Collaboration is the key theme to Office's new applications. After watching consumers turn to competitors for cheap and easy collaboration tools, Microsoft started to develop some of those features for the Web versions of its programs. With Office 2016, they hit the PC and expand meaningfully from what we saw in Office 2013. To get a taste of Office 2016, Microsoft loaned The Post a Surface tablet pre-loaded with the latest programs.
Perhaps the biggest everyday user perk is real-time collaboration in Word, giving users the ability to share documents and see what others are typing as they type it. This is something, of course, that we've already seen done in Google Docs. The main difference in Office is that, even though multiple users can change a document simultaneously, they cannot edit the same line, defusing some of the possibility for tension — and pranking — over a single sentence.
Fast collaboration can still mean lots of potential for mistakes, however. Mercifully, it's very easy to access the version history in the new Word as well, allowing you to see who changed what.
The focus on collaboration fits right into the messaging we're seeing from Microsoft's projects such as Sway, the free online layout and presentation collaboration tool the company released early last month. The program, which gives you good-looking, no-brainer templates for Web sites and presentations, is now also part of the Office suite.
Other upgrades are also welcome, if not earth-shattering. Excel's main upgrade is that now includes six new chart types, which give you a few more options for visualizing certain data sets. Outlook, meanwhile, offers you the option to attach a file by putting a link from Microsoft's OneNote service rather than actually attaching the file, matching Google's Drive. It also introduces a "Clutter" filter designed to help you weed out all those newsletters that you want but don't necessarily read all the time — it's a feature that requires some training to be fully useful, but a nice option. PowerPoint remains mostly the same; it could have benefited from the collaboration features we've seen in Word — something Microsoft promises is on the way.
The real changes here are undoubtedly all about access. Crucially, Office 2016 lets you get to your documents from anywhere and on any device, whether that's a Mac, PC, tablet or phone. Chief executive Satya Nadella has repeatedly said he wants Microsoft to be a nimble "mobile-first, cloud-first" company, and Office is a clear articulation of that. It's been designed to fully run as a service; developers will be releasing monthly updates to fix bugs and add features. That gives them several bites at the apple to improve the software as they go, rather than stockpiling features for a major release. When it comes to Office, we may never see a major release again; that's a story we've already heard when looking at the launch of Windows 10.
Constant updates are a perk, and a welcome one in a technology landscape where new features quickly become must-haves. It's nice not to have to wait three years or so for new features. But this design change comes with another big change: pricing. Customers may be used to plonking down $150 or so to buy Office upfront. You can still do that, by the way, though you won't get regular upgrades from the company.
If you want the updates, however, Microsoft is again asking consumers to subscribe to programs, which gives you access to the suite on your desktop and mobile devices. It's $70 per year for the "personal" option, which limits you to one user and three devices, to $100 for a subscription that supports five users who can each put the program on a desktop, tablet and phone.