I want to share some of my first impressions of the new Microsoft Office 2016.
For those of you who don’t know me well, you will find that I love to be the first person to try new technology. Of course, this has a cost, and all too often I am more than just being on the leading edge. As many of my colleagues will tell you, I am often on the bleeding edge. I am not sure if I’m having a string of good luck or if the world of commercial software is really changing.
The recent release of Windows 10 had me very busy upgrading all of my devices. After upgrading more than 30 devices spread across our Device and Mobility lab at CompuCom, I can honestly say I encountered only two problems. One was due to a hardware failure and the second one was an unusual driver that I am hoping will be resolved when the OEM of the device releases an update.
So, after having gone through the Windows 10 upgrade process with confidence and with all my specialized software and tools installed, I thought why not go ahead with Office 2016 as soon as it shipped. And I’m glad I did, as I did not see any major differences. I felt like my collective knowledge of prior versions on Office served me well.
As I started to use the new Office suite, I was really impressed. The organizational views in Outlook, Word and Excel, as well as new ways of handling styles across all of the PowerPoint and other applications, changes the usage and flow of how I work. I thought, wow, they’ve made some real improvements over Office 2013.
More efficient screen, more tablet-friendly
The screen real estate has really been efficiently used in Office 2016, providing less wasted space on the screen. The built-in Cortana integration and the ability to simplify the menus is very helpful and faster than the Office help.
The new views are great: buttons, ribbons, and the access bar have really been improved. There is a more intuitive way to organize the commands on the Quick Access bar as well as the Menu bar to organize the screen more efficiently. Unlike Office 2013, all those additional clicks are no longer needed to get to simple tasks we always do in the Office apps, especially formatting and applying styles. The look and feel is definitely more tablet-friendly, and on a regular keyboard and mouse, the experience is crisp as well.
Outlook is now a first-class citizen on my Surface pro with the ability to annotate, draw and add objects straight into the body of the message. It seems Microsoft finally remembered to bring some of the Office 97 capabilities and control back, as it had been lost with all the wizards while updating the code to modern applications. The views are much cleaner and allow for easy sorting and grouping of messages for a better handle on the “conversation settings,” as well as search settings within Outlook. The best part is that when you are saving documents, the list of recent documents automatically shows up in the Outlook message “attach” command and saves tons of time in finding the attachments you want to send.
The installation, as I said, caused no issues and took all of 14 minutes on my Dell XPS 15. The behavior of the installation is slightly different, but it was very un-intrusive in that it kept all my old Office applications intact.
Updated applications ready to use after installation
Although it took a bit of cleanup on my shortcuts on my taskbar, the Windows 10 new Start menu and screen features made it a cinch to reorganize and begin using my updated applications immediately after installation.
Outlook even plays well with both versions installed. This is especially interesting as some of the add-ins that I need for work still only work in Outlook 2013. But because all the APIs are still available, I was able to get my old add-ins working with a little bit of rework.
Also, the shortcomings of the “open” and “save-as” actions within all the applications have been addressed, as the “share” button is built right into the applications. Office 2016 has the ability to integrate with any of the better-known social media sites, including the flagship Microsoft Cloud Storage on OneDrive.
All in all, the improvements that I have experienced over my first two days of Office 2016 use have been incredibly positive.
Oh, and another thing. As a solution architect, I typically have additional Office applications such as Visio, Project, Publisher, Visual Studio and other integration code between some of my files. All of those key files still work seamlessly and all the code seems to have remained intact.
Return of touch computing and the stylus
One last observation is around a quiet revolution. What’s old is new again. The pen is still mightier than the sword.
Touch computing has been around for a while and so has the stylus. They were introduced with much fanfare — but in reality, never really took off. I have always been a big fan, but it was more of a novelty. That was then, but we are living in the now!
I must admit that touch computing came alive again with a new crop of devices from Dell, Microsoft, HP and Lenovo. Most of them have active stylus features that include wrist rejection and a hard-pointed tip, and have great precision and accuracy. I am dyslexic and my handwriting and spelling has been my Achilles heel. But the speed, accuracy and integration of Windows 10 coupled with Office 2016 and Office 365 has completely changed the playing field.
Interestingly, the stylus and Windows 10 have also given a new life to my 8-inch devices. My fingers are typically challenged as a pointing implement. The active stylus on my Dell Venue 8 Pro has been one of my go-to devices. The size, versatility has come alive with the active stylus for both simple handwriting input as well as a selection tool.
Regarding 8-inch tablets with a stylus, the HP Pro Slate 8 is another winner. It’s an Android device and works great with Office 365. It has a unique approach to data input as the stylus can work in a tradition input method. The stylus is a two-and-one and is called the high-fidelity HP Duet Pen. You can purchase separately a case that accommodates a standard writing pad, but that is not what’s cool.
What’s innovative is as you write with ink on the pad through ultrasonic communication, the data is transformed onto the slate’s screen in real time. Apps such as Microsoft OneNote and Evernote now become part of the cloud experience, enhancing productivity and enabling work on any device anywhere.
I have not had a chance to play with the new iPad with the stylus, but I am confident that this be a revolution for it as well.
Bottom line: I’m more confident than ever that this will prove to be the best version of Microsoft Office yet — extending the great experience with Office 365 and Windows 10.