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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.

Intelligence and business insights in Excel

Visually, Excel 2016 at this point looks virtually identical to its Office 2013 version. The difference, however, is what's under the hood. 

Power Query, for example, was a separate plugin under Office 2013. With Office 2016, Microsoft has integrated it as a standard feature, allowing you to pull in external data from any number of sources. PowerBI — the business intelligence package that really forms the centerpiece of Microsoft's future Excel vision — hasn't been integrated. You can, however, export spreadsheets into, the online version of PowerBI. PowerBI and its interesting, natural-language Q&A feature will make it into Excel, but not quite yet. 

One feature that Microsoft did add, however, is one-click forecasting, which mines your data for trends and extrapolates them out for a few periods of time. The "Tell me" search bar discovered that capability, but unfortunately, I couldn't find the new charts and graphs that Microsoft says are in the new version (TreeMap, Sunburst, Waterfall, Box & Whisker and Histogram & Pareto) to test out.

I didn't see anything new or noteworthy in either OneNote or PowerPoint. I did notice that notes loaded slowly in the new app, but that may have been a quirk of my network.

Still to come: Apps that will talk to another

Microsoft's new extensability APIs that it rolled out last week blaze the trail for the future of Office, enabling more collaboration not just between users, but between the apps themselves. Remember, we can expect a future where Cortana understands when your next meeting is, how long it will get there, and flags an nearby Uber car to pick you up at the appropriate time.

Eventually, that capability will spread throughout the Office suite, but that will take time. Chris Johnson, a group product marketing manager at Microsoft, said last week at Build that Microsoft was opening up APIs behind OneNote, for example, but the extensibility shown on stage wasn't yet there. "Being able to surface developers, interrogations, or solutions... inside our products, we see as really key to building nice productivity solutions," he said.

Like the Windows 10 Insider program, expect new capabilities to be added to Office 2016 over time. The key question: Will Microsoft do enough to lure you off the preview when it expires? Because you'll be in step with Microsoft as Office 2016 rolls out, you're in good shape to answer that question.


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