Microsoft releases Office 2016
Microsoft has released Office 2016, with updates to key applications that are aimed at making working together and sharing easier than ever.
While the ‘better together message’ is clear, and Windows 10 is central to the value proposition, other platforms will not ignored, as evidenced by the recent Apple announcements. This version of Office is intended to accommodate multi-device, multi-platform usage, while still offering the best experience on the Microsoft stack.
Office 2016 continues the flattening of the tool set that has been seen with previous versions, but also in Windows itself. The ‘Tell Me’ search box means that from any point in an application, the user can easily search for contextual features or tools rather than having to swing through a forest of menu trees. This reduces reliance on specific knowledge of the toolset, or recall of some specific function that may have been used in the past. Instead, the Tell Me box offers a predictive search based on the document, object or feature in focus and offers related options.
Word, PowerPoint and OneNote desktop versions all get full co-authoring for multiple users, including real-time typing in Word that lets a user see others’ edits as they occur.
Combined with this is Skype in-app integration which allows users to instant message, screen share, talk or video chat from inside documents, with rich client features.
Office 365 Groups are now an integrated with Outlook 2016, and available on mobile devices through the Outlook Groups app, delivering, says Microsoft, a consistent team experience across the suite.
Office Delve is a new feature for organisation. It aggregates recent activities and actions, showing users not only what they have worked on recently, but also associating people, resources and sources that they may have used too. These lists can be expanded to add contacts or other relevant details.
The venerable spreadsheet work horse Excel gets better visualisation capabilities as it still takes centre stage for many as an analytics tool. The quick analysis options now get best view suggestions, and there are expanded charts options suggesting the best way to present data. There is also direct publishing to Power BI and cloud synchronisation to allow users to pick back up wherever they left off, even with complex data sets.
There is a major emphasis on security, as Microsoft says that Office 2016 apps combined with Office 365 deliver new capabilities for better enterprise security and protection. There is built-in data loss prevention for Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook which significantly reduce the risk of sensitive data leaking, while providing administrators with tools to manage content authoring and document sharing policies.
Multifactor authentication allows secure access to content anywhere when users are outside the corporate network. Later this year, said Microsoft, enterprise data protection will be available for the Office Mobile apps for Windows 10 and for desktop apps early in 2016, enabling secured content sharing within corporate boundaries.
“The way people work has changed dramatically, and that’s why Microsoft is focused on reinventing productivity and business processes for the mobile-first, cloud-first world,” said Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft. “These latest innovations take another big step forward in transforming Office from a familiar set of individual productivity apps to a connected set of apps and services designed for modern working, collaboration and teamwork.”
Despite the ubiquity of PowerPoint, Microsoft has developed a new Office 365 app called Sway. Kieran Dunne, Office lead, Microsoft Ireland, explained that it allows users the benefits of design best practice within the app which allows users to build a story for their topic or task. The app suggests and applies design styles to the topic and can find and offer related content, resources or materials that might be germane to the story. Not PowerPoint, or Photoshop, Sway is aimed at making it easier to combine rich media, in an attractive manner for multi-media presentation on any platform. A Sway presentation can be sent as a link to anyone and played in a browser.
The Office 365 applications are updated to the 2016 versions from launch, while boxed versions will be available shortly. Office 2016 for Mac is available now through an Office 365 subscription but will be available on boxed form shortly.
With the emphasis on making more of the power of Office applications accessible to everyday users, as well as providing advanced features for the technically adept, Office 2016 should appeal to even wider audiences than before. Trying to break the old 80/20 rule where the majority of users employ only a fraction of the features, 2016 is perhaps the best yet in terms of accessibility. When this is combined the enhanced security and collaboration, there seems little than can yet knock Office from the best productivity suite pedestal.