Updated: Microsoft Office 2016 release date, price, news and features

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Windows 10 has and continues to grab a huge deal of attention, generating a growing media interest as we near the launch date (29/7), particularly since this is a vital operating system to get right for Redmond given the (relative) failure of Windows 8 (and RT) and the timid reception for Windows 8.1.

However, let’s not forget that Microsoft has another major cash cow, Office, which has been gradually transformed from a Windows-centric productivity suite of five core products into a vibrant ecosystem of applications, many of them web-based (welcome to the world of SaaS).

In Microsoft’s own words, this time around, the company has reimagined the traditional Office experience for a mobile-first, cloud-first world – one where a client-centric Office 2016 is expected to play an increasingly lesser role compared to Office 365 and Office 2013.

Cut to the chase
What is it? It is the new version of Office, the first one that is designed and built from the ground-up for mobile and cloud.
When will it release? Office 2016 will be launched in autumn 2015.
What will it cost? The suite will be free for consumers on mobile devices and smaller tablets (with limitations, mind you), and probably as cheap as £95 (around $145, AU$185) for a likely “Office Home & Student 2016” edition, though the RRP of the 2013 version of this flavour is £110 (around $165, AU$215), with the subscription version of the suite (Office 365 Personal) running to £60 (or $70, which is around AU$90) per year.

What’s the latest?

Since the launch of Office 2016 (the one at the time of publishing is 16.0.4027.1008) on Windows Preview earlier this year, more than one million customers have used it across both Windows and Mac platforms according to Microsoft and that has been followed by a number of updates including

  • Real Time Presence in word
  • Simplified file sharing
  • Insights (powered by Bing) in Office
  • Version History improvements
  • Improved grammar checker
  • Improved Power Pivot improvements

Note that you need to be an Office 365 customer in order to try Office 2016 and you won’t be able to run both (2016 and 2013) concurrently unfortunately.

We previously heard from Julia White, the general manager for Microsoft Office, that Office 2016 (which is coincidentally the 16th iteration of the suite) will be launched in the second half of 2015, and in a recent blog post Redmond mentioned that the suite will be out in the autumn.

It will still be best suited to a PC with a keyboard and mouse, a setup that Microsoft seems to believe is the best way to achieve optimal productivity.

YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4ZzzFOmxg0

Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore has previously shown off touch and mobile optimised versions of Word and PowerPoint on Windows 10, both of them on Lumia smartphones and part of a new offering called “Office for Windows 10” (see the above and below video clips).

YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFc59mKKTEc

More recently, we got the chance to go hands-on with the Office for Windows 10 apps, which have seen changes in the aesthetics department of course, having been given the new universal app styling you’ll be familiar with for Windows 10 apps. And naturally, there’s a touch-centric UI that will look familiar to iPad users.

In the Word app, for example, there are finger-friendly cursor controls for easy text selection and copy/pasting, plus tapping on a spelling mistake brings up a touch menu of possible replacement words. There’s also a new Bing-powered feature for Word called Insights, and this looks up background information, websites and news stories for selected words. Track changes, comments and co-editing are available too, but not every layout tool is present in this Word app.

Excel has benefited from a considerable makeover, and additions including snap functions and smart scrolling which make tapping in your spreadsheet data an easier process. It has the same touch-friendly interface, but it’s not as stripped down as with Word, and it boasts a status bar that lets you switch between sheets in your workbook and view the results of common formulas for selected cells.

Excel for Windows

PowerPoint has a useful range of editing tools, but the preview version we played with had weaknesses in terms of supported file formats, and the Presenter View not being as useful as we’d hoped (it isn’t really full-screen, for starters, with the title bar at the top always being present, and the Windows taskbar eating up display real-estate, too).

Overall, at this point the Office for Windows 10 apps look to offer a reasonable selection of features with a nice touch-friendly interface, but that UI takes up too much of the screen in landscape mode.

Office for Windows 10 will be released in two flavours; one for smaller 8-inch or less tablets and smartphones, and the other for larger tablets, hybrids with touchscreens and the like. These two versions are built by the same team and offer similar functionality, and are basically a matter of tuning the UI to complement the dimensions of each device. Broadly speaking, the features will also be the same across different platforms too, whether you’re running on Android, iOS or Windows.

Microsoft has said that Office for Windows will be limited to four apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote), because those are the most essential apps which the company wanted to prioritise, and maximise the quality of. Redmond’s Richard Ellis, director for Office in the UK, recently told us: “When the need for other apps is known to us by consumers, we will listen and make plans to develop further apps for Office for Windows.”

We’ve reached out to Microsoft to get more clarity on exactly what the deal is with these apps in terms of pricing – it seems licensing fees will apply for business usage, though it’s not exactly clear how that will work at this point (and while consumers will get free access on smaller devices, it will be with caveats and no advanced features – a familiar enough story). We’ll bring you more news on this front when we hear it.

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Okay, let’s move on to discuss the full Office 2016 suite, which we also recently spent some extensive hands-on time with. In terms of its looks, Office 2016 boasts a selection of five Office Themes (compared to three with Office 2013), offering a selection of greys (light, medium, dark), white, and a colourful theme which picks up the solid slabs of colour in Windows 10.

Office 2016 Themes

Broadly speaking, while there are certainly some welcome tweaks to the UI, and impressive new features in Office 2016, in terms of the latter, they’re thin on the ground (indeed, we didn’t come across any new features whatsoever in Word or PowerPoint in the build we took for a test drive).

