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Microsoft Office Just Made Its Biggest Change in 30 Years

3 minute read

More than any other productivity app, Microsoft’s Office software suite has dictated the way we work. For years, workplace collaboration has meant creating a file, emailing it to someone who tweaks it a bit, and they, in turn, send it back. And after all that, not only have you waited for this file to zip around the Internet, but you’ve also end up with two copies of it. None of this is helpful, and with Tuesday’s launch of Office 2016, Microsoft intends to banish this kind of time-wasting activity to the recycle bin.

Microsoft General Manager of Office Apps and Product Marketing Jared Spataro describes the past 30 years of Microsoft Office as being all about ‘me work.’ With Office 2016, the software is pivoting to embrace ‘we work.’

“Because it’s now a cloud-based service, we deliver it to customers in an entirely new way,” Spataro says.

But wait, don’t panic. Even though the new Office is cloud-hosted, it’s still a software suite you install on your computer. Unlike Google’s collaborative apps that run inside a browser, the new version of Office — programs you’ve spent years using — will look and function largely the same as they have before. Considering the backlash that erupted over Windows 8’s missing Start button (and its triumphant return in Windows 10), it’s fair to say that Microsoft learned its lesson about messing with its products’ fundamental functionality.

Pressing the new “Share” button in the top-right corner of standbys like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint will springboard a bunch of new, useful features. First, there’s a field where you can enter names of people with whom you’d like to share your file. Below that is a dropdown menu that lets you give recipients viewing or editing permissions. Next, there’s a window where you can type a message — effectively an email — to the person with whom you’re sharing the file. And lastly, there’s a list of people who have permission to work on that file.

This one-click sharing feature might seem straightforward, but its implementation introduces a whole new way of working for Office users. But to share these files, you’ll need to host them in OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service. While you can elect to save them on your computer, you won’t be able to give anyone sharing access to them until they’re uploaded to the cloud.

Skype integration is another way Office 2016 is changing in a seemingly subtle but actually powerful way. For example, when you hover your cursor over the names of people to whom you’ve given access to a file, a pop-up reveals ways to contact that person, including voice and video chat. It’s a natural way to weave Skype into Microsoft Office without making users open the standalone communication app.

And finally, if a file is shared with someone who has Office 2016, multiple users can work on it simultaneously, with the edits appearing live within the app. It’s similar to Google Docs. But if the person does not have Office 2016, they can still open the file in a browser-based version of the app, eliminating the Is-It-Compatible dread that accompanies major upgrades like this.

Microsoft Office 2016 is available Tuesday via subscription starting at $6.99 per month through Office 365, or for purchase ($149 for the student version, or $229 for the business version) on both Windows and Mac.

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