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Hands on: Office 2016 preview focuses on data-gathering and collaboration in the cloud

Mark Hachman | May 8, 2015
Microsoft isn't building Office 2016 for you. It's building Office for y'all.

What we expected to happen, of course, was for Word to allow us to edit the document collaboratively in Word 2016, or else for Office to open Office Online and do it there. Brad was able to sign in with his PCWorld/IDG credentials and open the document in-app, but the "real-time" collaboration was more like playing checkers than Pong. Once Brad saved, I could see his edits, but only if I weren't trying to edit the same text field at the time. An alert box also let me know that I wouldn't be seeing real-time updates, just static changes.

Otherwise, most Office 2016 apps are virtually identical to Office 2013, for now. I did notice a slightly narrower, less legible menu font during my testing on a Surface 3, compared to what Brad saw on his desktop, which could be a scaling issue for our different displays (we're checking with Microsoft). 

Other promises still to keep

One of the more useful features of Office 2016 is the specialized search bar at the top of many of the Office apps. The "Tell me" bar, as Microsoft calls it, invites you to ask in the search field how to perform actions (such as adding footnotes), rather than hunt the feature down through a maze of menus. The best part is that it doesn't tell you how to perform a specific function; it simply offers you a simple step to actually do it.

Unfortunately, it sometimes flops. In Outlook 2015, I tried searching for "out of office," instead of the more Office-like "automatic replies." Neither query worked, whether as a search for the terms themselves or a more naturally-phrased query. In Word, however, searches for "insert bold text," "insert footnote," and "find Web art" all brought up what I was looking for.

One drawback, however, is the "Tell me" bar doesn't actually reveal in what menu your search result is hiding, so you don't learn how to find it yourself next time. Short of becoming dependent upon Tell me, perhaps a secondary "take me there" button makes sense too, at least as an option.

Experiments that Microsoft conducted elsewhere may eventually bear fruit in Office 2016. Case in point: Bing Insights, where you can right-click a word and tap Bing's knowledge base to quickly append links and artwork to enhance an Office document. But while Bing Insights may be live in Word Online, it's not yet in Word 2016, though it's promised. You will, however, find Clutter, the tool for weeding out irrelevant interoffice email (it's also part of Office 2013).

Outlook 2016 also has one feature that Microsoft didn't highlight: Groups, an feature that's now been added to the Outlook 2016 app.


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