27 Mar 2015

Office 2016: What stays, what's new and what's out

One of the key features of the Microsoft operating system is, of course, its Office suite of products. In turn, then, one of the areas people have their eyes on the closest with the new Microsoft operating system is what a new version of Microsoft Office will bring to the table. The vendor has started giving people a look at what to expect from Office 2016, and the early signs are positive indeed.

Going in with the attitude of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Microsoft Office 2016 doesn’t do much to change the functionality of its previous Office products. What it does do, however, is improve the user experience, with a greater emphasis on colour and user interface to create an experience more distinctive and pleasing to the eye.

But that’s not to suggest there aren’t new features. One interesting one is the “Tell me what you want to do,” option in most Office apps. This looks like a search bar, and you type in something you’d like to achieve (for example “insert a table”) and the bar will instantly pull up a list of options related to that request. With this feature there will be no more wading through menus to try and remember where that one specific option for a specialised task is.

This feature is already in Office Web apps, but it’s nice to see it rolling into the desktop version. Additional modifications to make it more efficient to email attachments directly through the software also helps to streamline the experience, which is one area where Office apps did have room to improve.

Outlook has perhaps seen the biggest changes, with the ability to limit locally-stored mail to anything as low as one day a boon to people using Outlook on mobile devices. There’s also the neat feature that if you shrink Outlook’s window down, it will look and feel like a mail client on a phone, with a single pane view showing the list of emails, and clicking on that email will open it up in a preview. This feature will prove to be a valuable way to save screen real estate while being able to keep an eye on emails.

Other features improve the value proposition of the new Office for corporations. Word, Excel and PowerPoint all have a new feature built in which Microsoft confusingly titles “Data Loss Protection” (confusingly because it has nothing to do with disaster recovery as the name suggests). This feature allows system administrators to create policies over document authoring and sharing, which will help prevent the leak of sensitive documents.

The current preview build that some people have access to does not contain all the features of the final product, according to Microsoft. Given the design philosophy of what we’ve seen to date, we wouldn’t expect to see anything too ground breaking being added in from here, but nevertheless Microsoft is set to deliver the most accessible, vibrant, and yet comprehensive edition of Office to date.