Microsoft Releases Visual Refresh of Office for Windows

Posted on June 28, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft 365, Office, Windows 10, Windows 11 with 27 Comments

In tandem with today’s release of Windows 11 via the Windows Insider Program, Microsoft has also issued a beta visual refresh of Office to match. So it’s not just Windows on ARM that will benefit from some major Office updates today.

“The visual refresh of the Office desktop apps for Windows 10 and Windows 11 delivers a simple and more coherent experience across the Office apps you depend on, so that you can focus on your work more easily,” Microsoft’s Kori Loomis writes of the update. “In alignment with the release [of Windows 11 in the Insider Program], we are also releasing an Office visual refresh that will shine on the new Windows 11, but will also be available to anyone using Windows 10.”

The Office visual refresh impacts Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, Project, Publisher, and Visio, and is described as “a more natural and consistent experience within and between [the] applications.” It uses the Fluent Design principles, whatever that means, and utilizes neutral color palettes, customizable ribbons, and soft corners. Office will also now matches your Windows theme by default, though you can configure that.

The Office visual refresh is now available to any Office Insiders running the Beta channel. It can be turned off if you’re not interested.

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Comments (27)

27 responses to “Microsoft Releases Visual Refresh of Office for Windows”

  1. dftf

    Have to be honest -- they look a bit bland to me. Compared to Office365 / 2019, where each app has a mode where it uses its own colour, based on the app's icon, they lack identity now. It almost feels like they should just appear inside one app with tabs to switch between them (like WPS Office).

    Also, while it's nice they apply the UI refresh throughout the entire suite, I'm not sure why they bother doing so for Publisher, given it's not had any major new features since Office 2010, and the last new-features full-stop were in Office 2013... they might as well remove it from the suite and just make it a free download at this point

    • bettyblue

      Kind of like Office 2013 where they took a steam iron to it, got rid of the button effect, flattening it and steamed all of the color our of it.

    • crossingtheline

      In Publisher 2013 MS also removed CMYK colour support, making it useless for proper printing.

      I wonder how long Access and Publisher will be kept around for?

      Expression Design and Web were made available as free downloads, maybe the same will happen here.

    • wright_is

      Yes, it looks bland, and I think that is good. You have the colour flash at the right of the windows, but the rest of it seems to follow the current Windows colour scheme. That is a good move, it no longer clashes, but you still have the identifying flash available.

  2. Jeff Fodiak

    Is there a replacement for the quick access toolbar and the autosave button? That's quite important functionality to be removing...

  3. red.radar

    The new UI is fine.

    My main beef is based on previous design updates to use and clutter the Title Bar for interaction elements. When windows are in a floating mode, resized to be less than the full size of the display, it becomes difficult to just drag the window around the desktop. You keep landing on clickable elements.

  4. codymesh

    this looks great...but it also looks like Office 2013. But I guess it doesn't matter, Office 365 customers will get this and users will continue doing what they do.

  5. thewarragulman

    Shame the coloured title bars are gone, always liked that look since Office 2016, as I'm vision impaired it's easier for me to tell at a glance what each window is if it's not the main active window on the screen. Hoping they add an option to customize the theme so we can have a "colourful" theme just like we do now, but also let us have this in dark mode as the coloured title bar with the dark interface would look good in my opinion.

    • wright_is

      Is the coloured flash at the right of the windows too small? (Genuinely interested)

      I know having the whole title bar the app colour would be easier to see, at a glance, but is the flash too small to be useful to you?

  6. cnc123

    It's weird that they're adding color to icons but removing it from applications.

  7. robinwilson16

    Please can someone confirm which version shows the new theme as I have version 2107 and it says it is on the beta channel, there is no new version and I still have the old theme. Are they doing A/B testing on this?

    • Paul Thurrott

      Yep. It's not out yet. It's coming out "this week."

    • dougkinzinger

      Me too; Windows 11 Insider & Office 365 Insider, on the Beta channel, version 16.0.14226.20004 (2107) and no new Windows 11-style theme.

