Microsoft Office 2016 Preview: 10 New Features That Will Turn Partners' Heads

Building A Better Office

It always feels like just as I master the latest version of Office, a new version appears. Later this year, Microsoft will introduce Office 2016. This week at the Microsoft Ignite conference in Chicago, it opened up the preview version of Office 2016 to anyone.

After using the preview Office 2016 for the past couple of days, I'm impressed. Microsoft has gone easy on user interface changes and focused on adding tools for what it sees as today's modern workforce. Those workers, Microsoft says, are prone to working in teams, are incredibly mobile, collaborate more often on projects and are always a mouse click away from a world of information.

Here, a quick overview of what's new in this preview version, available for download now.

Outlook Gets Major Overhaul

Attachments can be a hassle to share among co-workers. Does everyone have the latest version? Did a colleague update a document with added content? Could the attachment be infected? Microsoft is trying to solve these problems by gently pushing users to be more cloud-centric.

In Outlook 2016, Microsoft now gives you a subtle nudge when you're adding an email attachment. Now the drop-down ’add attachment’ menu item asks you if you want to add a file, but also if you want to share a link to a file stored on your SharePoint, OneDrive or OneDrive for Business account.

Even if you add an attachment from your OneDrive, you can still choose to share it as a classic attachment, an embedded attachment or a cloud attachment.

Real-Time Co-Editing In Word

Microsoft has added a feature that Google Doc users have been enjoying for years now -- real-time co-editing in office documents. Microsoft has allowed real-time co-editing in Office Online, but it says it will expand those functions to Office 2016 apps starting with Word. Microsoft says you'll be able to collaborate more easily with remote teams and help groups ’stay on the same page.’

No word on when co-editing and creation tools will become available in other Office apps such as Excel.

Query Box Inside Office Helps You Find How-To Answers Fast

Most of us never use Office to its fullest potential. Sometimes we have a hard time using it, period. To help you be more productive in Office 2016, Microsoft has added a Tell Me box that sits inconspicuously in the center top of your program title bar.

Now when you need help trying to figure out how to project your screen to a second monitor, create graphs in Excel or put a watermark in a Word document all you have to do is ask the Tell Me box. Just start typing in your questions in the Tell Me box using natural language query and Microsoft will narrow your answer down the best it can.

Creating Work Groups Via Outlook

In Microsoft's vision of the workplace today, teams are collaborating more via email, video, IM and in physical and virtual meetings. To help facilitate this cooperation and collaboration, Microsoft has added 365 Groups or Outlook Desktop Groups or Office 365 Enterprise Mailboxes. Apparently, Microsoft hasn't decided on a final name yet.

These features in the desktop version of Outlook 2016 allow you to create and manage groups. From within Outlook, you can keep tabs on group activity, access conversation history, and manage files and group notes stored on OneDrive.

Closer to the official Office 2016 launch, look for deep hooks into Skype for Business. The Office app, which replaces Lync, will be central to group meetings so physical and virtual attendees can participate, Microsoft said.

PowerPoint Is Old School: Make Way For Sway

Sway is billed as a hipper presentation app than your dad's PowerPoint. Sway lets you drag and drop photos, videos and files from YouTube, your computer, Facebook, Twitter or OneDrive onto a Web browser or smartphone or tablet app. Sway allows you to organize content in an engaging way to help communicate in a nonlinear (PowerPoint) way.

Yes, Microsoft's OneNote is also an aggregation app. But Microsoft says Sway is more of a presentation app, allowing users to share finished ideas, compared with OneNote, which it says is more like the box we put ideas in before we present them.

Sway, in preview since October, will be available in Office 2016 and to business and education subscribers in Office 365 later this year.

Built-In Business Intelligence

With Excel in Office 2016, Microsoft has decided to add the feature Microsoft Power Query for Excel into the core of Excel, so it no longer requires a separate download. The tool allows you to combine your own data with third-party data from within the program. That in turn allows for some heavy lifting when it comes to discovering, combining and refining data across a wide variety of sources.

With Power Query, you can import into Excel structured or unstructured data from public data sources including Wikipedia tables, Microsoft Azure Marketplace and Then you can use the built-in JSON parser to create data visualizations over Big Data and Azure HDInsight.

Smarter Office Menu Options

Office menus get a IQ upgrade, says Microsoft, making saving, opening and browsing for files easier. In Word, for example, the Browse option has been elevated for improved visibility and is now much easier to find. The Open and Save As tabs have also been streamlined to reduce confusion when trying to navigate where you want to save a file -- be it locally or in your OneDrive.

One menu update I appreciated was within Outlook. In Office 2016 Outlook when you add an attachment to an email, the Attach File menu option now includes Recent Items, which includes any Office documents that have recently been closed. That saves the annoying step of having to Browse around and find that file you just closed and want to share.

Outlook De-Clutters Your Inbox

Office 2016 Microsoft gives us some new ammo inside Outlook to fight back the landslide of email we get daily. Called Clutter, the tool moves low priority messages out of your inbox and into a folder aptly called Clutter.

Microsoft says Clutter works over time analyzing your Outlook inbox workflow. Once it determines the messages you're most likely to ignore, it moves them into the Clutter folder within Outlook. Once you activate the Clutter feature from within settings, the Clutter folders show up in all handheld, tablet and online versions of Outlook.

Data Loss Protection

Microsoft raises the bar on security in Office 2016 with tools to prevent data leakage and manage file permissions. Administrators can now enable and set Data Loss Protection policies for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

From the management point of view, policies can fight data leakage by allowing administrators to restrict what files can be sent to whom, and prevent data from being copied and pasted outside of Office 2016 applications.

IT administrators can place restrictions ranging from ’notification’ of a violation, allowing users to ’override’ rules with a justification, to finally ’block’ dissemination of content. Additionally, Microsoft adds file-level encryption of Outlook, Word, Excel and other content. You can also choose to store data in a Customer Lockbox to control whether Microsoft can access sensitive information.

Microsoft Adds Click-To-Run Features

Click-to-Run is an existing technology designed to reduce the time required to download, install and run Office products. But with Office 2016, Microsoft said, it has added management enhancements that IT administrators have been clamoring for that include: better network traffic management (for deploying office in bandwidth-constrained times and offices), enhanced distribution management (tighter integration with ConfigMgr), flexible update management (for bugs, fixes and feature updates) and simplified activation management (a new Admin Portal feature for device activation).