Ease of Learning: 4.5 / 5
Ease of Use: 4.5 / 5
Enjoyment: 4 / 5
Design: 4 / 5
Value for Money: 4.5 / 5
Microsoft has released its latest version of Office late 2015, known by many as Office 2016, or Office 16.
The release marks a significant upgrade over previous versions of Office and its the first major upgrade for almost three years. Microsoft has worked hard in creating a more streamlined ecosystem, whether it be its different version of Windows across multiple devices, and also now with Office.
While there are many that relate Office to offerings of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, these applications only really scratch the surface of what’s available. In addition to adding new features to most applications, now with a more cloud-based appeal, there are also a few new additions to the suite, in the form of Sway and Delve. Microsoft has highlighted the importance of collaboration within Office, as well as its mobility (be it on your mobile or online) and security. With more than 1.2 billion users across the globe, emphasising these keys aspects is justifiable.
But the question remains in everyone’s minds, “do I really have to upgrade?”
To answer the question simply, if you’re using the subscription based, Office 365, you’d have received notice of an upgrade via the Office Update tool. So there’s no need to change anything besides having to download and upgrade the already existing software. If you’re using Office 2013, however, you may want to continue reading to find out whether you should make the jump.
To avoid confusion, Office 16 is purchasable as a standalone suite but is also available as part of your Office 365 subscription, along with many other cloud-based features.
Look and Feel
On first use of the updated Office, you’ll notice that there are some differences. But without exploring these, you wouldn’t know what they are exactly, and after a few days of use, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it looks the same as Office 13. And that’s the beauty of it. Unlike the public outcry when introducing the Ribbon-based Office look, Microsoft has made gradual changes to Office in the years that followed. Office 16 looks more colourful and a slight bit more solid, which is noticeable when comparing two of the same applications side-by-side. But you don’t have to stick to this look. With the use of themes, users can choose different colour options and accents across any of the added applications, which is also integrated into Windows 10, allowing the taskbar to adopt the same themes you’ve chosen.
The solid look is the result of the tabs and spaces being increased by a fraction, mostly due to the push towards touchscreen monitors and tablets. And while they are bigger, by comparison, it isn’t cumbersome. Just imagine the difficulty for touchscreen users on a 13” notebook with 1080p resolution using the same icons. Thankfully, Office 16 is also well-integrated to 4K touchscreens (which I’ve also managed to test during the same period). The windows, tabs and icons all scale accordingly to your desktop resolution, making touch-based operations just as easy as if you were using a 1366x768px devices. In addition to all the colour and size changes, Microsoft has also added some detail to the Info pane, which provides details that were previously hidden away – such as the date of creation and last modified information.
All the main applications have adopted the new look while each providing specific new features for that app. This not only makes is universal, but also makes working in those specific environments easier, especially when considering newer aspects such as cloud collaboration (to be discussed later).
Applications such as Access and Publisher may have adopted the new look, but a lot of their updates have been superficial, with no major updates observed. One thing that has also made life a tad easier for me personally is the jump lists and previously edited works that have a better appearance in the Windows taskbar and start menu. And even better is the fact that those same jump lists also make the leap to your cloud operations if you’ve chosen to save your work online for anywhere access.
Other settings such as your personalised dictionary also follow you wherever you’re logged in, whereas spell checking does not. Other noticeable settings that also don’t span across online include the AutoCorrect capabilities, and email signatures, to name a few.
It’s a step in the right direction overall, with the above-mentioned exceptions easily added by means of a simple Office update.
Cross-Platform Integration and Collaboration
The whole aim of 365 is to be constantly updated with the latest software with the latest features, with the ability to operate with its cloud-based infrastructure from wherever you are. The cloud-based services were introduced in Office 2013 but didn’t really have the impact Microsoft desired. One key aspect to the lack of success would be the differences in operation across platforms. And that’s what Office 2016 has attempted to iron out. The user experience is almost in sync across all platforms, whether it be on Windows, OS X, or your mobile device.
No longer is your Office experience limited to either your desktop or your mobile, with different requirements, but, instead, users can have ease of access and seamless editing between devices simply by saving your work to the cloud. Users can create documents from their PC or laptop, and pick it up on their phone or tablet for editing and adding information not available across those platforms. But if you do require that, the use of OneDrive also makes that possible.
While the cloud will no doubt assist the way you work, removing restrictions on having your own laptop with you at all times, collaboration also forms an important aspect of switching to a cloud-based environment. And that’s the real difference here. Users can opt to share documents online in a closed work environment, or with friends, while each person is able to work on the document in real time, concurrently. You can also set the amount of collaboration you require, whether it be from full editing, to simply highlighting points of interest, discussion or errors. This no doubt takes away the hassle of printing documents and making manual edits using a pen or pencil, but it also takes away the need to send emails back and forth with document edits.
While working in teams across the Internet may be more efficient, it also brings in greater risk when it comes to security when working with sensitive information. Protecting documents become a key aspect of the collaboration environment. But the threat isn’t as great as you’d think.
Microsoft has taken some steps to protecting your documents and workspace with a few small inclusions, some of which existed previously. When opening up your document to be edited online in a group or a specific set of individuals, you have the option to choose exactly which users you wish to allow access to the file. The settings are so specific you can also set the capability of the documents being edited, copied, printed or forwarded in an email.
And if you don’t find these sufficient, you’re able to set the protected interval for user access by choosing an expiry date of your sharing option. It is worth noting, however, that some of these features do require your OS has a Rights Management System on Windows Server or use on any of the Azure Servers, by enabling the Information Rights Management. The security is also featured and channelled to mobile applications on your smartphone or tablet.
