The first glance at the future of Office for Windows is here, in the form of the Office 2016 IT Pro and Developer Preview. It's the initial public iteration of the suite that will be released sometime in the second half of 2015, so at this point it's very much a work in progress.
I've spent a good deal of time with it — and while there are a few interesting user additions, the bigger improvements so far are under the hood and will be of great interest to businesses.
The preview is available for free to those who have an Office 365 ProPlus subscription, an Office 365 Enterprise E3 plan or an Office 365 Enterprise E4 plan. If you're interested in getting it, go to Microsoft Connect, register and follow the installation instructions.
Given that this is an early preview, don't be surprised if you experience installation woes — I certainly did. I uninstalled my existing consumer edition of Office 2013 before trying to install the new version, in the hopes that the installation would go smoothly. Those hopes were quickly dashed.
I tried several times to install and, each time, when it seemed that 85% of the installation had been performed, the installation appeared to stop. When I checked the Windows 8 Start screen, I found an icon for the Word 2016 Preview, but not for any other Office apps. Word worked fine, but no other icons for Office applications could be found.
However, after spending a good deal of time with Microsoft tech support, they had me browse through my hard disk to the C:\Windows\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\root\Office 16 folder. There I saw that all the Office applications had been installed, even though the icons to run them hadn't. I created shortcuts to them on the taskbar, and I was in business. They all ran without a hitch.
What's new for users
There's very little new compared to Office 2013 in this preview — no great surprise given that Kirk Koenigsbauer, Microsoft's corporate vice president for the Office 365 client apps and services team, wrote in a blog post, "To be clear, this early build doesn't yet contain all the features we're planning to ship in the final product." And keep in mind that this preview is targeted at IT and developers, not at consumers or other end-users of Office.
The most visible change is that Office applications each now have their own distinctive colors — blue for Word, green for Excel and red for PowerPoint, with Outlook and Visio lighter shades of blue. The color is most noticeable in the Ribbon across the top of the program windows and in the title bar. You can always go back to the white of the previous version of Office if you want. As for me, there's little enough color in one's daily life, so I find the bright new colors a welcome addition.
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