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Microsoft Office 2016 is here. What's new and what's coming soon?

Microsoft’s release of Office 2016 includes a number of updates all designed around the company’s current vision of enabling collaboration, mobility and productivity.

Office 2016 is now available for Windows users, and as a one-time purchase option for those using Macs.

"These latest innovations take another big step forward in transforming Office from a familiar set of individual productivity apps to a connected set of apps and services designed for modern working, collaboration and teamwork,” says Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO.

“Mobility. Conversations. Intelligence. This is why Office has transformed from a familiar set of tools like Word, PowerPoint and Excel to a new way to work together on the fly with new solutions like OneDrive, Sway, Sunrise, Wunderlist, Outlook, Skype, Yammer, Delve and Power BI,” he says.

On top of new features, Microsoft has a new approach to updates.

Kirk Koenigsbauer, Microsoft corporate vice president Office Client Applications and Services team, highlights that the new way Office itself functions.

“[The release of Office 2016] marks a new model of delivery, where subscribers can expect to get more frequent updates with new features and improvements,” he says.

Byron Rader, Microsoft Office Division lead Asia Pacific, says, “This is a wave of innovation we’re bringing to our customers.

“On September 30 we will announce some pretty significant updates to OneDrive, we have updates for Skype for Business, to SharePoint, and we’re working on the PBX space as well.

“Office is a wave of innovation that we’re bringing to our customers, versus one big [announcement].”

So what changes has Microsoft made to Office? Here’s a run down of significant new features:

It’s all about teamwork

Co-authoring isn’t a new addition to Office - it’s been a part of the web apps since 2013 - but now it’s been built into the native apps Word, PowerPoint and OneNote.

This enables users to use the co-authoring feature in Word real-time, so they can see what others are writing as it happens.

According to Koenigsbauer, Microsoft has plans to bring real-time co-authoring to all native apps.

Skype for Business is now integrated into Office apps, allowing users to instant message, screen share, talk or video chat while within documents.

This will be rolled out to Office Online within the next three months, according to Microsoft.

Office 365 Groups is available as part of Outlook 2016 and a new app on iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

It allows users to create public or private teams to share an inbox, calendar, cloud storage for group files, and a OneNote notebook.

Office 365 Planner works in conjunction with Groups and helps teams organise their work.

Users can create plans, organise and assign tasks, set due dates and update status using the feature. Dashboards provide a visual representation of where each team member is at.

This feature will be made available to Office 365 First Release customers starting next quarter, according to Microsoft.

Simplified sharing enables users to invite others to review or edit a document using the new Share button located on the Ribbon in Word, PowerPoint, or Excel doc. 

The sharing pane lets users see who has access to a given document, invite others or change access permissions to your document and see who is currently working within the document. 

But what about the individual?

Outlook 2016 prioritises mail with a new Clutter feature, which learns how a user prioritises their email and then puts low priority messages into a separate folder - giving a daily summary.

The Outlook mobile app’s Focused Inbox puts lower priority emails into a separate view. 

Furthermore, it makes sure everyone on the ‘To:’ line has the right access to modern, cloud-based attachments from OneDrive.

Tell Me helps users easily and quickly find the right Office feature or command, and Smart Lookup brings insights from the web into documents.

Previously available only in Office Online, Tell Me and Smart Lookup are now available across the Office 2016 client apps.

Excel 2016 now includes integrated publishing to Power BI and new chart-types to help users make the most of data.

Cloud integration ensures the Office apps know which documents were being worked on last and even where in the document a user was working.

Users can also read and edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote documents in a web browser if they’re stored in an online location like OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint Online.

Version history allows users to view or go back to earlier drafts of documents to edit and share your documents with confidence. 

Version history may be maintained for documents stored on OneDrive for Business or SharePoint Online.

And, of course, Windows 10

Koenigsbauer says Microsoft sees Winsows as being the ‘home’ for Office.

Windows Hello is Microsoft’s answer to biometric security and enables users to log into their PC and Office 365 with a look or touch.

This feature does require specialised hardware, including a fingerprint reader, illuminated IR sensor or other biometric sensors.

Users might be asked to add a PIN before they can set up Windows Hello, and for certain configurations, additional authentication steps may be required.

Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, works across all your Windows 10 devices and when connected to an Office 365 business account, becomes smarter by gathering intelligence.

(There is still no word when Cortana will be available in New Zealand.)

Office Mobile Apps have been designed for on-the-go productivity on Windows 10 tablets and phones.

Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote apps are touch-first, and every new phone and small tablet running Windows 10 comes pre-installed with Office mobile apps.

Contimuum is currently available on premium Windows phones, and allows those with an Office 365 subscription to use Office apps to project, create and edit a presentation from a phone to monitor. On the same phone, the individual can take notes with the OneNote app during the meeting.

Bonus: Enterprise features

Office 2016 has been designed with businesses in mind and includes built-in security features.

These include Data Loss Prevention (DLP) and multi-factor authentication.

Later this year Microsoft will also be enabling Enterprise Data Protection (EDP) in Windows 10, with support in Office Mobile, for more secure corporate content sharing across managed apps and network/cloud locations.

Looking to the future

Koenigsbauer has hinted as some developments still in the works. These include Office 365 Groups Insights and discovery in Office Delve, as well as personal work analytics for Delve, greater Excel capabilities and Cortana’s growing intelligence from Office.

Furthermore, as hinted by Rader, OneDrive for Business will receive significant new updates later this month. These updates will include sync, browser, mobile, IT control and developer experiences.

The next generation sync client for Windows and Mac will offer improved reliability and selective sync, as well as increased file size and volume limits.

“All this technological advancement is meant to empower people and organisations to achieve more.

“Which means that technology is not the ultimate answer but a catalyst for the broader cultural change in how we work and its impact on outcomes we achieve,” Nadella says.