12 enraging Office 2013 flaws -- and how to fix them

A step-by-step guide to exorcising the new demons in Microsoft Office 2013

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12 enraging Office 2013 flaws -- and how to fix them

While the Office patriots wax poetic over Office 2013’s new features -- gosh, I can’t think of a better way to invite all my friends to connect on Linkedin -- those of us who have long struggled with Office see a lot of gratuitous change that simply gets in the way.

If you’re new to Office, need some prompting about basic features, want to put all of your documents in SkyDrive, and don’t mind STARING AT A SCREEN OF GRATUITOUS CAPS, the new Office 2013 should be right up your alley.

But if you’ve been using Office for a while, relegate files to SkyDrive begrudgingly, use Dropbox, and couldn’t care less about touch, there are a few steps you can take to make Office 2013 tolerable.

Stuff the silly Start screens

Problem: All of the Office 2013 applications (except Outlook) show Start screens with a list of recently opened documents -- and vast numbers of rarely used templates -- when you start the app. Unless you keep working on the same docs over and over, invariably your first move is to click at the bottom left to open other documents. 

Solution: To get rid of the Start screen in any of the Office apps, click File, Options. On the left, make sure General is selected and, at the bottom, uncheck the box marked Show the Start Screen When This Application Starts. The next time you start that app, you’re greeted with a new blank document -- same way Office has worked forever.

Stop saving to SkyDrive as default

Problem: There’s some confusion as to which specific kinds of Office 2013 installs lead to SkyDrive being set as the default location for both File Open, and File Save As. If you aren’t sure if your specific copy of Office 2013 uses SkyDrive as a default, restart one of the Office apps, create a new, blank document, and click File, Save As. If SkyDrive is highlighted (you may have more than one SkyDrive account accessible), that’s your default.

Solution: It’s easy to change the default if you know where to look. Click File, Options. On the left, choose Save. Then under the Save heading at the top, check the box marked Save to Computer By Default.

Add Dropbox as an open/save location

Problem: It’s click-and-drag easy to add “Favorites” to the Office 2010 Open and Save As dialogs. Dropbox and many other online storage services add an entry as a byproduct of installing the package. But when you click the Add a Place icon in the Open or Save As dialog in Office 2013, the only “places” you’re allowed to add are SharePoint locations and additional SkyDrive accounts. Meh.

Solution: Dropbox has a script that you can run which will add a Dropbox location to the list of cloud locations. Although you have to figure out the path to your Dropbox folder (typically c:\Users\<username>\Documents\Dropbox), running the script is easy.

Get rid of the Open/Save Backstage screens

Problem: So why, I hear you ask, do you have to use these cute SkyDrive screens to open/save in the first place? Sure, Microsoft wants to sell you SkyDrive space, but can’t you tell Office 2013 to skip the cloud-sucking screens (called “Backstage screens”) and cut to the old Open and Save As dialogs we’ve known for years?

Solution: Yes, you can tell Office to skip the Backstage screens. But I’ve had trouble getting the setting to work. In theory at least, you can click on File, Options, Save, and under Save Presentations check the box marked Don’t Show the Backstage When Opening or Saving Files. Restart all of your Office apps. Does it work for you?

Remove those stupid ALL CAPS TAB TITLES

Problem: I DON’T KNOW WHY MICROSOFT MADE THE OFFICE 2013 TAB TITLES ALL CAPS WHEN WIN8 FILE EXPLORER AND ALL OF THE WIN8 APPS show Initial Caps. Bah. It’s condescending to touch customers.

Solution: Fortunately, you don’t have to LIVE WITH ALL CAPS. Right-click any tab, choose Customize the Ribbon. On the right, click on the name you want to change, click Rename, and give the tab any name you like. If you want to keep the name that’s assigned to the tab by default (for example, “Home”) rename with a space at the beginning or end of the name (“ Home” or “Home ”), or modify it in some other way (e.g., “_Home_”). Alas, you can’t rename it FILE.

Turn off Read Mode

Problem: When you double-click on a DOC or DOCX file attached to an email message in Outlook, Word pops up in Read Mode (also called, confusingly, Reading View). As Tristan Davis said on the Office Next blog, it “essentially turns your Word documents into an interactive digital magazine.” Pardon my vituperation, but Read Mode is just a pain in the pinky if you don’t use touch.

