Are you an early adopter?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t rush into things.  I would never buy a brand new house.  Someone else can work through the “snagging list” and iron out the problems.  The same is true with software.  When an update to the operating system of my Smartphone arrives, I wait at least a fortnight before installing it.  That way, the inevitable glitches and problems that come with a new version will cause grief to other people, not me.

So that is why it is only now, several months after the release of Microsoft Office 2016, that I’m looking at its features.

What were Microsoft trying to do

Microsoft Office has been around for so long now, that it probable already does all the things that you want it to do. We are told that more than one billion people use Office.  So Microsoft doesn’t want to change what you, but rather the way that you do it.

Their aim is to make collaborating with your co-workers to share documents and information much easier.  This involves even tighter integration with “The Cloud”, along with versions that run on many platforms (Windows PC, Mac, Windows Phone, iOS and Android).

You won’t get the same Office everywhere.  You’ll get the right Office for the device you are using.  The Windows version still has the largest repertoire of tools and features, but then it has been around the longest.  The Mac version has caught up a lot and has the best integration with Microsoft OneDrive. The Apps will adjust to different screen sizes, so you run the same version on your Smartphone or Tablet, but they will look slightly different.

One-off Payment or Monthly Fee

Microsoft have been trying to change the way we buy software for some time now.

If you go the One-off Payment route, you get a new version every 3 years (2007, 2010, 2013, 2016).  Each time a new release comes out, you get a raft of new features.  However, you have to pay again to get them.

With the Office 365 model, you pay a monthly fee, but you get the new features as Microsoft develops them – at least one a month.  Some commentators have speculated that Microsoft may move away from the 3 year release cycle altogether.

Office-wide changes

The look and feel of Office 2016 is very similar to its predecessors.  If you are comfortable working in one of those applications, you won’t be lost.

I’ve always liked the way I can look at a Microsoft Office application and tell straight away which version it is. If there is a round button in the top left hand corner, that is version 2007.  If the Ribbon starts with File tab, and the names of the tabs begin with a capital letter (e.g. Home), that’s 2010. In v2013, they went for tab names in capitals (e.g. HOME).

For this latest release, the tab names have returned to the initial capital style, but the background colour of the entire Ribbon shows you instantly which application you are in – blue for Microsoft Word, green for Microsoft Excel and so on.  If you really don’t like this, there are white and grey options as well.

The Info panel in the Backstage view has been improved to show more details about the current file (for example Date last printed) and it is also easier to revert to an earlier version of the file when the “I really didn’t want to do that” moment arrives.

If you use Microsoft OneDrive, the list of Recent Files in each application will roam with you from device to device, but now they are also grouped under PinnedToday, Yesterday, This Week, Last Week and Older to help you find the file you are after.

Over the years many people have said to me “I know what I want to do. Where do I find the correct command in the Ribbon”. Tell me what to do is Microsoft’s latest attempt to solve that problem.  Just type in a phrase – “insert a chart”, “adjust line spacing” – into that box and the application provides a menu of commands which might fit the bill.

Another new feature allows the user to research an article as they are writing it without having to switch to their web browser. Right-click the text you want to research and choose Smart Lookup. A pane at the right of the application window (called Insights) displays search results from the web.

Application by Application

Now let’s have a look at few new features in each of the Microsoft Office 2016 applications.  Remember what I said before, this isn’t a revolutionary change. All the features of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint and the rest are in largely the same place as they’ve always been.

Microsoft Word

Collaboration is the key word here.  Once you have shared a document through Microsoft OneDrive, people with editing permissions can use the desktop version of Word 2016 to edit it at the same time as you are!

You get a notification that tells you when someone has opened the same document as you. There is a flag that marks exactly where they are typing in the document, which moves as they type. With the correct option set, you don’t have to wait for them to save before you see their changes.