Blocking the access for security is one aspect of collaboration. Users now also have the ability to request additional access and rights to save, and provide the reason they wish to do so. This feature also includes the, so-called, “break the glass” option, which allows you to edit and manage the document in the event of an emergency, but will trigger a set of alarms to the document owner or manager, who will be notified of the bypassing of certain access rights, along with your reason for doing so.
Collaboration, as stated, is one of the key aspects of Office 2016, and its implementation across most applications is rather impressive. Whether it will be used in your home or organisation as much as Microsoft would hope remains to be seen.
Sway is, by definition, a presentation program. But it’s not here to replace PowerPoint. What it is, however, somewhat of a Web authoring tool, without being a Web authoring tool, which allows users to combine media, much like with PowerPoint, into a presentable website. It’s not a photo album tool, but it has the capabilities. It’s not a app building tool, but somehow you’re able to create presentations that may appear as apps. It’s not a digital magazine either, but, yes you guessed it. Everything in Sway points to it being a Digital Storytelling platform that allows you to express and share your ideas, photos, videos, and whatever else you deem fit, to the world.
It isn’t the easiest tool to wrap your brain around off the bat, but once you’ve become accustomed to how things work, and where things are, it becomes as easy as creating another Word document. And the complexities follow the same level of tinkering as would be the case in Word or Excel. Creating a story requires users to choose Inserts, Cards, Designs, and even Navigation buttons to a toolbar. Users can also choose the source of these choices, for example from your OneDrive, OneNote, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or Flickr accounts. The social reach is quite extensive here, but also allows for the simpler of options, such as adding a photo from your PC, or a PDF, Word or Excel document, to name a few.
There has been a huge push amongst major social platforms to provide storytelling features, with the likes of Google and Facebook also having their own takes on that front. While Sway may not fit the build of your standard Office application, it does make sense in the social and collaborative environment Microsoft is building with Office, and Windows. The reach and capability of Sway is quite profound, and while it seems cumbersome to use at the start, it a rather easy approach to developing your storyboard and display it in a form of a presentation, app, website, or digital magazine.
At first glance, you wouldn’t suspect Delve to be more than a tool in which your business documents may be stored and shared from a single directory. It was initially created as an automated feature, which would learn techniques for connecting your documents, chats, emails and people you often communicate with. Instead, and after a few updates already trickled through, Delve is shaping up to be business cross-bread of a few social networks. It allows users to create a profile, adding contact information, job description, interests and the likes. It also provides the ability to add current projects you may be working on at the time, as well as work information such as your reporting structure. To further customise your profile, Delve allows you to embed videos, documents and photos to sell your skills, much as if you were interviewing yourself. This feature is known as “authoring canvas.” The limitation here is that Delve shares the above-mentioned information within your organisation, so there isn’t much of a public footprint. The latter would be ideal for would-be recruiters to view your information, but may be crossing territory already covered.
Access and Publisher
I may not be far off in suggesting that the majority of Office users never use or even know about Access and/or Publisher, and yet they’re always there, lurking in the Office folder. It would seem, thus, that Microsoft also knows more about this fact than they’re willing to admit, but still, there are users out there that require these applications as part of the suite. Its lack of popularity is noted by the lack of major, and even minor, updates over the previous versions. While the look and feel may have been updated, the overall usage, settings and features remain largely the same. And that’s where we leave our review of these two “add-ons.”
In 25 years of its existence, Office has seen many rivals fall by the wayside. Its dominance could have seen a slow and strangled offering to consumers of the product, but Microsoft has continued to develop and think up new ways to view your documents across many scenarios and platforms. Office 2016 is no different. With the host of new features, especially on the essential applications, Office appears refreshed and ready to tackle the modem connected world.
Collaboration is a big part of the business model going forward, and if people find it useful and easy to use, it can only grow from there. The recent upgrades for Mac users have also meant a better integration across platforms, not just your mobile device. While I wasn’t able to do a full review on OS X, signs are good that the synchronisation across all mediums is in place. Many of the Office 16 features still remain undiscovered by most users, with a lot more there than may actually be useful to everyone.
There were a few bugs and annoyances that cropped up over time, some right at the beginning and easing up after some settings changes, but some which you’ll just have to work around. While many of the bugs may not cross all versions of OS, it is worth noting that I’ve run into a few Windows 10 bugs that don’t play well on many laptop upgrades. But the usefulness and additional features make it a worthwhile buy for most users, even though the question of upgrading still remains. We explore that next.
Should You Upgrade to Microsoft Office 16?
The Microsoft Office eco-system has a lot to offer, whether you’re a casual or power user, and whether you’re on the go or stuck behind a screen for most of the day. From a business point of view, upgrading to Microsoft Office 2016 or choosing to go the subscription route is highly dependent on the environment, collaboration requirements, and resources available.
For the man on the street, the decision is a lot tougher. As already mentioned, if you already own the subscription based, Office 365, then this basically excludes you. And thankfully, for most of those subscription users, you’ll most likely get a year’s free subscription to Office 365 when purchasing a new laptop, which gives you more than enough time to decide what type of user you are. And that’s basically where your decision lies.
Consider also the following: using the monthly, or yearly, Office 365 subscription fee, users will only cross the threshold of buying the new Office 16 outright after 20 months, give or take. Given the previous release cycles, that’s about the right time to upgrade to the next version/build of Office. There is the small fact that a few of the Office applications are available online; Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, and Sway. While you’re able to use these applications simply by signing into your Microsoft account, there are a few limitations and features removed, so as not to replace those same applications in the Office suite.
If you’re a business, whether small, medium or Enterprise, you should always be updating to the latest version of Office, whether using the 365 model or standalone Office 2016, it doesn’t really matter. For the home user, however, you’ll have to ponder all the options and benefits of making your purchase.
And if you’re still sceptical after reading the review, you can always test it yourself by downloading
the free trial: https://goo.gl/ha8ffa