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Microsoft Office 2016 Focused On Collaboration And Cloud

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US
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Today marks the release of the latest 2016 version of Microsoft's second most important software product after Windows: Office. After being available as a free preview for quite some time, Office 365 subscribers will now be able to upgrade to 2016 at no charge. Also, after releasing the Mac version of 2016 to Office 365 users in July, Microsoft is making a one-time purchase option available to Apple and PC users not interested in joining a subscription program.

Last week, we were able to attend a Microsoft event and get some hands-on time with the final version of Office 2016. At this event, Microsoft had a number of demo stations set up to highlight the key new features of 2016. To summarize, they are:

-Improved collaboration tools

-Built-in intelligence to accelerate your workflow

-Better enterprise security

As with Windows, Microsoft is also going to be accelerating its Office updates, so 365 users will see new features roll out far more frequently.

The New Way Of Working

Although this isn't new to Office 2016, one aspect of the event drove home to us that Microsoft clearly understands that traditional ways of working are a thing of the past. The corporate drone chained to his desk with a PC and monitor is extinct, and the modern office can be anywhere at any time. At the event, there wasn't a desktop PC, or even a notebook anywhere to be seen. Everything was shown to us on docked Surface 3 Pros, tablets and phones (iPhones, in fact).

Its goal is to make Office available on every device you work on, be it Windows, Android or iOS. Windows 10 Mobile was a no-show, though, so it looks like Microsoft isn't quite ready to show off the latest version of Office on its own mobile OS.

Making Teamwork Work

One of our favorite features of Google Docs is being able to collaborate in real-time on a document. Microsoft has also had this feature in the web versions of Office since 2013, but with 2016 it has extended this feature to the native versions of its apps, starting with Word. You can work together on a document in real time from desktop Word to desktop Word and desktop Word to Word Online. However, at the moment there is no real-time co-authoring available on the mobile apps.

Office 2016's applications now have Skype for Business (formerly known as Lync) integrated into them, so you can share your screen or message, call or video chat with team members without leaving the app. This will come in especially handy when using the new real-time co-authoring feature.

At the event, Microsoft had one of its advanced Windows 10-powered digital whiteboards, the Surface Hub, on display. It showed off how teams can hold a meeting using Office 2016, the Hub, and remote team members contributing using Skype for Business. It was very impressive, especially as the Surface Hub allows more than one person to work on it simultaneously.

Office 365 Groups, introduced in 2014 as an online feature, is now part of Outlook 2016 and the new Outlook Groups mobile apps. Now, users can create a team with a shared inbox, calendar and OneDrive storage from within Outlook. Microsoft is also introducing a new Office 365 Planner online project management portal, which looks to be similar to Trello. Planner will be available in preview next quarter.

Work Smarter

Outlook 2016 has a feature called Clutter that is supposed to automatically remove low-priority email and put it into a separate folder so that you can focus on your important messages. If you aren't happy with the features, you're able to turn it off. Attachment handling in Outlook has also been improved, making it easier to share documents stored in the cloud. If you send something stored in OneDrive as an attachment, the receiver is automatically granted permission to open and edit it.

Tell Me is a natural language help feature, almost a modern-day (but less annoying) Clippy. You can ask in plain English where a particular feature or command can be found, and Office shows you a list of choices. At the moment, this features doesn't seem to be voice-enabled, and it would also seem a natural fit to integrate with Cortana. According to Microsoft, Cortana will be able to work with Outlook 2016 soon, and we are sure its functionality in Office will expand in the future.

Smart Lookup is another new feature that lets you highlight a word or phrase in an Office application and perform a Bing web search that shows you more information about it. The info includes images, and it appears in an Insights column to the right of your document. Smart Lookup is also contextually aware and uses the surrounding text to provide you with more relevant search results.

Enterprise Security

For larger organizations, Office 2016 now has built-in Data Loss Prevention (DLP), which allows IT administrators to centrally control policies to manage how documents are created and shared in the enterprise. Later this year, when Enterprise Data Protection is enabled for Windows 10, the level of DLP will be enhanced further and will also extend to Office Mobile applications.

Office 2016 also has multi-factor authentication for more secure access when working away from the office, and Microsoft is making it easier to deploy Office 2016 across the enterprise. Visio 2016 and Project 2016, applications more commonly used by enterprise users, have also been updated.

Additional Updates

The above covers all the headlining new features of Office 2016, but there are, of course, many other smaller updates. One thing that hasn't really changed is the visual appearance of the applications, with the look and feel on the 2016 versions bearing a close resemblance to the 2013 versions.

What is new is a new default Colorful theme that makes the top bar above the ribbon the same color as the apps icon, which is a cue from the mobile apps. Other themes include White, which looks like Office 2013, and a Dark Gray theme.

Excel has been updated with six new chart types, including the Waterfall chart shown above. Excel also has integrated publishing to Microsoft's Power BI cloud-based business analytics service that transforms your data into rich visuals.

Availability

Office 2016 is available now in 40 languages and requires Windows 7 or above, although Windows 10 is the preferred version to run it on as it will provide additional functionality going forward. Office 365 subscribers can manually download the new versions starting today, and automatic updates to older versions of Office will start in October. As we mentioned, both PC and Mac users can still also purchase a standalone version of Office 2016, but they'll miss out on many of the features a 365 subscription enables.

Alex Davies is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware and Tom's IT Pro, covering Smartphones, Tablets, and Virtual Reality. You can follow him on Twitter. Follow Tom's Hardware on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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