Tag Archives: office 2013

Why custom templates might not appear in Word 2013

I have a custom Word template which I use for transcribing interviews (it lets me start and stop the audio with a key combination). I installed this into the location defined for user templates. This option is in File – Options – Advanced – File Locations.


However, when I chose File – New in Word, my custom template did not appear. The reason, I discovered, is that Word has an additional option which sets the save location of personal templates. This was blank in my installation.


You have to set this to be the same as the user template path in File locations. After you do that, personal templates show up when you do File – New. Note that you also have to click on the PERSONAL heading before you see them.


It works. Now for a little rant.

  • Why are there two locations? What is meant to be the difference between the location for user templates, and the location for personal templates?
  • Why does a Save location impact what happens when happens when you are starting a new document?
  • How did the personal template location get to be blank?
  • If one of these locations is blank, why is Word not smart enough to have a look in the other one?

I guess this may be a bug.

While I am on the subject, it appears that there is no automatic way to sync custom templates across different Office installations, even if you sign in with the same account. A shame.

Office 2013 Home and Business requires a Microsoft account to activate, a nuisance for Office 365 users

A small business contacted me with a perplexing problem related to Office 2013 and Office 365. The scenario looks like this:

  • All their staff have Office 365 E1 accounts (for small and midsize businesses)
  • They normally buy laptops with Microsoft Office. That would normally be the OEM version or more recently the Product Key Card (PKC) equivalent. This is licensed only for the PC on which it is first installed.
  • Since they already have Office, purchasing the more expensive Office 365 subscription (£9.80 vs £5.20, or £55.20 extra per user per year) which includes desktop Office is poor value (update: see comments for more notes on this option).

With me so far? Now comes the moment when a new member of staff joins, for whom a new laptop is purchased. They buy with it the closest equivalent to the Office 2010 Product Key Card, which is Home and Business 2013, this guy:


Note the designation Home and Business, indicating that it is fine for business use.

Next, they set up the laptop for Office 365 and install their new Office 2013. Only there is a problem. Office Home and Business cannot be activated without a “Microsoft account”. You might think that an Office 365 subscription counts as a “Microsoft account” but it is the wrong kind: it is an “organizational” account in Microsoft’s jargon, which is a subtly different creature. The Office 2013 purchase is then tied in to some extent to that account.

Specifically, the normal way to install is to go to http://www.office.com/setup. When you do, you enter the supplied product key, following which the unavoidable next step is to sign in with a Microsoft account.

Another feature of Office Home and Business 2013 (again different from Office 2010) is that there is no way (that I know of) to install it other than via Click and Run, which uses application virtualisation. Personally I prefer the non-virtualised install, after experiencing problems with previous versions of Click and Run. Maybe these are fixed now, maybe not, but this choice has been removed.

You can also install from a DVD as discussed here, if you download the DVD image from Microsoft. Unfortunately this is still a click-to-run install, and still requires a Microsoft account. You can enter the product key when invited to activate, but the process will not complete without logging in online. If you sign into Office 365 instead, you get an error. I also spotted this message:


It says, “You’re currently signed in with an organizational account. To view or manage any consumer subscriptions you may have purchased, please sign in with your Microsoft account.” This intrigues me, since if you have purchased a perpetual product called “Home and Business” you might imagine that is it neither consumer, nor a subscription.

There are a couple of problems with the requirement for a Microsoft account. One is that the business does not want the employee to start using features like Skydrive which are attached to any Microsoft account other than Office 365. Another is that the employee may leave, and the laptop transferred to somebody new. With the old Office 2010 PKC, which did not require a hook to a Microsoft account, that was a smooth transition. Office is licensed for the laptop, not the individual. The new Office 2013 is still licensed only for one laptop, but also has some sort of relationship to an individual Microsoft account, which will be a nuisance if that person leaves the company.

You can overcome these problems by purchasing a volume license for Office 2013 instead. The ideal product is Office Professional Plus. You can install it without using click-to-run and it does not require a Microsoft account to activate. But you guessed: this costs more than double the cost of Home and Business 2013. The approximate ex-VAT cost in the UK is £150 for Home and Business, versus £375 for Professional Plus.

The dependency on a Microsoft account is not clear on Microsoft’s site. The specifications for Office Home and Business are here. It says:

Certain online functionality requires a Microsoft account.

True; but in this case the product cannot be activated at all without a Microsoft account. It is useless without it.

The workaround is to give in and create a Microsoft account just for the purpose of activating Office. Of course you need an email address for this, though apparently (taking this from the above referenced discussion) you can activate up to 10 Office 2013 installs with one Microsoft account.

Once activated, there is no problem that I am aware of with using the product with Office 365.

It is still messy, since that Office install is forever linked with the Microsoft account you use, even though it is intended for use with Office 365.

Taking a wider perspective, it also seems to be that there may be purchasers who want to use Microsoft Office in part because (unlike, say, Google apps) it does not require online sign-in. They may prefer not to have a Microsoft account. With Office 2010 that was easy, but not with this new edition, and I am not seeing this spelt out in the product descriptions. Once you get it home, you will spot this on the packaging:


Considering the complications of using Home and Business 2013 with Office 365, it looks like the best option is to upgrade to the Office 365 subscription type which includes desktop Office, but that is a heavy financial penalty for a business that has already purchased Office for all its laptops.

