Office 2016 for Windows Review

Office 2016 for Windows Review

Today marks the general availability of Office 2016 for Windows, a suite of desktop applications that together with new mobile and web apps pushes Microsoft’s new vision for PC-based productivity. Office 2016 is available immediately to Office 365 subscribers, as well as to individuals who would prefer to buy the software in standalone form.

“We see Office 2016 as being just as important as the first release of Office,” Microsoft group program manager Shawn Villaron told me in a briefing last week. “In the early days, Office was about bringing really important tools together to empower the individual for personal productivity. That was the way people wanted to work at that time. And for 20 to 30 years, Office fit right in. Today, things are changing. More people collaborate on work as groups and teams, so Office 2016 represents the change from personal productivity to team productivity.”

And that, really, is Office 2016 in a nutshell. If you’re a typical information worker, student, or other person in need of standard productivity tools, Office 2016 of course works fine and represents an obvious and stable evolution from the Office version you’re currently using. But the real meat in this release–now and going forward, as Office will of course be updated regularly, like Windows 10–is the designed around this new way of working.

Confusing matters somewhat, Office–not Office 2016, but Office generally–is all over the place now. In addition to the classic, full-featured desktop suites on both Windows and Mac, Microsoft has high-quality Office Online web apps, mobile apps for Android, iOS, and Windows/Windows phones–and Office 365-specific solutions that are often available as web apps but are sometimes just integrated into the desktop applications. This ain’t your father’s Office anymore.

Office everywhere: Microsoft Office is available on virtually any device you care to use.
Office everywhere: Microsoft Office is available on virtually any device you care to use.

I don’t want to get too far afield with the Office solutions that are not part of Office 2016 specifically. But it’s important to think of Office holistically, because Office 2016 is only part–yes, a big part–of the story. And for those who subscribe to Office 365, especially the commercial versions, the capabilities are expanding quickly and almost exponentially.

Built for Windows 10

Office 2016 will work just fine on Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1. But it’s designed to work best with Windows 10, and to take advantage of unique Windows 10 features. For example, you can connect an Office 365 commercial account–assuming your employer has OK’d the First Release option in the Office 365 Admin Center–to Cortana and use Windows 10’s digital personal assistant to intelligently connect with your meetings and related materials (PowerPoint presentation, for example), and even call in with Skype for Business.

Prettier and more consistent

OK, this may not seem like a big deal. But Office 2016 picks up two new themes that should make using these applications more pleasant. The first, called Colorful, provides an opaque header for each application that is color-coded for that application, and makes each resemble its mobile app cousins. (So Word is blue, Excel is green, and so on.) The second is an update to Dark Gray that–get this–is actually dark gray. Yes, that’s a big improvement from Office 2013.


Simpler sharing

Like popular web and mobile apps, the desktop Office 2016 applications now support a simple sharing mechanism so you can invite co-workers to read and edit, and see who is currently working on the document. You can also fire off Skype-based IM and audio/video calls directly with co-authors from the new Share pane. And if you save your documents on OneDrive for Business or SharePoint, they will retain a version history so you can go back to earlier versions at any time.

OneNote 2016 has a similar capability called shared notebooks, by which co-workers can create shared team notebooks for individual projects.

Smarter collaboration

Word, PowerPoint and OneNote 2016 all support co-authoring with multiple authors of content hosted on OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint Online. But Word ups the ante with real-time typing, where two or more co-authors can edit a document in real-time and see their cursor movements and typing as they occur.

This capability is also available in Office Online and in some of the mobile apps, and Microsoft tells me that it will be bringing it to PowerPoint and Excel 2016, and to the Office mobile apps on Windows tablets too.

Tell Me

When Microsoft first started adding the ribbon UI with Office 2007, the goal was to help people find commands more easily that was possible with the overloaded menu/dialog box system from previous versions. That was successful, but many users still can’t find some commands, so a new feature called Tell Me–which debuted first in Office Online–provides the next logical step.


Tell Me works like a search box at the top of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Access. If you’re looking for a feature but have no idea where to find it, just ask Tell Me. You can type simple phrases (“create a table”) or even complete sentences (“how do I disable spell-checking?”). Your choice.

Smart Lookup

Available in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, Smart Lookup will be a boon to students or anyone else who is writing and needs to quickly research a fact. So rather than do what we all do today–leave the application, launch a web browser, and then perform a web search–you can your answer right in the application.


To do so, just right-click a word or selected phrase–Smart Lookup will include the surrounding text too, for context–and choose Smart Lookup from the menu that appears. A Smart Lookup pane will appear on the right, powered by Bing, so you can do your research without context switching to a new application. Nice!

Outlook improvements

Many information workers practically live in Outlook already, but Outlook 2016 has been improved to make this important app even more vital.

First, Outlook picks up support for modern attachments in a manner that is similar to how this works in and Outlook on the Web for Office 365. That is, you can now seamlessly share documents stored in OneDrive, OneDrive for Business or SharePoint Online, but instead of sending files via email, each recipient will work with the actual document in the cloud. “This is an important nudge to team productivity,” Villaron told me. “A normal document attachment would result in duplicate files everywhere, with no single truth.”

Shot courtesy of Microsoft.
Shot courtesy of Microsoft.

