Last month, when Microsoft announced the general availability of Office 2019, the move created some confusion among business leaders and employees. What is Office 2019? Didn’t Microsoft do away with the grand updates of the past? What does this updated version mean for people who rely upon Office every day to get their work done?
Office 2019 is the latest standalone, one-time-purchase version (now called “perpetual” by Microsoft) of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Project, Visio, Access, and Publisher. For people who use Office 365, this release doesn’t mean much. All of the features that are new to Office 2019 were rolled out to Office 365 over the past three years. Nearly nothing to see here.
But for people whose organizations use a standalone version (such as Office 2016) and Windows 10, an Office 2019 upgrade will deliver three years’ worth of new features—a bounty of productivity-boosting potential. Lots to see here.
Here are some of the features you can start using to increase your productivity:
Inking Tools, available in all Office 2019 applications
With this release, Microsoft has added new inking tools, which enable you to draw shapes, write by hand, and move parts of your documents with a digital pen or pencil. Using a finger, pencil or mouse, you can convert ink to shapes or text, hand-write complex math problems, highlight text, and more—for people who work mostly on tablets, these features are key to productivity. Microsoft has also expanded support for the “roaming pencil case”—any changes you make to your pencil case will be saved across apps and devices.
Insights and new data types in Excel
If you aren’t sure how to present your data, you can use the new Insights feature, which automatically detects and highlights patterns, and identifies trends, outliers, and other useful visualizations.
In addition, Excel 2019 includes two new linked data types, Stocks and Geography, which have AI capabilities. Excel can now recognize “rich” data types beyond numbers and text—for example, Excel can detect that “Spain” is a country and automatically associates it with additional information such as population and gross domestic product. These points can then be populated into different cells or used directly in formulas and stay updated with the latest data.
Learning Tools in Word
Word’s Learning Tools feature was designed with the modern worker in mind. The options enable you to modify column width to improve focus and comprehension; change page color to minimize eye strain and make text easier to scan; increase or decrease the spacing between words, characters and lines; show breaks between syllables to improve word recognition and pronunciation; and have your document read aloud as each word is highlighted.
Focused Inbox and @Mentions in Outlook
Microsoft has added new features in Outlook 2019 to clear the clutter and help users concentrate on what matters most. Focused Inbox uses algorithms to determine which messages might be more important than others—the former shows up under the “Focused” heading, and the latter appears under the “Other” section.
@Mentions enable users to get a person’s attention in an email message or meeting invite. By typing the @ symbol and the person’s name in the body of the message or meeting invite, their name will be highlighted in the body area, added to the To line, and an @ symbol will appear next to the message in their inbox.
Morph and Zoom in PowerPoint
Office 2019’s new Morph and Zoom capabilities enable users to animate smooth movement, including zooming in and out, from one slide to the next—without having to create individual motion paths or animations.
Office 2019 applications will receive regular security and stability updates, but they will not receive feature updates—for you, that means no new surprise features to learn next month, and the month after, etc. Note that Office 2019 does not include any of the cloud-connected features found in Office 365—such as Editor and Researcher in Word; Designer in PowerPoint; the Ideas feature in Excel; real-time collaboration across Word, Excel and PowerPoint; and more.
To be sure, an upgrade to Office 2019 comes with a substantial learning curve. But with the right training, support and communication on your company’s part, the productivity gains will make it well worth it.
Jen is an award-winning journalist who writes about workplace productivity and technology for Vitalyst. She believes in the power of using plain language, especially when writing about technology, and lists “achieving and enabling clarity” among her life goals.