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New Features in Office 2016 – Is it Worth an Upgrade?

written by: •edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 2/9/2016

Did you know Office 2016 was released in September 2015? Nearly six months after release, there seems to be little fanfare. Is anything new in one of Microsoft’s oldest product lines? Let’s take a look and see if an upgrade is worthwhile to you.

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    Office 2016

    To many, Office 2016 looks incredibly similar to Office 2013. The same icons, the same ribbon interface, the same clean design. Office 2013 was a slight improvement over Office 2010 but to many who used it, there was no looking back. As the Office product line hit its 25th birthday last November, many have been lamenting the seemingly stagnant development of radical changes in the way we perform our work. Let’s dig in and see if Office 2016 is anything more than an incremental improvement!

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    A Note Regarding Office 365

    As Microsoft tries to nudge users towards the subscription based Office 365, you will find that the newest features will only be available in the subscription service. With this cycle of releases (Office 2016, Windows 10, etc.) Microsoft is moving to a more agile type of development, releasing minor updates and new features as they are developed instead of waiting to release new features ever few years. This may take some getting used to. However, Microsoft will still release “retail" versions of Office for the foreseeable future, but this could end at any point once enough users switch to 365. The features described below are available in both Office 365 and the retail release of Office 2016.

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    Features across the Suite

    Below are some of the most notable new features implemented in Office 2016 that operate across two or more products.

    Tell Me - First up is a new feature called “Tell Me." Have you tried looking across numerous ribbons for that little obscure icon only to find out it’s buried under one of the other sub menus? “Tell Me" is like a search box for features. Across the core suite of products, this feature allows you to search for a procedure or icon. This is a great feature for those seldom used icons you can never seem to find (Figure 1). “Tell Me" will also help you when you want to how to perform a procedure. For example, search mail merge and “Tell Me" will walk you through the process.

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    Sample contents.

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    New Chart Types – Several new chart types are introduced to Word, Excel and PowerPoint. These include treemap, waterfall, Pareto and sunburst to name just a few.

    Sharing – Similar to how Google Drive works, if you save your document to a SharePoint site or OneDrive, you can send an invite to share your document (Figure 2).

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    Version History – Documents stored on SharePoint or OneDrive will automatically keep previous snapshots so you can refer back to earlier drafts if you want to.

    Smart Lookup – Want to know more about a topic in an email or Word document? Simply highlight it, right click and select Smart Lookup. You will then see Bing results within the application you are using without the need to open a browser.

    Ink Equations – Ever need to write complex equations in Word or Excel but hate the equation editor? With a touch compatible device, you can write equations using your finger or stylus and it will be converted to the proper text.

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    Product Specific Improvements

    Below are just a few examples of product specific improvements or new features.

    Word - Sharing in Real-Time – Word now lets you work together in real time. Once you share a SharePoint or OneDrive document, you can allow others to edit the document in real-time. You will be able to easily see where each person is editing as Word will show you exactly where their cursor is with a little flag with the user’s name on it.

    PowerPoint – Screen Recordings – Now available in Office 2016, you can record your screen and directly insert it into your presentation. This should make creating and presenting demos much easier (Figure 3).

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    Outlook – Clutter – Outlook can now analyze messages you typically ignore and automatically move them to a sub folder called “clutter." Depending on how this works, this could be a huge productivity booster.

    Excel – many new features and improvements were made to Excel 2016. However, many of these improvements are aimed at the power user. Some examples include PowerPivot tweaks, integration of 3D maps and additional chart types.

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    Is It Worth It to Upgrade?

    Some features could provide to be very useful to office workers such as real-time collaboration in Word and the Clutter feature in Outlook, but considering this upgrade is full priced, I cannot recommend paying full price for these incremental improvements. If you are already on Office 365, you’re in luck, as you will get these features –and more – as part of your subscription.

    If you are still using Office 2007 or earlier, it may be time to consider moving to the Office 365 plan. This is the future of Microsoft Office and is the area where you’ll see the most improvements.