By Marc Arbesman

Microsoft has launched Office 13. The follow-up to Office 10 offers some new features that users may appreciate and find most useful. However it fails to qualify as anything resembling breakthrough technology and may leave many on the undecided list as to whether the software is a necessary investment.

The design itself has an especially clean appearance. The office applications such as Outlook and Word have a cleaner look. The Modern User Interface (Metro UI) features some interesting elements designed into many of the programs.

Word 2013 is especially intriguing. It offers a starting screen with two panes. Recent documents are highlighted on the left and larger tiles of various templates are on the right. You can open Word by selecting a template.

Microsoft has retained the large ribbon of menu options which you can either use or collapse as you work through the program. A new Design tab has been added to go along with those from Word 2010.
Now you can select from different document themes, page colors, borders and watermarks all from the tab.

Images and graphics are more flexible with a live layout view. It enables you to drag images, charts and graphics around on the page while text flows and wraps around it. Another tab "Format" appears as you add a graphic. Guides help you with alignment as you wrap text around various layout options.

Other new menu items are listed under the insert tab. These include Online Pictures and Online Videos. This helps to save the step of saving an image from Facebook, Flickr or YouTube or another online source to your computer or tablet first before embedding them in a document. The new Word also lets you edit PDFs which many will find as a great saver in time and effort.

One item especially useful is the new Read Mode. It is available from the View tab and gives you a full screen of your document, removing the distraction of all menu items. If you work on a small tablet this is a welcome change. "Read" also enables you to highlight text and add some comments. You can reply to someone else's remarks, and mark them as done.

Microsoft's push to the Cloud and Sky Drive are key elements of the program. For example when you save a document you can save it to your computer or SkyDrive. You will find SkyDrive listed above Computer on the Save As screen. You are able to share documents on social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn and send invites for people for documents stored in your SkyDrive account.

What is missing from Office 13 are direct updating links to Twitter, LinkedIn and other social sites. It would have been a huge step forward to integrate these programs somewhere into Office. The ability to quickly update Twitter or a LinkedIn profile would have been a welcome addition.

On the bad, or at least confusing side of the issue, pricing has become problematic for Microsoft and the user. Microsoft 2013 was originally available as a one-computer per license basis or as part of a subscription to Office 365, around $10 per month or $100 per year. Due to the slow sales of the software Microsoft recently recanted on its one license per computer requirement and now let users install the software on multiple computers. As in years past you can pay a one-time license and purchase the hard version of the software for multiple machines.

For many Office 2013 will not appear all that different from the 2010 version. While the layout of the apps is a bit cleaner, and can be navigated easily by fingertip on a tablet, many of the familiar Office touches remain in place.

Business owners and consumers will have to decide for themselves if investing in the software adds real value to their day-to-day operations.

Marc Arbesman is a founder and CIO of ThrottleNet, Inc. ThrottleNet offers an array of technology services and products to help business owners achieve their corporate goals, while reducing overhead. This is accomplished through outsourced Managed Network Services which helps companies improve their technology uptime and IT capabilities while, at the same time, reducing costs. The firm offers custom software development and mobile applications to help companies accelerate their business growth. For additional information contact ThrottleNet online at http://www.throttlenet.com or call 866-826-5966