, all in all, the authors did a good job of walking that tightrope. The authors are Nancy Conner and Matthew MacDonald.
The book explains in great detail the Office applications that more people are likely to use: Word, Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access. There are also chapters that go into much less detail about Publisher, OneNote, SkyDrive and the free Web Apps. There are a few brief references to Office 365, but if you want any kind of thorough explanation of that edition of Office, you'll need to seek out another book. I would suggest our recently reviewed Microsoft Office Inside Out: 2013 Edition, which does a dandy job of explaining Office 365. I found this approach somewhat surprising. Why explain SkyDrive and Web Apps but not Office 365? Out of curiosity, I browsed Amazon to see if there were a separate Office 365: The Missing Manual—and there isn't. The search turns up this book, which says very little about that subject.
Explaining the apps
Each of the five sections explaining the major Office apps has the same structure: An introduction to the absolute basics, which is mostly designed for newcomers (but contains information about the features that are new to Office 2013 that people who are upgrading should know about) followed by chapters that explain the essential commands and skills one needs to know to be comfortable using the app in question, and finishing with multiple chapters devoted to subjects of great interest to advanced users. As with all books of this nature, the chapters can be read in any order or skipped entirely, depending on the individual reader's needs. With the arrangement of topics from simple to complex, it should be easy for nearly everyone to go straight to the information they need in the book. Here, for example, is the e-book edition's table of contents for Word.
I decided to test out the book by reading the instructions for using Outlook. I had used Outlook at a job I had circa 2000, didn't like it much and hadn't touched it since. I was curious to see how much of it I remembered, and how much has been changed over the years—and if Outlook was easier to use now that Microsoft has had years to work on it and improve it. The authors start out by saying that Outlook isn't just for email any more, and that's definitely true. While I had used a few of the other features before (like the calendar, since it was my job to print out and post the departmental calendar every week) I hadn't done much of anything with contacts, the task list, notes or the folders. All of those features are noticeably different in Outlook 2013, so I read through the Outlook chapters carefully before I began to work my way through the program. I am reviewing the e-book edition, so once I started practicing, I could flip back and forth between the program and the book easily when necessary.
Office 2013: The Missing Manual doesn't include practice files like some other similar books do, but I didn't find that to be a problem. The instructions are very clear and it was easy to follow through step by step, and the text is interspersed with many helpful tips and hints and suggestions for other pages in the book to turn to for more information. This was a great idea, and made it easy to find more information or just keep going, according to the reader's needs. As I followed along it was quickly apparent that I would have had a much more favorable impression of Outlook if (a) Outlook 2000 had been as feature rich as Outlook 2013 and (b) I'd had a book like this to explain it all instead of having to just muddle through on my own. Even though I worked at a library, the how-to books in those days weren't nearly as good. 🙂
Office 2013: The Missing Manual strikes a good balance between providing enough basic information for beginners and providing detailed information on advanced features for more advanced users. The authors clearly know their subject and can explain it to just about everyone. There are appendices available online that contain plenty of useful links and extras. Putting it to the test with an Office app that I wasn't up to date with, I found the instructions easy to follow and the illustrations clear. In the end I found it to be a very good addition to my bookshelf. That said, however, to cover such a complex suite this completely the book has to be long (1051 pages in the ebook edition, including a 28 page index) and it covers more applications than many people will need to use, so it might be easier to buy books that are application specific or that don't go into such extensive detail about the advanced features.
As I said, I found this book to be an excellent reference that explains just about anything anyone would want to know about Office 2013. But in real life, not everyone will need this much detail. It would be well worth your time to check the book out of your local library and see how well it suits you. If you don't have the time for that, check this free chapter (PDF download), to get a bit of a taste.