Microsoft unveils collaboration-boosted Office 2016
By Benjamin Cher September 22, 2015
- Productivity suite now includes contextual information and predictive forms
- New collaborative platforms integrated into Office apps
MICROSOFT Corp has launched Office 2016, the latest edition of its productivity suite, which now comes with collaborative features integrated into each application, as well as better integration with other Microsoft products such as Skype and Cortana.
Skype is the Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) service Microsoft acquired in 2011, while Cortana is the personal digital assistant integrated in its recently released Windows 10 operating system. In Asia, Cortana is only available in Japan and China, however.
With Office 2016, users can now collaborate within the Word, PowerPoint and OneNote applications, according to the company.
They can set co-authoring rights where users can simultaneously edit documents, and even use instant messaging or call the other party via Skype while still within these applications.
“You get real-time collaboration and Skype integration, which used to be only available online – we’re bringing it to the desktop,” said Byron Radar (pic), general manager of applications and services at Microsoft Asia Pacific.
Microsoft has been focused on building collaborative features into its Office suite, he told Digital News Asia (DNA) after a pre-launch media briefing in Singapore.
Co-authoring and simplified sharing of documents has been available on Office 365, the cloud version of Microsoft’s iconic productivity suite.
The new GigJam collaboration platform, available for preview for Office 365 users, is also set to become a feature in 2016. Microsoft said GigJam will help teams accomplish tasks and transform processes by connecting the different Office applications, devices and people.
Office 2016 also features contextual information and predictive forms within its applications. For example, Tell Me is a new feature that helps users find the right Office 2016 feature or command, while Smart Lookup calls up information from the Web from within the application. The search engine powering Smart Lookup is Microsoft’s own Bing.
Krishna Baidya, head of customer contact and unified communications and collaborations research at analyst firm Frost & Sullivan, thinks that the ramping up of contextual information gathering and predictive forms in Office might further enhance user experience.
“Insight for Office is definitely a step forward to enhance user experience, as it promises to bring contextual information from public sources (based on what the user is reading or writing about),” he told DNA via email.
“This could be quite useful for a quick look-up to a detailed exploration without having to leave the application while creating/ working on a particular content,” he added.
Microsoft’s collaboration platform Delve (pic below) would also enhance this experience, according to Krishna.
“Microsoft Delves further pushes the contextual aspect, where personalised content is pushed to users from across Office 365,” he said.
“Such contextual information can be extremely helpful when one is working on a new document or existing document, as other relevant documents can be pushed along – as well as getting to know other team members who have worked on something similar.
“This eventually makes the collaboration effort much simpler,” he added.
The Outlook email client (pic above) has also been integrated with contextual and predictive forms – for example, the Clutter feature sorts out email and puts low-priority emails in a separate folder while summarising the day’s mail.
Over time, the application will learn and prioritise email based on user behaviour, Microsoft claimed.
Even the Excel spreadsheet (pic below) is getting new features, with the enterprise version including new analytics such as one-click forecasting. New chart types such as Waterfall, Pareto, Treemap and Histogram are also available.
On the security front, Office 2016 now supports multi-factor authentication for enterprise users, as well as data loss protection built into the applications to help IT administrators manage content and document-sharing policies.
Those with external APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and integration with the existing Office 2013 suite need not fear their applications being “broken” at launch, according to Radar.
“I’m getting questions from customers on the APIs and integrations they’ve built into their Office 2013, and whether they can deploy Office 2016 – the feedback I’m getting is that the APIs are the same, so this does not affect deployment,” he said.
One up on Google?
The co-authoring and online collaboration features of Office 2016 are reminiscent of Google Docs, where real-time simultaneous editing is also possible.
Frost & Sullivan’s Krishna (pic) believes that Microsoft has the edge over its rival here.
“Even though offerings from both Microsoft and Google Docs converge and differentiation fades out, Microsoft still holds the advantage,” he said.
“Microsoft continues to enjoy the advantage of having a huge installed base of its Office suite, and many of its users think Web alternatives are not as powerful,” he said.
One area that Microsoft is also looking to take care of that Google currently does not have is version control for its users.
Now there is an improved version history to track who made changes, and the ability to revert to previous versions with just a click. This includes reconciling offline and online versions of the document.
“It is a huge area of investment in Microsoft, given that some of our competition is only on the cloud,” said Radar.
“We have a differentiation we are trying to bring to customers, saying, ‘Hey, it’s cloud, it’s on your PC, but we’re going to make sure you won’t have replication issues and you can go easily on the cloud and your device,” he said.
While Microsoft has been pushing the cloud subscription model, there has always been a perpetual licence offering. This is unlikely to change anytime soon, according to Radar.
“I do see the trend with Office 365, that we will continue our momentum in the cloud, but I don’t think we’ll be 100% cloud in 10 years,” he declared.
“Our differentiating factor is that if you are in the cloud, you have the best in the cloud; and the best on your PC if you don’t have connectivity.
“I see a movement continuing into the cloud where we can update you to the best and most secure Office, but at the same time, if you go into your retail stores, you’ll see FPP (full-packaged product) boxes of Office 2016.
“We’re not going to slow that down,” Radar added.
Cost benefits of subscription
Krishna agreed, pointing out that many users don’t use all the Office features currently available.
However, on the enterprise side, upgrading would still be based on a cost-to-benefit analysis, where a subscription which provides free upgrades would be more attractive, he argued.
“This is likely to help adoption in the near-term – however, in the long-term perspective, different licensing models are likely to co-exist,” Krishna said.
“It will be also beneficial for Microsoft to maintain such options, as organisations will then have the power to choose what they feel is more suitable for them,” he added.
Despite many users not using all the features of the Office suite, Krishna said he believes that the new Office 2016 features might prove too attractive for companies or individuals not to upgrade.
“Microsoft's positioning of this new version is as the productivity tool for the mobile-first, cloud-first work environment, with a major emphasis on the ‘collaboration’ aspect to enhance productivity,” Krishna said.
“Productivity gains via ease of usage, contextual proactive content, sharing and working together – or just ‘collaborating’ sounds reason enough to consider upgrading,” he added.
Microsoft Office 2016 prices are as follows:
- Office 365 Home: SRP (Suggested Retail Price) of S$138 or US$98/ annum
- Office 365 Personal: SRP of $98 or US$70/ annum
- Office 2016 (perpetual): SRP of S$209 (US$148)
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