What’s New in Office 2016: Global Features

By James T. Cains

Microsoft is getting ready to release its newest update to its Office suite, and this update will have new features that, Microsoft says, can help you be more productive and collaborative in your work. As with previous releases, Microsoft has implemented new features both at a global level (meaning for most or all of the applications within the suite) and at the individual application level. This article looks at the most important features added to the Office suite as a whole. If you want to find out more about new features at the applications level, check out What’s New in Office 2016: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.

Just “Tell Me” already!

The new Tell Me feature in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access is a more immediate way to get help with tasks. No longer do you have to go to the Help menu and wait for Office’s Help content to load. A query box appears within the application’s ribbon; all you have to do is start typing what you need help with. Tell Me uses natural language search to try to match help immediately, much like the way Google’s search engine displays results as soon as you start typing.

The main difference, though, between Tell Me and the standard Help feature is that Tell Me actually points you to the command that will help you accomplish what you want to do, instead of providing a set of steps. So, if you want to insert a footnote in Word, it shows you the actual command and, when you click it, takes you to where you need to go to insert a footnote.

If you still want to view the Help text, though, Tell Me also provides a link to that content.

Forget Lync; Skype instead

Microsoft is finally beginning to leverage its purchase of Skype by incorporating it into Office 2016. Microsoft is renaming Lync, its instant messaging tool, to Skype for Business. But don’t worry — Skype for Business will have the same features as Lync, and it’ll still work pretty much the same way, except for a few differences.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the user interface will be more “Skype-like”; that is, the color scheme, buttons, and icons will look like the regular Skype application. And when you hold an online meeting, the interface will be the same as when you hold a meeting in Skype.

Also, with Lync, you could communicate only with colleagues in your company’s Lync service; however, with Skype for Business, you can search for and communicate with any Skype user worldwide, whether they’re part of your organization or not. Microsoft has integrated Skype for Business into the various Office applications as well, which means that you can instant message, make voice or video calls, and conduct online meetings from within applications like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Get Insights from Smart Lookup

If you find yourself constantly switching to your web browser to search for information to include in your documents, then Smart Lookup will help you streamline your process. Just highlight a word or phrase in your document and click Smart Lookup. You’ll then see the Insights sidebar, which will use Microsoft’s Bing search engine to bring relevant information to you. What’s really cool is that Smart Lookup uses the context around what you highlight to refine the selection of information it brings to you.

Readers of your documents can also use Smart Lookup to get more information. For example, readers can highlight a word and retrieve its definition from the web, without having to crack open a dictionary.

Office for Mac get an overhaul

The Mac version of Office 2016 getting an overhaul isn’t as much a “global feature” as it is an alignment with the other versions of Office. What this means is that, no matter which Office –product you use on whichever platform — whether Windows, Mac, iOS, or Android — the user experience will be more consistent.

To make this happen, the Mac version of the suite had to undergo a large revamp to its look and feel, which Microsoft has brought in line with the Windows version. You’ll also notice that Microsoft has revised the application ribbons to work the way the Windows versions do.

Word and PowerPoint for Mac now have a “co-authoring” feature that enables you to collaborate on documents with others at the same time. It’s not the same as the co-editing feature in the Windows version, which stores the document in the cloud and allows for real-time collaboration. The Mac feature relies on syncing instead, which determines changes made to the document and who made the changes, and then displays them for all the collaborators to see.

Unfortunately, you won’t find a few of the more compelling Office 2016 for Windows features in the Mac version, including the Tell Me query box, Power Query in Excel, and Skype for Business. However, Microsoft’s revamp of the Mac version does show that Microsoft is committed to maintaining and improving it, so hopefully the Mac version will see these features sooner rather than later.