      • rbwatson0

        Ok, figured this out. IT IS NOT OUT YET! It would seem Paul got some bad info. The MS blog post states that you need to have beta version 2107 (build 14228.20000) which is not freaking out yet. Build 14226.20004 just came out today (June 29th). All the articles across the web are just stealing screen shots from the MS blog post.

        I'm guessing a few more days?

  8. sykeward

    The interface elements look nice upon close inspection but I have to admit that it reminded me of Vista Basic at first. It feels like the icons could stand to be refreshed again somehow, perhaps the black outlines toned down or something. The whole thing seems a little off.

  9. Atoqir

    I hope they will release the updated WIndows 11 apps as well cause now it really feels like a hotch potch again.

    After 5 minutes strolling around the new UI I already see inconsistencies in the basic UI.

    Lots of other stuff too. Delete dialogs with square buttons, Spotify still hasn't minimize animations and misses one rounded corner, quick lists fly above start but window previews are fixed on the start bar etc. Quick lists have other hover animations than the desktop context menus and much much more. Task manager is still white in dark mode. And as soon as you click 'more' or 'properties' in explorer you get the same old white dialogs in dark mode.

    Most of the stuff will probably be better within the first year. It is a good start but still a long way to go to polish the whole UI experience. I am a bit sad they didn't refresh everything in the first beta. Apple last year did a whole UI refresh for the whole OS, browser and their 20 stock apps all at once in beta 1. I was hoping for the same treatment with Win11.

    Some things are very good though. The settings app is a lot better, clear and prettier without all the extra large UI padding. I am indifferent about the start menu. The widgets are useless at this moment because they open the webapps and not the actual apps. And I still need to get used to the new bubble action center where everything is now split in 3 places...

    • jimchamplin

      It’s easier for Apple to do that since the way applications render are different. The OS contains all of the resources needed to draw the window, so all Apple has to do is update those resources and everything automatically inherits the new widget styles, fonts, metrics, et cetera.

  10. mattbg

    This is great. I am so unaccustomed to Microsoft doing things in a coordinated way like this. It's like the good old days when you got Office 95 with Windows 95, Office 2000 with Windows 2000, Office XP with Windows XP, etc.

    Maybe they really are serious about this visual refresh this time.

  11. anthonye1778

    Looks sleek and modern... and yeah Microsoft is really committed to the rounded edges it seems, for better AND for worse. Still, it's a good visual upgrade, even if it makes everything look samey.

  12. jchampeau

    Time (and usage) will tell, but removing colors from the title bars seems like a step backward. Currently, if you've got Outlook, OneNote, PowerPoint, Excel, and Chrome open and overlapping, you don't have to hunt or read anything to find the one you want to switch to next. With the colors removed, you will.

    • hrlngrv

      Maybe Excel could be confused with Access table and query result views at a glance, but not that hard to distinguish Excel from other Office programs unless one has disabled gridlines, workbook tab and row/column frame display. OTOH, it seems it may much harder to distinguish Word and Outlook.

      • visinith

        I think the point is more you have to pay closer attention when you have a lot of clutter than before, where you can easily identify, oh green bar, probably my Excel Window. I get where they're coming from, but I'll have to play with the beta myself to know if this affects anything.

        Personally, it's like when dealing with spreadsheets at work, it's already a monotonous type of work. Having some color made a modicum less drab. Sucking the color out of apps like this makes me feel like I'm slipping into a dystopia like Equilibrium.

        • visinith

          Okay, I just installed it and it looks the same. Inside the account options within one of the Office applications, there's a pull down for theme and mine is set to, "Colorful". So, I don't see any issues.

    • dftf

      Same thing in the original versions of Windows 10: with older Win32 apps, such as Notepad, all open windows would have a white titlebar, and the only difference would be the active-window had the titlebar text in black, and the inactive-windows had grey text. At-a-glance, it was hard to see the active one.

      In recent versions, you can apply your Accent Colour to the active window titlebar, which helps.

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