The new version of Office is a huge shift for Microsoft — here's why

The new version of Office is a huge shift for Microsoft — here's whyToday, Microsoft Office 2016 comes out for Windows 7 and later, bringing with it a slew of new capabilities and features.

Office 2016's headlining changes are mainly focused around helping users work with each other between the desktop, browser, and mobile apps. There aren't a lot of surprises, especially since Office 2016 has been available in beta form since early this year.

But the biggest surprise is how Microsoft is now thinking of Office. As recently as 2013, Office was a big new product that companies and consumers were supposed to buy every release or two.

This time, Microsoft is making it clear that it's going to keep releasing tiny updates and experimental apps on an ongoing basis. This, combined with the way Microsoft has priced it, means it makes more sense to subscribe Office 365 — and get updates like Office 2016 for free — than it does to buy the new packaged product.

Office is irrelevant. Long live Office 365.

First, what's new?

The new Word 2016 lets users collaborate with each other directly from within the document, Google Apps-style. Meanwhile, a new integration with Skype for Business in all of the desktop Office apps means that it's a lot easier to stream your screen to a colleague or just start a video chat.

The new version of Office is a huge shift for Microsoft — here's why

Otherwise, the updates are nice, but not game-changing. For instance, an upgrade to Microsoft Outlook lets it intelligently sort your inbox, a little like Gmail's priority inbox or the stellar Outlook for iOS.

Also, Excel gets new chart types, as well as the ability to publish data directly to Power BI, Microsoft's business analytics tool and a big focus for the company. A new tool called "Smart Lookup" lets you grab data from Bing or Wikipedia directly from a sidebar while editing a document, kind of like Google Apps does.

If you subscribe to Office 365, you get a new "Groups" feature where you can throw a team together in Outlook 2016 with a shared calendar and dedicated cloud storage for project files.

A "recently used" documents prompt in the toolbar that shows the last Office document you were working on, no matter which device.

Enterprise customers of Office 365 are also getting some new data-loss prevention tools to make sure unscrupulous third parties aren't intercepting any data.

A push toward subscriptions

The real change is in how Microsoft thinks about Office updates for the future.

The last major version of Microsoft Office for Windows, Office 2013, was released over two and a half years ago. Just this past summer, Office 365 subscribers got access to Office 2016 for the Mac — but before that, the last version was released in 2011.

But you won't have to wait that long for cool new features in Office 2016.

"With this release, we’re also shifting the cadence of Office on Windows to feel much more like the cadence we have on the Office mobile and web apps, which release every month with new value," writes Microsoft's Office VP Kirk Koenigsbauer in a blog post.

That's right: he said Office on the desktop is going to get lots of new features every month. You won't have to wait two or three years for the next version.

For instance, Koenigsbauer's post promises that "in the coming months," Cortana, the digital assistant that comes with Windows 10, will get the ability to search and read your Outlook e-mail — you know, like "Hey Cortana, what was in that last e-mail from Bob?"

From there, the plan is to make Cortana smarter over time, so she can look at your Office data and make half-decent predictions and issue alerts. This has the nice added side-benefit of making Office more useful on Windows 10, giving an additional incentive to upgrade.

Source: Business Insider
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