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Microsoft Releases General Public Preview of Office 2016

Microsoft on Monday released a public preview of Office 2016 for the general public, nearly two months after making it available for developers and IT pros.

The Office 2016 version announced Monday is the general suite of applications that includes Excel, Word, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook, designed for use with a keyboard and mouse. It can be tested by home users of Office, as well as by most Office 365 subscribers.

Organizations using Office 365 commercial plans that have the ProPlus edition are also eligible to test it, but organizations with the Office 365 Business plan are not, according to an FAQ section in Microsoft's Office 2016 preview resource page.

The Office 2016 preview can't properly coexist on the same machine with Office 2013. Testers would have to uninstall Office 2013 first, according to Microsoft's resource page.

Microsoft is targeting the product release of Office 2016 for sometime this fall, although it plans to add new features to the product on a monthly basis.

Office 2016 IT Controls
Microsoft added a few management and security controls to Office 2016. Microsoft has improved Office 2016 integration with System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), allowing IT pros to manage monthly Office 2016 updates. For organizations worried about bandwidth hits from running Office 2016, Microsoft has its Background Intelligence Transfer (BITS) service to support the product. BITS will holds back on streaming updates during busy times.

Office 2016 now has "data loss prevention" support for Excel, PowerPoint and Word. IT pros can set the content sharing and authoring conditions that travel with the document. End users get a notice when their actions would violate a set policy.

It's possible to use multifactor authentication for accessing Office 2016 documents now. Also, Microsoft added its "information rights management" document protection scheme to Visio diagrams, according to its announcement. Microsoft typically describes information rights management as an Exchange feature that protects the sharing of Outlook e-mails with sensitive content.

Office 2016 Features
The Office 2016 preview comes with new access and collaboration improvements. For instance, Microsoft made it easier to use its OneDrive cloud storage service to attach files that have permissions when using Outlook.

Microsoft is also touting "realtime co-authoring" for Office 2016 apps, as demonstrated by Julia White, general manager of Office Marketing, during Microsoft's Ignite conference on Monday. Microsoft already has co-authoring capabilities in its Office Online Web apps, but it's planning to deliver that capability in its Office 2016 apps, starting with Word. The co-authoring capability lets users see edits made to a shared document as they happen.

[Click on image for larger view.] A look at the upcoming co-authoring feature in Word 2016. (Source: Microsoft)

In the background, Microsoft is gluing together information associated with Office use via its Office Graph technology -- at least for its Office 365 users. Office Graph makes use of Microsoft's FAST search technology and is the basis for a Clutter feature in Outlook that lets users remove low-priority e-mails, as well as Microsoft's Delve discovery tool, which lets users find content and people across an organization.

Office 2016 will have a Tell Me search tool to find commands in Excel, PowerPoint and Word. It also will have a feature called "Insights" that lets users find contextual information while reading documents, as enabled via Bing search. Clutter, a feature of Exchange Server, also will be available through Outlook.

For Microsoft Power BI subscribers, the new Excel app in Office 2016 has the ability to create forecasts from a data series via a single click, according to Microsoft's announcement. Microsoft also is adding Power BI features directly into the Excel interface, such as Power Query. Microsoft added an automatic time grouping feature into Excel's PivotTable and PivotChart feature. New charts and graphs also were added to Excel's repertoire.

Many Office Versions
Microsoft has multiple Office versions. Back in March, Microsoft announced the availability of an IT Pro and Developer Office 2016 preview, which also included a Skype for Business preview. An Office 2016 for Mac preview also emerged at that time.

In addition, there are "touch-enabled" Office apps, such as Office Apps for Windows 10 that were available as previews in February, plus previews of Office Apps for Android Tablets and Office Apps for iOS devices. Microsoft also has Office Mobile apps for smartphones. Its Office Online apps are browser-based apps with basic Office features.

Microsoft also announced this week that its new Sway feature will be available for Office 365 business and education subscribers as early as this month, with a broader rollout in "the coming months." Sway is a new content aggregation and design tool for formatting text and graphics. Sway content used by organizations will be private by default, with an option for broader sharing. IT pros will be able to disable external sharing, or even turn the Sway feature off across the organization.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.