Delving into Office 2016: Microsoft goes public with new preview

Next version of Office for Windows is unveiled

First Look Microsoft’s Office team is in overdrive, delivering new versions this year for Android, Mac (in preview), Windows 10 Universal App Platform (in preview), and now Windows desktop, also in preview.

The public preview was announced at Microsoft’s Convergence event under way in Atlanta.

According to VP Kirk Koenigsbauer, the current build “doesn’t yet contain all the features we’re planning to ship in the final product,” which may explain why it seems so similar to Office 2013; more like a point upgrade than a major new edition.

First the bad news: Office 2016 still ships with the Office Upload Center, a piece of software whose role (in my experience) is to remind you constantly that something is wrong with document sync to OneDrive or OneDrive for Business.

Microsoft is meant to be unifying its business and consumer cloud sync technology, so perhaps there is hope that some day cloud sync will be as smooth and invisible as it should be. In the meantime, the Upload Center continues.

Icons for Office Universal and Desktop side by side

Icons for Office Universal and Desktop side by side

Second, the situation on Windows 10 (on which I am typing now) is somewhat confusing since you can install both the Universal App and the full desktop version of Office. This makes perfect sense, in that you might want to use the touch-friendly but cut-down versions when using your Surface (for example) as a tablet, but the full versions when seated at a desk. The icons are similar, though, and it would be easy to open the wrong one by mistake.

It is even possible to have the same document open in both at once. I tried this with Word, which went into a multi-author mode and started reporting conflicts as, perhaps, you would expect. Some common-sense alerts to prevent this scenario would be welcome.

That aside, here is a quick look at what is new so far.

The ribbon toolbar in Office 2013 is a faint affair, which was all to do with Microsoft’s “content-first” design thinking. In this case it was misguided, since Office is a productivity tool rather than a content viewer. Office 2016 uses a new “Colorful” theme by default which adds a coloured top band, making the tab headings more distinct. A small but welcome change.

Ribbon changes in Office 2016

The new "colourful" ribbon in Word 2013, alongside the old 2013 version.

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