Microsoft Releases Preview of Office 2016 for Mac

Microsoft on Thursday released a preview version of its Office 2016 productivity suite for Macs.

The preview apps -- including Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word -- are available to download here for users running the Mac OS 10.10 ("Yosemite") operating system. According to Microsoft's FAQ, it is possible to run the preview alongside Microsoft's current Office for Mac 2011 flagship product without conflict.

For some years, Office for Mac has been the ugly stepchild version of Microsoft's productivity suite, lacking much of the facility of the Windows Office version and typically getting updated long after the Windows version gets released. However, Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for the Office 365 Client Apps and Services team, promised in Microsoft's announcement that users of the Office 2016 for Mac preview can get the sort of experience that's found with the new "universal Office apps" for Windows 10 machines and Android tablets.

Microsoft typically uses the phrase "universal apps" to refer to touch-enabled Windows 10 apps that can run across multiple device form factors, although the universal apps concept started back with Windows 8. Universal apps are seen as a benefit for developers mostly, with the idea that they can write code once and require fewer modifications to get their apps to run across PCs, tablets and smartphones. For Microsoft, universal apps are seen as a way to potentially wrest back lost mobile OS market share.

Koenigsbauer stated that the Office 2016 for Mac preview will support "the unique features of the Mac" while also providing a universal apps experience. For instance, the suite provides "full Retina display support," as well as "scroll bounce," he said. Microsoft has redesigned the Ribbon menu bar with the new preview. It has added a "refreshed task pane interface" for positioning and sizing graphics. Microsoft also added "new themes and styles," he noted. Microsoft has integrated file access and storage with OneDrive, OneDrive for Business and SharePoint, he added.

The Word preview has a collaboration enhancement as it now supports "threaded comments" for joint editing of text. Excel has a new "Analysis ToolPak" to help those working with statistical information, such as "moving averages and exponential smoothing." Microsoft is also promising that its new Excel for Mac application has support for Excel 2013 for Windows, so that Excel files can be share across platforms.

The new PowerPoint preview includes a new "presenter view" feature, which gives presenters access to helpful tools, such as notes and a timer, while just projecting a single slide view to the audience. It also has a "new animation pane" that can be used for building slides, along with "new slide transitions."

The new OneNote preview lets users tag their notes to find things quickly. It has optical character reading capabilities so it can also track text in images, too, in its search engine.

Outlook for Mac is actually ahead of the rest of the Office 2016 for Mac application suite. It was separately released back in October, but Microsoft now deems it as part of the Outlook 2016 for Mac preview suite. This preview version of Office for Mac includes an improved "conversation view" function for cataloging e-mail messages. There's also a "new message preview" function that will display the first sentence of an e-mail message below the subject line for quick scanning.

Some features won't work in the preview version, Microsoft's FAQ warned, but Microsoft will be sending updates to the applications for those testing them. The company expects to release the final Office 2016 for Mac product "later this summer," according to Koenigsbauer. It will be available as part of Microsoft's Office 365 subscription plans, and presumably as a separate "boxed" product.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.