What’s New in Office 2016: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook

By James T. Cains

Microsoft’s new Office 2016 release includes many new features that span most or all of the applications in the suite. (To find out more about these new global features, check out What’s New in Office 2016: Global Features.) However, some of the most important updates happen in the individual applications, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. In this article, we discuss the most notable features of each of those applications.

Word 2016

Microsoft Word users have wanted this feature for, well, ever: Real-time co-editing of Word documents — that is, two or more people can open and edit the document at the same time, and everyone accessing the document can see the changes being made in real-time. Google Docs users have enjoyed this feature for years; finally, Microsoft brings this ability to Word.

The key to making this work is storing the file on cloud storage. You will have to store the document on Microsoft’s cloud storage solution (OneDrive or OneDrive for Business), so that others can access the document. From there, you can allow others to view and edit the document just like on Google Drive.

This new feature will help solve the many issues with sharing documents and keeping track of different versions. No longer will you have to worry about if you have the latest version of a document, nor will you have to be concerned with merging all the changes from multiple documents into one. With co-editing in Word 2016, everyone can make changes to the same document.

Microsoft plans to roll this out for Word 2016 first and then eventually add it to Excel and PowerPoint.

Excel 2016

The big changes to Excel in 2016 are in the area of business intelligence; that is, tools and processes that enable you to gather data from many different sources and turn it into insightful information that can help you make better business decisions. The two most important things to note here are the following:

  • Excel’s Power Query add-on is now part of the core functionality of Excel. You no longer need to install it.

  • Excel’s one-click forecasting tool, Forecast Sheet, provides an easy way to forecast the future of your data.

With Power Query, you can pull data from a variety of external sources. Imagine pulling data from web sites like Wikipedia, from social media sites like Facebook, or from any number of database types, such as SQL, Azure, Oracle, Access, Sybase, and so on. You can then merge all that data into spreadsheets that help you make better decisions.

Power Query hasn’t added any new features from the Excel 2013 version; just the fact that it’s now part of Excel’s core functionality makes it easier to find and use.

With Forecast Sheet, you can provide forecasts of your data to business leaders. If your data is influenced by seasonal factors, you can tell Excel to factor those into the forecast as well. You can even set confidence intervals for your forecasts, which will give you upper and lower boundaries for the forecasted data.

PowerPoint 2016

PowerPoint itself doesn’t get much of an overhaul in 2016, but Microsoft has given users a new presentation application called Sway. What’s the difference? Glad you asked.

PowerPoint is designed to create linear presentations — that is, you start at the first slide and progress through your slideshow until the end. And while you can jazz up your presentation with different effects and transitions, it’s still essentially a slideshow. Also, PowerPoint presentations are known to take a lot of time to put together.

Sway, on the other hand, is designed to enable you to create more free-form presentations that have a lot more flare. In Sway, you can include photos, YouTube videos, Facebook and Twitter items, you name it. But the real benefit to Sway is how its “smart engine” packages your content and formats it for you, allowing you to spend less time creating the presentation and more time planning what you want to communicate.

Outlook 2016

Outlook has probably undergone the most significant overhaul in Office 2016, especially in terms of collaboration features. With the success of Google’s Gmail, Drive, Docs, and other integrated cloud-based applications, Microsoft has realized that collaboration and cloud-based solutions are very important in professional productivity. That’s why Outlook now has the ability to provide links to files on OneDrive or OneDrive for Business; no longer do you have to actually attach the file.

Microsoft has also taken steps to help you prioritize the email that comes into your Inbox. With the new Clutter feature, Outlook moves lower priority items out of your Inbox and into a separate folder for you to look at later. Clutter looks at your email reading habits over time and learns to make these prioritization decisions from your own behavior. So, for example, if you subscribe to email newsletters that you don’t read very often or read only if the subject line catches your eye, Clutter will notice this and move those newsletters to a separate folder, making room in your Inbox for the email that really needs your attention.

Don’t mistake Clutter for a spam filter; just because Outlook moves lower priority mail to another folder doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at it!

If you don’t like having Outlook make those email prioritization decisions for you, you can disable Clutter.