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First look: Microsoft's Office 2016 IT Pro and Developer Preview

Preston Gralla | March 27, 2015
The first glance at the future of Office for Windows is here, in the form of the Office 2016 IT Pro and Developer Preview.

The Ribbon is still much the same — no new tabs and no major changes to existing tabs. However, there is one nice addition that so far is only available on the Ribbon in Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Project and Visio: A box to the far right with the text, "Tell me what you want to do."

Type in a task and you get a list of potential matches. Click any item in the list and you bring up instructions on how to accomplish it. For example, I typed in "Envelope" while in Word and got the options "Create Envelopes" and "Start Mail Merge." I clicked each of the options, and was walked through the process of doing what each said. Simple, clean and useful.

I found this new feature to be a big time saver, and much better than hunting through the Ribbon. And it remembers the features you've previously clicked on in the box, so when you click in it, you first see a list of previous tasks you've searched for. That way, common tasks that you frequently perform are always within easy reach.

Not that it always worked. When I typed in "layout" in Word I got choices for "Change Layout," "Quick Layout," "Insert Shape," "Right Hanging" and "Left Hanging." (These last two have to do with indenting text.) The choices were fine, but all were grayed out so they couldn't be used. Clearly, a little more work needs to be done here.

And it would be nice if this new feature were extended to the rest of Office. Outlook in particular could use it, given the wealth of features it has that aren't always immediately apparent.

I found a smaller addition quite useful as well. In what Microsoft calls the Backstage area (it appears when you click "File" on the Ribbon), when you perform tasks such as opening a file, you see all of the cloud-based services you've connected to your account, such as SharePoint and OneDrive. That isn't new — the feature was already in the 2013 version of Office. What is new, though, is that each of those locations now shows the associated email address underneath it — very helpful if you use a cloud service with more than one account. For example, I have two OneDrive accounts, one personal and one for business, and it lets me see at a glance which is which.

Changes to Outlook

The only other noticeable changes are a few Outlook tweaks. For example, when you're composing an email and click Insert —>Attach File, you'll see a list of all the recent files that you've used in Office. Given that there's a reasonable chance that you'll be inserting a file you've been recently working on, I found this a time-saver.

 

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