Office 2016 will officially be released tomorrow and according to Jared Spataro, the GM of Microsoft Office, this release will be “the most significant release in 30 years”. This isn’t immediately apparent given the relatively few changes to the UI, but Spataro says the underlying tech is something to get excited about.
Office 365 users will get the update for free and something that’s long been promised to subscription users is a regular flow of new features. Spataro says there will be..
“New features coming every month from here on out”
One example of these new features will be the real-time collaboration inside Word, will arrive in Excel and PowerPoint soon.
This release of Office focuses on 2 key themes, Collaboration and Mobility. To deliver the mobility part of this, Microsoft say their objective is to deliver the best productivity tool on all platforms.
The collaboration part of the story is perhaps the far more interesting section. The first big change in 2016 is that users who want to collaborate on a document (stored on OneDrive, SharePoint or Planner), can do so in real time.
If you’re using Office 2013, right now you’re thinking that feature sounds very familiar. The difference here is that documents can be opened by one user in the desktop app and another at the same time on the web. This is for the first time true cross-platform co-authoring of documents. For now it’s just Word, but will come to Excel and PowerPoint.
In Office 2016, this document collaboration is powered by Skype (Skype for Business) so users can start with an IM in a comments pane to the right of the document, see the presence of other people the document is shared with and transition to a voice or video call right from inside the doc.
Of course in 2016, you can open and save documents from online sources like SharePoint and OneDrive like you could in 2013, but the speed is much improved. While you absolutely can still work on documents locally, all of this rich collaboration is only available if you save the docs to the cloud (namely OneDrive or SharePoint).
Another nice feature is the ability to attach recent documents in Outlook’s New Mail dialog. One of the most frustrating processes is completing edits on a document, then drafting an email, clicking insert, then having to browse to the location of the document you were just working on. Thankfully access to a recent documents list in the insert attachment drop down makes this a breeze.
There’s a new service coming to Office called Planner. This is basically SharePoint light. It allows those people who work together on projects to do so without the overhead of running a full SharePoint deployment.
This will be great for people which SharePoint is overkill, small business for example, but there will be some tough decisions to be made when you reach the line between the two.
In Office 2016, Microsoft are introducing the first new app to the Office suite in more than 10 years. Sway is an app that’s been in preview for a while now and lets users tell a story, much like a PowerPoint presentation does, but this is a product built for today. The Sway is published (or even built) on the web and can contain many different presentation styles.
Microsoft used Sway for the Office event invite. This provided a way to introduce different product features in Office 2016, add some visual interest with elements animating as the user scrolls down the page, as well as the event information at the end of the Sway. While PowerPoints can be embedded in a web page now, Sway is actually a far better way to distribute this kind of information to the world.
Inside Office 365, you’ll find a Groups option and this allows teams to work together without having to run to IT to create an AD group and add permissions for a network drive, that’s so 2005. Groups is an option that allows users to work collaboratively on projects and is designed to facilitate the modern way students and professionals get work done.
Teams are usually pretty transient, they form for a project or a period of time, produce something and then disband. We’re not talking a full Microsoft Project with Gant charts that never get updated, this is designed to get work done faster, keeping in-line with one of the core objectives of office 2016.
Groups is starting to show up in more Office products. Outlook 2016 now supports groups, right below your inbox folder and Spataro confirmed,
“Groups will come to Skype”
Unfortunately Microsoft aren’t moving further into social integration and aren’t allowing you to connect to Facebook and leverage existing groups you’ve already setup there.
One of the more interesting features of this release is Clutter. This is something Office 365 users have seen for a while now and arrives on the desktop in 2016. This feature is on by default but does ask if you want to disable it.
Clutter works by proactively watching how you manage your email and tries to automate common behaviours. Unlike a spam filter that’s pretty dumb under the hood, clutter works differently for each user. This means if you continually move mailing list emails from your inbox to a sub folder (you should have been using Rules) it’ll learn this behaviour and the next time an email arrives with that subject or from that user, then it’ll do it for you.
After some time, Clutter will email you to summarise the work it’s done and allows you to correct any mistakes. Clutter also learns from those corrections and should get smarter over time. This is similar to what Google does with Priority Inbox, but if it works like Microsoft is pitching, managing email in Outlook should be better than any other mail service.
When Microsoft announced the end of the development for it’s enterprise forms solution InfoPath, many assumed it was because Microsoft had a replacement solution coming in SharePoint 2016. Given the move to more online services, and the capabilities of the modern web, that a fully web-based forms creation tool was going to ship with SharePoint 2016, but when asked about it, Microsoft confirmed there is no forms solution in SharePoint 2016.
This is seriously disappointing given the Office team have clearly heard the calls from business for a solution to electronic forms. If the goal of Office 2016 is to increase productivity, then having a solution from Microsoft that allows businesses (and users) to create secure forms powered by workflows to move information around efficiently surely has to be part of that solution.
TellMe and Smart Lookup instead of Cortana
It would have been one of the biggest headline features if Microsoft had brought Cortana to Office 2016. Instead they’re adding similar functionality under two different features. TellMe is a search bar in each of the new Office apps that allows users to do away with the ribbon and Microsoft has already seen many test users collapse the ribbon to just use the Office features via TellMe.
TellMe also allows users to discover new functions of Office they’ve never used before, as long as they know the name of that feature. Take something like Mail Merge, which is an amazing feature, but barely anyone knows about it. If you drop Mail Merge into TellMe, you can get right to the wizard that walks you through the process without worrying which tab or section it lives in. This is great, but TellMe was developed in parallel with Cortana and really should be replaced with Cortana.
Another example of why Cortana should have been in Office is Smart Lookup. This feature lets you select content in a document, right click and select ‘Smart Lookup’. This opens and ‘Insights’ panel to the right of the document and recognises that business name and provides access to their website. It also provides access to the Wikipedia page, great if its a location you’ve never heard from, as well as the dictionary definition.
If this Insights panel and Smart Lookup sounds a little like ‘Ask Cortana’ in the new Microsoft Edge Browser, you’d be right. Again, this should have been Cortana in Office and would have made for one very clear reason for people to pay attention to this release.
In Windows 10, users can already ask Cortana ‘open that PowerPoint I was working on yesterday’, but sadly that doesn’t extend inside the office products, at least not yet.