The one feature that changes everything in Microsoft Word 2016

This feature is one of the best additions Microsoft has made in years.

Office 2016 word 2016 real time typing
Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft released the final version of Office 2016 today, a major update for the enterprise and a big step in the right direction. It’s an incredibly powerful suite that hits on all of the right touch-points. There is now a co-authoring feature in Word where you can collaborate on a document in real-time and see what someone else is typing. The desktop suites can now use multi-factor authentication for better security. And, there’s a host of new features that are designed to make you more productive.

Other than the co-authoring, which I wrote about last week, there’s a new feature in Microsoft Word 2016 called Tell Me that’s a real game changer for those in business or just making a shopping list.

The name Tell Me is an interesting choice of words for the feature, considering Microsoft used to own a speech processing company called Tellme up until 2012. It pops up in Word as a small field above the ribbon and seems rather unimportant. Yet, as productivity software gets ever-more complex, the feature is a godsend. You can type just about anything you want and Word will show you the menu choices related to that objective. It means you don’t have to read through mountains of documentation or view any training videos. You barely need to know which new features are included in Word 2016. You just need an inkling of what you want to do.

I tried this for a few tasks. I wanted to do a smart look-up for a phrase, so I selected it and then typed “smart lookup” in the Tell Me field. It showed that option with some background info, so I didn’t have to wade through any menus. I heard about a few new charts types, but I forgot how to even add a chart. I typed “chart” and saw the option to add one. I know there is a way to share a document with another person if you save it on OneDrive, so I typed “share” and found the option easily. In a few cases, a feature I wanted to look into didn’t show up. For example, I remember hearing that you Skype now integrates into Office 2016 but Tell Me wasn’t that helpful. You can use it to search the Web to find out more about Skype, but you can’t find out anything else.

Tell Me is not just for new users. In many ways, it is for advanced users who just forget how to use advanced features or use so many apps they get them confused easily. In fact, new users might not need Tell Me because they will stick to the basics -- typing documents, saving them, printing them. If they do stumble into the feature or wonder why there is a field above the ribbon, they will find many useful options. If you type “print” you can print, see printing options, or adjust the page settings. If you type “spell” you can check spelling but also change the language you use for a document.

Dividing this bridge between new users and power users is what makes the Tell Me feature so useful. It’s one of those unusual extras in a high-end application that helps with random discovery. For example, you can type “table” and find out that Word lets you draw a table. That might not be obvious if you have come back to Word after sticking with an online app for many years. You can literally stumble into power features.

Word 2016 has found a delicate balance. It is a desktop app with a classic (read: reliable and secure) tone. It sits in the Windows 10 Start menu and is available in just two clicks. You can use it on a plane without having to pay for Wi-Fi access. (Google Docs has an offline mode, but it’s still somewhat limited -- at least for me, I can never get the spell check to work.)

Yet, Microsoft has done a good job making Office 2016 and specifically Word 2016 feel as though it is cloud-enabled. When you save a document to OneDrive, you can quickly load it on your iPhone or Android device without having to figure out which version is the latest.

All of this is enough to make me want to stick with Word for a while, even though I tend to use Google Docs normally. (One of my main reasons I use Docs is simply that I can click one tab over to check email.) With Word 2016, the power and extra features, not to mention the ease of exploring the new features, is enough to make me go back and stick with this app -- for now.

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