By Jen Sweeney
Office 2016 isn’t revolutionary—it doesn’t provide any grand user interface changes or headline-grabbing feature additions. But that’s not to say it isn’t significant.
With this release, Microsoft retires the unwieldy version-to-version Office update model and begins with a new approach of delivering smaller, more frequent improvements to its productivity apps. Microsoft has already transitioned to this model for operating system updates. Starting with Windows 10, the company will deliver upgrades in a continual, cloud-based stream. Major and minor changes to critical elements of business software will now take place much more frequently.
The new Office is also more focused on collaboration than ever before—Microsoft’s tagline for this release is “taking the work out of working together” and many of the new and enhanced features are geared toward sharing and teamwork.
Here are some notable changes:
Co-authoring (Word, PowerPoint)
Office 2016 brings real-time co-authoring to the desktop versions of Word and PowerPoint. (It was previously only available in web apps.) This feature enables you to work on documents with others and see everyone’s changes as they happen. Co-authoring is not yet available in all native Office applications, but Microsoft has said it will expand the capability in future updates.
A new Share button (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
Office 2013 includes a sharing feature, but it is a few clicks away and, with so many options, can seem a bit complicated. In Office 2016, sharing is simpler and quicker: Just click the new Share button, located on the top right of the Ribbon, to open the new Sharing Pane. It enables you to share files (as email attachments, and as OneDrive or SharePoint links), see who is currently working on a file, and view or modify permissions. Note: For more options, the old Sharing feature is unchanged and still accessible via the File tab.
Clutter & attachments (Outlook)
The Clutter feature uses information from the server to prioritize your messages and place low-priority emails in a separate folder. Focused Inbox provides the same functionality for mobile apps. These features aren’t for everyone, and can be easily turned off.
Microsoft also makes working with attachments easier—when you click Attach on the Insert tab in Outlook 2016, you can select from a list of recent items you worked on in addition to browsing for files. If you have attached a file from OneDrive or SharePoint, you can click the attachment to modify and view permissions within Outlook.
Other notable enhancements include OneDrive and Skype integration, improved version history, one-click forecasting and seven new chart types in Excel, more insightful fact-checking with Smart Lookup, the Tell Me help feature, and two new apps (Sway and Delve).
Office 2016 is low-key compared with big-bang version changes of the past, but don’t let it fool you. Each improvement was made for a reason—to enable people to work better, individually and in teams. To benefit from these and future improvements, and to avoid costly business disruptions, organizations need to make training an ongoing priority. Office 2016 isn’t just a new version; it’s a representation of what’s to come.