If one person is editing a paragraph, no-one else can change it – but you won’t see an indication of that unless you click on the paragraph. You can also right-click on a paragraph and choose Block Authors to stop anyone else editing it, even when you’re working elsewhere in the document.

The Share tab lists all the people that are currently editing the file.   There are choices to IM, voice, video chat, or send an email to them.  This allows you to discuss the changes they have just made to your document!

Microsoft Excel

The changes here focus on Charting and Business Intelligence.

Six new chart types have been added – Treemap, Sunburst, Waterfall, Histogram, Pareto and Box and Whisker.
I don’t have the space to describe them all here, but this link from Office.com is a good starting place.

Those that need to forecast future data are no longer limited to linear trends.  A new one-click Forecast Sheet button leads to a wizard where parameters such as confidence intervals can be adjusted.  The graph produced can contain multiple forecasts.  You could display best and worst case scenarios next to each other.

In earlier versions, the various business intelligence and data analysis options were all add-ins that you had to specifically enable (Power Query, Power Map and Power Pivot).  Now most of them are built-in and even available (at a basic level) in the Home Edition.

The New Query command allows you to bring all the data you need from many disparate sources into one place. 3D Maps can offer revealing visualisation of that data.

However, it is the native improvements to Pivot Tables that are most noticeable.  Power Pivot, which uses a Data Model, and a faster Excel engine, lets you quickly calculate millions of rows of data. [A “normal” worksheet is limited to 1,048,576 rows].  All the feature of the add-in – Measures, KPI’s, DAX formulas, time groupings with drill-down options – are now available directly in Excel.

Microsoft PowerPoint

The six new charts that Excel now offers also made it into PowerPoint.  So did Real-Time Collaboration – well sort of!

If you choose the One-off Payment route, the version released (in the autumn of 2015) has a watered-down version of collaboration.  You can still allow colleagues to work on your Presentation by using the Share button near the top right of the application.  They can make changes to the text as they wish, but you can’t restrict what they can do, and don’t see their changes until you click a tiny Save button near the bottom of your screen.

Those that took the Monthly Fee option got “full-blown” collaboration in the January 2016 update.  They can see the name of the people working on their Presentation, along with indicators next to object they are working on.

[One-off Payment customers may be thinking – “I will get these features anyway through Windows Update“.  No you won’t!  – Windows Update is for bug fixes and security flaws – it doesn’t bring you new features.  You won’t get the new Morph Transition that was part of the November 2015 update for example.]

Microsoft Outlook

The stand-out improvement here comes when you want to attach a file to an e-mail. A new Recent Items list shows files you have used or modified across all the Microsoft Office applications.  This makes sense, because the file that you want to send is often the one you have just been working on.

I’m not sure whether I like the new Clutter folder.  Office.com says:

Clutter analyzes your emails, and based on your past behavior, determines the messages that you’re most likely to ignore. It then automatically moves those messages to a folder called Clutter so that you can review them later.

Automatic routines are only useful up to a point.  I already check my Junk E-Mail folder once a day.  Do I really want to have to look in another folder to make sure that an important e-mail hasn’t slipped through the net.  Thankfully, this feature can be switched off.

Poorer Cousins

Microsoft Access, Microsoft OneNote and Microsoft Publisher are also part of the Office family.  Which ones you have depends on the Edition of Microsoft Office that you bought. They all get the “Office-wide changes” I mentioned earlier.  Apart from that, other changes are minimal.

In Access, the Linked Table Manager has an Export to Excel button. This creates a workbook which lists the source of all the external data attached to your database.  The Show Table dialog box is now taller.

OneNote offers the ability to embed videos (from a limited range of sources) directly into a page.

Worth the upgrade?

If you have traditionally used the One-off Payment method, then you have to ask yourself whether any of the improvements are worth the investment. Is there a “killer feature” which will save so much time that you must have it?

On the other hand, do you think that the Monthly Fee scheme, with its promised flow of regular updates, means that you are insuring yourself against the future?

Let me know your opinion at info@base2.co.uk