Outlook also picks up the Clutter feature from and Outlook on the Web. No simple inbox filter, Clutter is instead an intelligent system that learns how you manage email over time, Microsoft says, and then customizes what you see accordingly. “It gets better the more you use it,” Villaron said. “Think of it as a mailbox assistant, not some dumb thing.”

(Not interested? No worries: Clutter is off by default and is opt-in.)

Outlook 2016 also provides access to Office 365 Groups, so you can create public or private teams, each with its own shared inbox, calendar, cloud storage, and OneNote-based notebook.

Excel improvements

If you’re a big Excel user, you may be interested in the 6 new chart types that debut in Excel 2016: Waterfall (financial), Histogram, Box and Whisker, Pareto (statistical), Treemap and Sunburst (hierarchical). The most eagerly-anticipated, perhaps, is Waterfall, which uses line items to present data in a very useful way. Like all charts, as the data is updated, so to is the chart.


Excel 2016 also picks up one-click forecast so you can predict such things as future sales, inventory requirements, consumer trends and the like.


(I’m not a heavy Excel user, and these sample Excel spreadsheets were provided by Microsoft. However, I did create the charts and forecasting displays myself.)

Skype for Business improvements

Skype for Business supports meetings, HD video conferencing and desktop sharing so employees who are physically isolated can still collaborate with their coworkers.

Skype for Business is also integrated into all of the Office 2016 desktop applications so you can IM, screen share, talk or video chat as you’re working on documents, scheduling or whatever. (This capability is coming to Office Online “later this fall,” Microsoft says.)

Office 365 commercial features

Most of what I’ve described here is available to all Office 2016, with some notable exceptions: OneDrive for Business, SharePoint Online, and Skype for Business all require Office 365 commercial (work/education/government and so on) accounts. But those with such accounts will also benefit from a number of other unique features, some of which are not strictly part of Office 2016, but are rather being enabled for users alongside Office 2016.

For example, Office Delve will be updated soon to support Office 365 Groups insights and filtering. Delve, as you may recall, lets you reach across the various Office 365 information repositories so you can find the people, documents and other information that is important to you. It is delivered as a web app.


Office 365 Planner is a brand new tool–also delivered as a web app–that helps teams manage their activities and milestones. You can assign tasks and their milestones to individuals, bucket tasks into groups, and visual your progress using dynamic charts. The red bits show you what’s late.


I didn’t get to test this, but a coming new feature called GigJam is currently available to a small group of preview testers and will be added to Office 365 in 2016. “GigJam is a new way for teams to accomplish tasks and transform business processes by breaking down the barriers between devices, apps and people,” Microsoft claims.

Office Sway isn’t new–to Office 365 or Office 2016, in fact it’s delivered in web and mobile app forms only–but it’s yet another part of the growing selection of Office 365 commercial benefits and is a prime example of how Microsoft is really thinking outside the traditional box when it comes to productivity.


(Sway also works with Microsoft’s revamped web site, as do other Office and Office 2016 solutions. lets you post Word, Excel or PDF documents, Sways, or Office Mix content that you intend to share with others.)

OneDrive for Business will be updated later this month, offering a preview of the next-generation sync client for Windows and Mac. This new client will offer improved reliability and selective sync, as well as increased file size and volume limits, Microsoft says.

And Office 365 commercial customers can also benefit from new and improved security features, including Data Loss Prevention in Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook, and multi-factor authentication. Later this year, Microsoft will also add Enterprise Data Protection to Office Mobile apps for Windows 10 later this year and for the Office 2016 desktop applications in early 2016.

Availability and pricing

Office 2016 is now available to Office 365 commercial, Home and Personal subscribers, though you will need to manually download and install the new suite. Microsoft says that it will automatically begin rolling out the upgrade to Office 365 Home, Personal and small business subscribers next month, and to commercial subscribers in early 2016.

Office 365 pricing remains the same as before. (Office 365 Home is $9.99 per month, for example, while Office 365 Personal is $6.99 per month.) But the prices for standalone Office suites is going up, slightly, by $10 per offering.

So … Individuals can also buy Office 2016 for Windows–and, now, Office 2016 for Mac–in standalone form at retail, including Microsoft’s own stores, and online electronically. Office Home & Student (for Mac or PC) includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote 2016, and costs $150. Office Home & Business (for Mac or PC) includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook 2016, and costs $230. Office Professional 2016 (PC only) includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access 2016, and costs $400.

You can find out more at

Looking to the future

A big part of the Office value proposition is that these solutions will evolve over time, not just with bug and security fixes, but with new features. The rate at which this happens for Office 2016 specifically will depend on how you acquire the suite.

Office 365–for home users and individuals, small businesses and for commercial customers which opt into the correct updating branch–will be updated on a very fast schedule, and Microsoft intends to maintain a monthly cadence.

For users committed to standalone Office products not tied to subscriptions–what Microsoft calls “perpetual” Office offerings–the firm is open-minded. It will evaluate what customers are asking for and see down the road whether an Office 2019–or whatever–is warranted.

I could see this happening, but Office 365 is such a no-brainer for individuals and organizations of all sizes that the need for these standalone Office versions should plummet. For now, we have Office 2016, which may or may not be the “last” traditional version of the suite. I guess we’ll see, but if that does happen, at least Office can go out on a high note.

Office 2016 is highly recommended. And the best way to get it, of course, is as part of Office 365.


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