Improving teamwork and productivity drive major new improvements.

It’s been two-and-a-half years since the last update to the desktop version of Office, but the new Office 2016 packs plenty of collaborative punch.

“Office has transformed from a familiar set of tools like Word, PowerPoint and Excel to a new way to work together on the fly,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said.

While some collaboration on documents was possible in Office 2013, it was seen as rudimentary compared to the capabilities in free online suites like Google Docs. “Painful but not impossible,” PCWorld declared at the time.

Much of that difficulty has been erased in Office 2016.

One major change is that co-authoring – which has been in the Office web apps for a couple of years – is now available in the desktop version.

If you’ve ever used Google Docs, you’ll be familiar with the workflow. The creator of a document can ‘share’ it with colleagues. Each colleague is assigned a different colour – so you can see who made what changes – and you can also click-to-call or chat with anyone in the document via Skype for Business.

Computerworld US noted these features were connection-dependent – and live changes to documents by collaborators were sometimes slow to show up.

They also noted that while the collaboration features work for Word, PowerPoint and OneNote documents, they do not yet extend to Excel.

There are a number of other new features and tools that are likely to be of interest to business customers.

For Office 365 users, there is a brand new tool called Planner which is effectively a project management dashboard.

It collates all documents relating to a specific project in a single pane, from where the project team can work on them.

Office 2016 is also likely to be the impetus for more widespread usage of a tool called Delve. It uses machine learning algorithms to curate a ‘to-do’ list of sorts from across your Office suite. It can also be used to keep track of your collaboration history, though Computerworld’s reviewer labelled it “somewhat stalkerish”.

One new feature that has won praise from reviewers is ‘Tell Me’, a new search function for the ribbon interface.

“Typing in [Tell Me] will offer a convenient list of possible actions; writing ‘symbol’ in Word’s Tell Me bar, for instance, creates a drop-down menu with quick access to the ‘Insert a Symbol’ and ‘Equation Symbol’ tools,” Labs said.

“This saves the need to dig for these options in the Ribbon UI’s various tabs.”

Arstechnica reviewers also welcomed Tell Me but wondered why it took so long to come, given many users have probably worked out where functions sit in the Ribbon by now.

“That’s not to say that the feature is unwelcome or shouldn’t have been added; it makes Office better,” they said. “[We] just don’t understand what took Microsoft so long to build it in”.

Outlook 2016 has also been updated. The main additions are the Clutter email filter that is already available in Office 365. It uses machine learning algorithms to try to clean up your inbox and prioritise incoming mail, much like tools in other free email clients.

ExtremeTech also noted “a nice new feature that shows recently-used files when you go to add an attachment.”

Talk to your Brennan IT account manager about how to upgrade to Office 2016.

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