So what is new? Microsoft has added a smart ‘Tell Me’ tool which is already available for Office Online and Office for iPad, and offers an assistant to help you perform various tasks.

Office 2016 Tell Me

There are also additions on the management and security front. On Windows, Office will allow for the limiting of what users can do with documents (or emails) that are shared with them, and they can be given an expiry date, prevented from being forwarded and so on.

Outlook Data Loss Prevention features have been extended to Word, Excel and PowerPoint, too – meaning users will be warned directly inside an app if they try to save a file containing confidential information in the wrong location where it would be exposed.

Microsoft has seen fit to add some pretty nifty features to Outlook, which is good to see. For example, when you click to add an attachment to an email, a list of recently worked on files pops up – pretty handy, as the file you want to attach is likely to be one you’ve just finished working with (and this doesn’t just cover local files, but also those on OneDrive).

And Outlook 2016 offers Clutter, a feature that employs machine learning to analyse your email patterns, and then intelligently sorts unimportant and spam mails into a separate folder, to help you tame your inbox more effectively.

Excel 2016 BI

Improved business intelligence tools now grace Excel 2016, with Power Query being built-in rather than an add-on, and Power View now working with data from OLAP cubes. Working with the slicers that let you swiftly filter tables and Pivot Tables using a touchscreen is also easier in Excel.

Rumours suggest that Microsoft will add automatic image rotation to Office apps, to help with the positioning of pictures in your documents. Furthermore, the rumour mill reckons that Office 2016 will bring real-time Word document co-authoring to the desktop suite, coming to Word first, and then Excel and PowerPoint at a later date (previously this functionality was only available on the web).

It’s worth bearing in mind that InfoPath (the electronic form designing and filling software) will be dropped from Office when the next version of the suite emerges, though Microsoft says it will continue support for InfoPath Forms Services through to 2016.

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Microsoft is also bringing a new version of the suite to the Mac, finally, after Mac users have been left with the 2011 edition for the last half decade. Office for Mac includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and also Outlook for Mac and an updated version of the free OneNote for Mac app.

Office for Mac

The suite has witnessed the introduction of a range of new features designed for Apple’s computers, including full support for Retina Displays, plus the user interface has been overhauled and brought up to date as was badly needed, delivering the ribbons and task panes of the Windows Office applications – though it still sticks firmly with the Yosemite look, of course.

New Rights Management Services are present in the suite, allowing you to set documents to expire after a certain date, or prevent an email from being forwarded anywhere else (as with Windows). Office for Mac also very neatly bakes OneDrive into the mix for Mac users, and is shaping up to be strides forward on many fronts.

However, there are certainly a number of features missing compared to the Windows version – and some of these are powerful features – and it’s not clear yet how many of these will be brought across when the final version of Office for Mac ships.

Office 2016 Presentation

Microsoft’s default choice for Office is the subscription model, which is the company’s preferred method of delivery and currently maintains 24 different SKUs (stock keeping units) spread between home, education, enterprise, government and non-profit.

The company currently has around 9.2 million Office 365 Personal and Home users (and more than 50 million Office Online users), a tiny fraction of the estimated total 1.2 billion Office users that have deployed the productivity suite. Still, the 9.2 million figure as of last quarter represents 30% growth, Microsoft recently announced.

Going forward, the idea with Office 365 Personal is to allow one individual to connect one PC or Mac, one phone and one tablet to the service for a yearly subscription fee, allowing for usage via the cloud. However, it’s designed for personal use, as the name of course suggests, and not for those who want to use the Office apps for professional purposes. For those customers who need this better functionality and more features, those are provided by Office for Windows and its touch-optimised apps for work on the move.

Microsoft also recently announced that it is investing in strategic partnerships with device manufacturers globally, and Samsung, Dell, along with other vendors (nine of them) will bring the Office app experience to Android devices later on in 2015.

All eleven of these vendors will pre-install Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive and Skype on their Android devices, in what Microsoft describes as a move to “literally hand deliver the entire productivity suite to users around the globe.” Peggy Johnson, Executive Vice President, Business Development at Microsoft, said that: “This is a big step forward for our cross-platform and cross-device services strategy, which will bring an array of Microsoft services to every person on every device.”

Outlook at Build

Finally, at the recent Build 2015 conference, Microsoft revealed that it’s making the Office suite into a platform, allowing developers to integrate their apps and services directly into Office 2016. In other words, you won’t have to leave Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or Outlook to use third-party apps that will include the likes of SAP, Salesforce, Uber and DocuSign.

For example, the Uber add-on will allow Outlook users to set a reminder to call a car in order to get them to their next appointment, and the SAP add-on will let Excel users connect to the on-premise SAP server and import data directly into a spreadsheet.

Getting the preview version

If you want to try out Office 2016 on Windows, then you’ll be pleased to hear that the Public Preview version is now available as a free download – and unlike the Consumer Technical Preview before it, users aren’t required to sign up to an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement). Head here for more details on how to grab the preview.

Office 2016 for Mac

As for Mac users, there’s a preview version available for you as well. If you want to have a gander at the next incarnation of Office for OS X, you can grab the Office for Mac Preview here. This was updated a short while back, with various performance tweaks and better VoiceOver accessibility support among other improvements.

Note that there is also an Office 2016 IT Pro and Developer preview that offers a number of enhancements compared to the plain Office 2016, which includes

  • Data Loss Protection (DLP)
  • Tweaks to Outlook (like MAPI-HTTP, Foreground network calls, lean storage footprint etc)
  • Click-to-run deployment
  • Macros and Add-ins
  • Information Rights Management