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Microsoft released so many new products in 2012 that it was easy to overlook the latest release of the flagship Office product. Office 2013 was released to manufacturing on October 11, 2012, and was released for general availability on January 29, 2013. So what makes Office 2013 different from the preceding versions of Office? A lot! Let's look at the top 10 new features in Office 2013.

1. Windows 8 touch support—Without a doubt, the biggest change in Office 2013 is support for the new Windows 8 touch screen interface. Although the Office 2013 UI is designed primarily for operation with a mouse and keyboard, it also offers support for touch. Click the Touch Mode button on the Quick Access Toolbar and the Office Ribbon spreads the Office 2013 icons apart for easier touch access. On touch-enabled hardware, gestures such as swiping with your fingers let you scroll and pressing with your fingers selects items.

2. Subscription-based pricing—Two editions of the Office 2013 family—confusingly named Office 365 Home Premium and Office 365 Small Business Premium—are sold as subscriptions (not a standard retail license), making them more affordable, but you must pay every year to continue using the software. Office 365 Home Premium goes for $99.95 per year and includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher, and Access, plus 20GB of SkyDrive storage and 60 minutes of Skype per month. Office 365 Small Business Premium costs $149.95 per year and adds Lync, InfoPath, hosted Exchange Server, 25GB mailboxes, 10GB of storage for the organization, and 500MB of SharePoint storage per user.

3. New pricing for retail editions—The Office Home and Student edition is the basic edition of the retail Office 2013 lineup. The Office Home and Student edition costs $139.99 and includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. The Office Home and Business edition costs $219.99 and adds the all-important Outlook application. The top of the retail lineup is the Office Professional edition, available for $399.99; it includes Access and Publisher.

4. Multiple-PC support—With Office 2013, the traditional software-based license offers no multi-copy discount as Office 2010 did. However, the new subscription-based licensing covers up to five devices on a single license. This multiple-device support could be especially attractive to home and small business users.

5. Color-coded Start screens—The Office 2013 applications feature new color-coded Start screens. Each Start screen is colored to match its application icon. For instance, the Word Start screen has a blue theme, Excel is green, and PowerPoint is red. The new Start screens display a list of recent documents, a Getting Started tour, a blank document, and the application’s templates.

6. Integrated SkyDrive—The Office 2013 programs provide seamless integration with SkyDrive. The Office 2013 Account Configuration page lists your Connected Services. You can include your SkyDrive authentication information and Office 2013 will connect and authenticate when you start an Office 2013 application. Your SkyDrive account details are displayed in the top-left corner of the application, and your default Save location is your SkyDrive.

7. Office on Demand—Another useful cloud addition to Office 2013 is Office on Demand. All Office 2013 users can access the web-based versions of the Office 2013 applications they have licensed—even on PCs where no version of Office 2013 is installed. Office on Demand works with Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs and uses Microsoft's Click-to-Run technology to stream the applications to the end user's device. Office on Demand can be used for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, and InfoPath. Check out Paul Thurrott's "Office 2013 Feature Focus: Office On Demand" for more information.

8. PDF editing in Word—One long overdue feature is Word 2013's ability to edit PDFs. In Word 2010, you could save a Word document as a PDF, but you couldn't edit PDFs directly. The new Word 2013 lets you open PDF files, edit them, and then save them as a .doc, .docx, or .pdf file. 

9. Lync 2013—Office 2013 includes the new version of the Lync communications platform, Lync Server 2013. Lync replaced the older Office Communications Server (OCS). Lync 2013 can do IM and group IM, as well as audio and video conferencing. Lync is integrated into other members of the Office 2013 suite, including Outlook and OneNote. Lync 2013 also features integration with Skype.

10. Windows RT support—Microsoft includes an ARM version of the Office 2013 suite on the distinctly non-x86 Windows RT platform, giving Windows RT the possibility of actually being a useful business device. The Windows RT Surface tablets include Office 2013 Home and Student edition, which contains Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Documents are fully interchangeable with other x86 versions of Office 2013.

Learn more: Microsoft Launches Office 2013, Office 365 Home Premium