Hands On: Microsoft Office 2016 Preview

With the release of Windows 10 on the horizon, Microsoft has also announced an update to their Office suite of products as well. The new “Office 2016” preview is out and available for download by anyone for a trial period (180 days, although mine is currently showing 149 days remaining after just installing) and can be installed either by Office 365 subscribers, or as a standalone download. The standalone download uses the software streaming technology, similar to the experience of installing Office 365 from the online portal.

If you currently have Office 2013 or below installed, installing the Office 2016 preview will replace your older installation, so it is highly recommended that you install the preview on a test machine or virtual machine rather than your primary use computer. The same rules apply as the Windows 10 preview, because the software is under development, there are likely to be some bugs and issues that could cause you to lose work, or to cause the software to stop functioning altogether.

Still want to give it a try? Head over to https://products.office.com/en-us/office-2016-preview to get your download and instructions, as well as a FAQ section. The process is pretty straight forward for non-Office 365 customers. Download the application, enter the product key provided in the link above, and you’re all set. For Office 365 ProPlus customers, the organization’s administrator must enable the preview in the Office 365 Portal, then users will be able to download and install the preview. Again, I would not recommend enabling the 2016 Preview in a business environment. There could be severe impacts to productivity and data loss considering this is a beta software package.

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With that said, the overall experience of Office 2016 at this point is almost exactly like Office 2013. I had intended to do a full write-up with screenshots of all of the new features of the software, but there really isn’t much to cover. It seems most of the features are behind the scenes improvements, and not those that are easily showcased.

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One thing that you will notice is this search bar that has been added to each program to help you find features and tasks that you may not be able to find through the graphic interface. My testing with this was not very successful, as every time I would type something more than one word (for example, Out of Office), hitting the spacebar didn’t seem to include a space (in Outlook). I did manage to get it to work in word, and it seems to be quite useful for someone like me who doesn’t really utilize many of the features of Office like some power users do. The system seems to be nicely presented, giving you the item you’re searching for, rather than a help article telling you where to find the item. Here’s a screenshot from Word 2016, trying to find the mail merge function.

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I would expect that this search ability will somehow be tied into Cortana in Windows 10, but because I am running Windows 10 and Office 2016 in a virtual machine, I wasn’t really able to test the voice capabilities just yet.

So, in conclusion, if you were expecting a brand new Office suite with a whole new look and feel much like moving from 2003 to 2007, 2007 to 2010, or 2010 to 2013, this isn’t going to do much for you. If you’re looking to dive into the software a bit deeper and test some things like Access databases or crazy spreadsheets, it may be a good idea to install the preview. It’s also worth mentioning that there is, as there has been in the past, a feedback icon in the top right hand corner of each of the applications that allows you to provide feedback to Microsoft. This can be helpful in the development process of the product.

Tell us what you think of the Office 2016 Preview in the comments below, or if there is something you’d like me to outline a little more closely.

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