Hands-On with Word 2016 Preview for Windows

Posted on May 5, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Office with 0 Comments

Hands-on with Word 2016 Preview for Windows

With the public preview of Office 2016 now available, I threw caution to the wind and uninstalled Office 2013 to check out the new version, which will be updated over time. Since I spend the most time in Word, I figured that was an obvious place to start.

Of course, many of the more interesting Office 2016 improvements are happening elsewhere, as Word is a very mature product. I actually tried to use Outlook this morning so I could check out the attachment and clutter improvements and, my God is Outlook an old and tired application with zero understanding of Microsoft’s own services. What a disaster.

So I’ll look at Word.

Unlike the Word for Mac 2016 Preview—which I looked at back in March—Word 2016 for Windows of course ships with the same text styles we saw in Word 2013, which I find to be important. Indeed, by default it looks and works almost exactly like its predecessor, most likely because it syncs things like the background and theme.

If you’re interested in look and feel changes, there are a few seemingly minor things that I feel make a big difference in this release. Microsoft has expanded the number of themes from three to five, and the two new themes—Colorful and a real Dark Gray—are quite welcome. Colorful is my favorite, and I assume will be the default: it colorizes the top ribbon area in each application, making them look consistent with the growing collection of Office mobile apps. It’s quite attractive.

colorful

Dark Gray will be pleasing to those who thought the previous Dark Gray—now called Medium Gray—wasn’t dark enough because, well, it wasn’t. I always found the Office 2013 themes to be too bright and garish—I mean, seriously, did anyone ever really use the White theme? And why was that the default?—you will find that Dark Gray, finally, offers a nice contrast.

dark-gray

Also in keeping with the mobile apps, Microsoft expects most users to hide the ribbon by default, and that view is now simplified, taking up only a minimal amount of space.

minimal-ribbon

You can of course continue to expand the ribbon as needed, but since so many people seem to have issues, Word—like Excel and PowerPoint—picks up the Tell Me search bar that debuted first in the Office Online web apps. You basically type a command name into the search bar and you can then select a search result to implement that command directly. It’s sort of like Start menu search, but for Office.

tell-me

Beyond these small changes, I don’t see much else new. And two of Word 2016’s most-touted new features don’t appear to be available in the current build.

Insights—currently available in Word Online—lets you highlight a word, term or sentence and then learn more about that topic in an Insights pane on the right side of the app.  Here’s an (admittedly uninteresting) example using this article loaded in Word Online.

insights

Real-time collaboration is the other one, and this is arguably the most touted new feature in Word 2016. Someday, you will be able to collaborate in real-time using Word 2016. But today is not that day.

Microsoft tells me these features will be added in coming updates, and since Office 2016 Preview will be updated regularly going forward—as it will be when it ships to customers later this year—that could happen pretty quickly. And the company did confirm that real-time collaboration will only be available in Word on the client side—it’s available in Word, Excel and PowerPoint Online in Office Online—and only in the desktop version of the application for Windows. Presumably, we will see real-time collaboration come to Excel and PowerPoint 2016 in the future too.

So far, Word 2016 Preview seems stable enough for daily use—as does OneNote 2016 Preview, which I’m also using regularly—so I’ll keep going with the new and see how it goes.

As you may recall, you can download the Office 2016 Preview for Windows desktop from the Microsoft web site. But that version is a time-limited evaluation version. If you have an Office 365 business subscription, you can actually get it through your installation portal—yes, it does count against your install limit—and Microsoft will simply keep it up to date going forward, and presumably past the beta versions. Pretty cool.

install-office365

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