Solution: In Word, click File, Options, and on the left make sure General is showing. Near the bottom, uncheck the box that says Open E-mail Attachments and Other Uneditable Files in Reading View. Restart Word.

Disconnect your Win8 Microsoft Account

Problem: The Office 2013 installer picks up your Microsoft Account info if you use a Microsoft Account to log in to Windows 8. While that makes it easier for you to use SkyDrive, and to carry your settings from one machine to another, it’s yet another way for you to transmit your every move to Mother Microsoft. (Note: Some folks report that they can’t get Background and Theme changes to take after disconnecting.)

Solution: Click File, Account (or File, Office Account in Outlook). To disconnect an individual SkyDrive account, which you may have added in a moment of delusion, click Remove next to the account. To disconnect your main account, at the top, click Sign Out. Restart Windows.

Use Word as your (slow) default PDF viewer

Problem: If you double-click on a PDF file in Windows 8, you get hurled over to the Metro side and stuck in the full-screen Metro Reader app. It’s totally preventable if you have Word 2013. The new Word has a slow but almost always serviceable PDF viewing capability. There’s no reason to use Acrobat Reader or Foxit, although you may want to keep one around for the unusual PDF file that doesn’t render right in Word 2013, or really big PDFs, which take glacial time to render in Word.

Solution: In Windows Explorer or File Explorer, right-click on a PDF file. Choose Open With, Choose Default Program. Pick Word (desktop). ViolÀ.

Disable inline replies in Outlook

Problem: When you reply to a message in Outlook 2010 or earlier, Outlook creates a new message in a free-floating window. When you hit Reply (or Reply to All) in Outlook 2013, your reply appears “inline,” above the original message in the viewing pane on the right. Many of the message options available in Outlook 2010 aren’t available in Outlook 2013, and it’s easy to lose track of your reply when switching to other apps, unless you click “Pop Out” at the top. “Pop Out” makes Outlook revert to the 2010 behavior.

Solution: Click File, Options, Mail. In the Replies and Forwards section, check the box marked Open Replies and Forwards in a New Window.

Make Outlook search the current folder only

Problem: In Outlook 2010 and earlier, if you type something in the search box, up above the list of mail, Outlook performs the search on the contents of the current folder. Great. But in Outlook 2013, for reasons known only to certain sadists in Redmond, if you’re looking at your Inbox, the search extends to all folders in the current mailbox. Which means you may end up accidentally deleting mail from the Deleted Items folder, for example, or replying to something you shouldn’t. I’ll raise my hand here and share your pain.

Solution: Click File, Options, on the left click Search. Under Results / Include Results Only From, choose the radio button marked Current Folder.

Set all of your favorite power user changes

Problem: Microsoft had a chance to make things easier for power users in 2013, but it didn’t. All the training wheels are still there, and you have to hunt and peck to get rid of them. That’s why, for example, every time you type an email address, it gets underlined, bolded, discolored, and set up as a link.

Solution: In Word click File, Options. Under General, you can show paragraph marks, tabs, and object anchors -- all crucial to understand formatting. In the Proofing area, click the AutoCorrect Options box and uncheck the settings you don’t like. In Excel, click File, Options, and under Proofing, click the button marked AutoCorrect Options. And so on.

Pin your favorite folders

Problem: Pinning folders in the Open/Save As dialogs in Office 2010 is easy -- drag the folder to the left side of the Open dialog. In Office 2013, you can pin a folder that contains a document you’ve opened recently -- just click on the “pin” to the right of the folder. But if you want to pin any other folder to the Folders list, fuhgeddaboutit. (For example, if you frequently open files in subfolders under the “Invoices” folder, pinning “Invoices” -- not the subfolders -- defies imagination.)

Solution: Create a file in the folder you want to pin (in this example, “Invoices”), open the file, go back into File, Open and pin the folder, then delete the file. Can you find a better way?

The bottom line on Office 2013

Office 2013 isn’t significantly different from Office 2010 -- which, except for Outlook, wasn’t all that much different from Office 2007. You can learn to live with it, just as you have with its forebears.

To me the most off-putting aspects of Office 2013 are its tacked-on-tactile design and its insistence on thrusting SkyDrive in my face. I don’t find the interface particularly well executed for touch -- not even close to Apple’s Pages, for example. I prefer to use Dropbox or Google Docs, rather than SkyDrive, for cloud storage. That’s zero for two.

If I were on a tablet all the time, I might consider using Office 2013. But on a desktop or notebook? No way; unless it’s free.