Office 2013 annoyances: Avoiding the Backstage, slow typing in SkyDrive

I have been using Microsoft Office 2013 since the first public previews. It is a high quality release, though washed-out in appearance, but there is one thing I find annoying.

In previous versions of Office, if you start a new document and hit Save you get a Save As dialog pointing at your default save location. Type a document name, press Enter and you are done.

In Office 2013, the same steps open the Backstage, a full window view where you have first to select a location. You cannot type a document name immediately, even if you are saving to your default folder.


It is only one or two extra clicks, but it is annoying.

The fix is to go to File – Options and check Don’t show the Backstage when opening or saving files.


Now Save works in the same way as before.

If you also check Save to Computer by default, it will no longer try to save in SkyDrive every time.

This reminds me of another problem, which I doubt is unique to me. I like using SkyDrive, but there is something broken about the way Office communicates with SkyDrive. It seems to be chatty, checking perhaps whether another person is editing the online version of the document. The consequence is that sometimes (but not always) editing in Word slows to a crawl. You have to wait after each keystroke for the letter to appear. Usually this problem appears only after I have been working in a document for a while. The workaround I have found is to Save As to a local folder, and to remember to put your updated version back on SkyDrive afterwards.

Maybe there is a fix for this behaviour as well. If you know of one, please comment below.

BBC web site has a Metro look

The BBC redesigned its web site last year borrowing elements of Microsoft’s Metro design language, as seen in Windows 8, Windows Phone, and Office 2013. Note the tiles, the typography, the horizontal scrolling, the way elements stand out against a pale background.


The BBC site is the 5th most popular in the UK and 47th in the world according to Alexa.

This strikes me as a significant design win for Microsoft. One of the goals of redesigns is to make your stuff look fresh and modern, while other stuff looks dated, and it helps drive an upgrade cycle. 

Update: amended to clarify that the design update was last year. Details here and here. Also interesting to note considerable hostility from users. Another point of similarity with Windows 8!

Access Web App: at last a simple web database app builder from Microsoft

One thing hardly mentioned in the press materials for Office 2013, and therefore mostly ignored in the immediate publicity, is Microsoft Access 2013. It is included though, and its most interesting new feature is a thing called an Access Web app.


To make one of these, you click the big “Custom web app” button on the opening screen. The first thing you are asked is where to put it. It is looking for a SkyDrive or Office 365 team site – essentially, online SharePoint 2013 I imagine. If you are not signed in, this screen appears blank.


I selected Skydrive at my Office 365 preview site.


Hit Create and you can select an app from a template. I chose a Music Collection app. Access generated several tables and forms for me and opened the design environment.


The template app is a bit daft – Artists and Labels are based on a People template, so you get Labels with a Job Title field – but that does not bother me. What interests me is that Access generates a relational database that you can edit as you like. The template UI offers either a list/detail view called a List, or a Datasheet which shows rows in a grid format. There is also a Blank view which you can design from scratch.

I had a quick poke around. Access Web Apps do too good a job of hiding their innards for my taste, but what you get is a SharePoint app with data stored in SQL Server Azure. You can also use on-premise SharePoint and SQL Server 2012.

Programmability in Access Web Apps is limited, but you do get macros which let you combine multiple actions. There are two kinds of macros, UI macros and Data macros. UI macros support a range of actions including SetVariableif and else statements. The only loop functions I can see are in Data macros, which include a ForEachRecord action. You can call Data macros from other macros and a Data macro includes a SetReturnVar statement, so I guess with a bit of ingenuity you can do many kinds of automated operations. Macros are described here.


In my quick test, I put a button on a view and had it show a message. Apologies.

The application files are all stored on SharePoint, rather than locally, so I presume you could easily edit the app on any machine with Access 2013 installed.

Click Launch App and the web app opens in the browser. Everything worked, including my MessageBox.


I also tried it on the Google Nexus 7 Android device. Again it seems to work fine, though I did get some odd behaviour returning to the app. There are possibly some authentication issues.


An Access Web App is just another SharePoint app, as explained here, so you can publish it to selected groups via the built-in store.

There is no way that I can see to craft your own SQL, which to me is a disadvantage, but maybe we will discover how to bypass the UI and open a database in SQL Management Studio, or access it programmatically from other environments.

It seems to me that what Microsoft is offering here is what it tried, but failed, to offer in Visual Studio Lightswitch: database programming for the non-specialist. Access has always done this, though unfortunately it is easy to make rather a mess if you do not know what you are doing. An Access Web App gives the developer/user fewer ways to go wrong, and builds cross-browser web apps. It is not yet possible to judge whether Microsoft has got the feature set right, but fundamentally this looks useful for simple custom business database applications of the kind that many small organisations and departments find they need. It is a big advance on MDB files stuck on a file share, fits with the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) concept by working on iPads and the like, and makes it easy to get started and experiment. Good work.