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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.

Outlook will also adjust its interface depending on the size of the window in which you run it. It normally has a three-pane view: folders in the left pane, list of emails in the middle pane and the email text in the right pane. However, when you run Outlook in a small window, it now shrinks to either a two-pane view or a one-pane view, depending on the window size.

What's new for IT folks

At this point in Office 2016's development cycle, the most important changes are directed at IT staff.

Perhaps the most important addition — and perhaps the one that IT will welcome most — is the extension of data loss protection (DLP) to Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Until now, DLP has been available only in communications-oriented tools, including Exchange, SharePoint, Outlook and OneDrive for Business. With Office 2016, DLP will allow IT administrators to create policies that govern document sharing and content authoring in Word, PowerPoint and Excel. So they'll be able to control what kinds of information different users and different groups can include in the documents they create, and can also limit whom the documents are shared with and where they can be shared.

Outlook gets a number of under-the-hood changes as well, including some that are designed to improve Outlook stability on unreliable networks and others designed to reduce the download time of email. Also included are improvements to Outlook search speed and reliability and an updated MAPI-HTTP protocol that Microsoft claims is more Internet-friendly. Users can now also reduce the amount of storage space Outlook uses by choosing to keep one, three, seven, 14 or 30 days of email on their devices.

Other changes IT will welcome include improved traffic management with the introduction of a new service called Background Intelligence Transfer Service (BITS), which is designed to prevent network congestion. There is also better integration with System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) so administrators can more efficiently distribute monthly Office updates, as well as have a way for administrators to control the number and pace of feature updates and bug fixes.

None of that is visible in the preview, of course. But for IT folks, these changes may ultimately be more important than whatever cosmetic and features changes Microsoft eventually makes to the Office interface.

Bottom line

The Office 2016 IT Pro and Developer Preview doesn't look much different from Office 2013. Aside from a new color scheme and relatively minor new features, it's essentially the same on the surface, although there are useful changes that IT staff will welcome.

That doesn't necessarily mean there won't eventually be major additions and revisions, given that this is only the first preview. It does mean, though, that unless you're an IT pro or developer looking to check out the under-the-hood changes, there's little reason to download this preview. You'd be better off to wait for the public preview of the 2016 consumer version, expected to be available in the next several months, if not sooner.


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