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Is Microsoft Office 2016 reliable enough for business?

A day after a major Skype outage, Microsoft unveils Office 2016, which, ironically, offers tight integration with Skype

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Microsoft has launched Office 2016. The product represents an important shift for Microsoft. With Windows 10 available as a free upgrade until the end of 2015, Office 2016 is Microsoft’s main money maker.

In the company’s 2014 annual statement, Microsoft reported that revenues for its Office Consumer product had declined by $243m, or 8%, reflecting the transition of customers to Office 365 Consumer, as well as continued softness in the consumer PC market.

In contrast, it reported that revenues for Office 365 Consumer grew by $316m, reflecting a growth in subscriptions. “We ended fiscal year 2014 with over five million subscribers,” Microsoft stated.

Moving to a subscription model means there is less need for Microsoft to push out new features. One of the main criticisms of recent Office product updates has been the ever-increasing amount of unwanted pre-installed software – known as bloatware – present in the product.

When Computer Weekly spoke last year to Julia White, Microsoft’s general manager for Office, about bloatware in the software suite, she said: “We are trying to switch from offering lots and lots of features to providing the user with the ones most useful to them at the time they need them.”

The challenge Microsoft faces is in getting people to adopt the new features, as there is plenty of competition from Googles enterprise offering, Google for Work, and the open-source Libre Office suite. Arguably, neither has the depth of the Microsoft product but, for some users, their respective feature sets are good enough.

Improving collaboration

One of the new features in Microsofts latest release is Office 365 Planner, which the software maker said helps teams organise their work, with the ability to create new plans, organise and assign tasks, set due dates and update a status with visual dashboards and email notifications.

The planner will be available in preview to Office 365 First Release customers in the first quarter of 2016.

Microsoft has also updated the OneDrive for Business feature. The update, which will be available in late September, includes a sync client for Windows and Mac to enhance sync reliability, increased file size and volume limits per user, a new user interface in the browser, mobile enhancements and new IT and developer features, according to Microsoft.

The latest version of Office also adds co-authoring in Word, PowerPoint and OneNote desktop software. It includes real-time typing in Word that lets users see other users’ edits as they make them.

Read more about Microsoft Office 2016

From a security standpoint, Office 2016 includes built-in data loss prevention (DLP) across Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook. Microsoft said it has provided IT administrators with tools to manage content authoring and document-sharing policies in Office 2016.

The latest iteration of Office also adds multi-factor authentication and enterprise data protection, which Microsoft said would be available for the Office Mobile apps for Windows 10 before the end of 2015 and for the desktop apps in early 2016, enabling secure content sharing within corporate boundaries. 

Productivity promises

Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft, said: “The way people work has changed dramatically, and that’s why Microsoft is focused on reinventing productivity and business processes for the mobile-first, cloud-first world. These latest innovations take another big step forward in transforming Office from a familiar set of individual productivity apps to a connected set of apps and services designed for modern working, collaboration and teamwork.”

He said he hoped the product would enable people to collaborate more easily, which, in turn, will improve the way businesses are run. In a blog post about Office 2016, Nadella wrote: “Our ambition to reinvent productivity includes reinventing business process.”

The product represents the culmination of Nadella’s strategy to offer portability of experience. One of the enhancements is the ability for the user to continue working on a document from where they left off using Office Online services, Office Mobile apps or Office 2016 desktop apps. 

In a post on the Microsoft Office blog, Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice-president for Office, wrote: “We’re committed to rich co-authoring and collaboration across our native clients, starting in Word 2016, with other big advances in collaboration coming throughout the year.

By the end of 2015, we’ll introduce Office 365 Groups insights and discovery in Office Delve. In addition, we will have a new generation of personal work analytics in Office Delve that will help individuals, teams and organisations to be more effective at work by understanding their reach and impact, time allocation and network.”

Reliable or risky?

For CIOs, the recent Skype outage will raise questions about the reliability of Microsoft’s cloud services, given that Skype runs on Microsoft Azure.

Office 2016 aims to provide seamless cloud-based collaboration for teams of workers. The challenge for Microsoft is to convince IT leaders that the collaboration features in Office 2016 are reliable enough for serious business use.

Without this assurance, co-authoring, Skype integration and other cloud-powered collaborative services in the software will be considered too risky. And if people avoid the new features, there will be fewer reasons to continue using Microsoft Office.

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