Microsoft’s Office 2016 launches with a focus on helping people work together

22 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

For Office 2016, teamwork is everything.

Office 2016, the base components of which are Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, now lets team members work together on Word documents in real time. Is it finally time to change the name of Office, Microsoft’s ubiquitous and elder suite of productivity applications? “Office” connotes a singular space, a collection of tasks done by one.

Microsoft Corp.’s new Office software will incorporate Internet-connected features such as Skype and the Cortana digital assistant in both its cloud and packaged versions, underscoring the importance of installed software even as the company focuses on moving customers to subscriptions. It will add that capability to the other Office apps over time according to a blog post by Kirk Konigsburger, the corporate vice president for Office Client Applications and Services. But the world has changed around Office, from a disconnected set of work spaces, to networked business and now global operations where the location of one’s office is meaningless. Microsoft MSFT -0.09% also added Skype for Business to the mix so users can, from within their Word documents, talk or video chat with colleagues, partners or customers.

Google Drive has been one such competitor, especially thanks to the strength of its collaboration features that allow multiple people to edit a file at the same time. So perhaps it’s fitting that the newest Office, Microsoft Office 2016, is all about collaboration among vastly spread out coworkers who may never meet face-to-face, but easily get more done in an hour than some have accomplished in a 20th century work week. The company has been focusing more of its engineering on the Office 365 cloud-based versions of Office, where customers can get monthly updates without installing and maintaining the software on-site. Still, only about a quarter of commercial Office customers are using the cloud version this year, meaning Microsoft needs to keep apps in the packaged version, whose last release was Office 2013, updated and modernized. “The focus is on the cloud, and there is steady, but diminishing, offerings on-premises,” said Wes Miller, an analyst at Kirkland, Washington-based Directions on Microsoft.

By my estimation, the new suite (which adds the radical Sway, Delve and 365 Planner) might best be called “Collaboration 2016” or, better yet, “Work Together with a side order of Idea Invention 2016.” Sure, my names are ridiculous, but spend even a few minutes in the new Office 2016 and you’ll find that it’s always ready, even encouraging you, to work with others, sharing documents, editing together, assigning tasks and measuring performance. Microsoft is moving the whole Office franchise to this software-as-a-service delivery model pioneered more than a decade ago by Salesforce, in the customer relationship management arena For years, Microsoft Office has long dominated business accounts, but in the past few years it’s seen fierce competition from Google GOOG -0.34% Apps, an array of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications which undercut Office on price and gained traction among startups and younger users. Microsoft and Google are also locked in a battle to get customers to store their work and personal documents in their respective Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive cloud storage repositories. Instead of static attached files, which run the risk of missing changes made since they were sent, workers can set a link to a file that will always contain the latest version. The transition from a big-bang up-front license sale to a longer-term subscription sale can be initially painful for legacy IT vendors used to the older model, but that is the way of the world these days.

Users can verbally ask Cortana, Microsoft’s artificial-intelligence-based assistant, to find a particular file or e-mail, and the Bing search engine is integrated so that hovering over a word with a mouse brings up a menu of choices including Web search. In his blog post Konigsburger also said that with the Office 3016 “subscribers can expect to get more frequent updates with new features and improvements.” The update also brings support for features that make Office easier to use, like a “Tell Me” box that lets users search for a particular in-app function like setting line spacing without navigating the myriad series of buttons and menus available inside Office apps that control every little feature. The biggest and most important addition is the Share button in the upper left-hand corner (the same button – with a lot less functionality — already exists on Office for iPad).

While Office’s full-featured nature makes it more powerful for users with particular needs, that same functionality can seem confusing to users who don’t need it. Google announced Monday that there are 1 million businesses actively using its Drive for Work collaboration and storage product, in addition to a larger number of individual consumer users. Customers with an existing Office 365 subscription can download the update for free starting today, and those without one can purchase a subscription to get access to the new applications.

As part of its transition to providing Office as a service though Office 365, Microsoft will be pushing frequent updates to this new version of Office. Those include support for real-time coauthoring in PowerPoint and the company’s new GigJam service that makes it easier for users to work together across multiple services and applications.

Much more useful on the conversation threads is the ability to see, by a little number in the Group conversation window, how many responses each message has. Working in group conversation threads could keep Outlook pretty streamlined, but it may not cut down on the number of emails you get each day, especially from those outside your workgroups. Microsoft tried to manage that side of the mail equation with a Clutter tool that moves emails like newsletters and notifications that you might not need. If all this collaboration isn’t enough, you’ll be comforted to know that Microsoft has added a Web-based project management-lite tool called Office 365 Planner which has an almost Pinterest-style interface for managing Plans.

Delve, another Web-based tool, takes the team oversight to an entirely different level by inserting business insight into all the information it can glean by access to your activities (with your permission, of course) across all these Office 2016 tools and then bubbles to the surface the most relevant information. Now PowerPoint 2016 adds something called “Smart Lookup” that you access by right-clicking in the guess work object and then selecting “Smart Lookup” in the pop-up menu. It breaks all the rules of vertically scrolling slide-creation stalwart and puts a disparate collection of multimedia and text content into a side-scrolling phantasm. It’s also a critical checkmark for Microsoft, which has seemed less able to quickly blend its tools into a cohesive whole than Google, which has done it with maybe less concern about, “Is this just right?” Nice to see that Microsoft finally learned that perfect is the enemy of the good and moved forward with a wide, rangy set of enhancements that feel like too much in some areas and maybe too little in others, but that will surely help teams succeed in the 21st century.

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