Microsoft releases Office 2016 — is this the nail in the Google Apps coffin?

Microsoft is today releasing Office 2016 worldwide. This release marks perhaps the final confirmation that Microsoft is "all in" on the cloud. But what does it mean for Google?

05. word 2016 real time typing and skype for business video

News this morning that Microsoft is today beginning the global release of Office 2016, the latest version of what is perhaps the most broadly adopted software suite globally. Alongside the core Office suite, Microsoft is beefing up a bunch of team productivity services around Office 365. It's worth taking a look at the announcements before opining on what it all means.

Let's start at the top. Firstly, Word, PowerPoint and OneNote all include co-authoring. What that means is that users who have the latest version of the software can co-create documents in real time. Furthermore, users of Word enjoy real-time typing, allowing them to see other users' edits as they are made. Longtime users of Google Docs will recognize this as something that seemed absolutely magical when Google introduced it years ago, but to see it in Microsoft Word, the most widely adopted enterprise document creation solution, is pretty amazing.

The entire Office Online suite now includes Skype in-app integration, allowing instant messaging, screen sharing, talk or video chat to be started directly within documents. On another collaboration front, Office 365 Groups are now an integrated part of the Outlook 2016 client app and available on mobile devices through the Outlook Groups app, delivering a consistent team experience across the suite.

Office 365 Planner, being introduced today, helps teams organize their work, with the ability to create new plans, organize and assign tasks, set due dates and update status with visual dashboards and email notifications. Planner will be available in preview to Office 365 First Release customers next quarter. Planner looks like a strike at cloud-based tools like basecamp and will prove attractive to existing Office users.

Later this month, OneDrive for Business sees some big updates with new sync clients for Windows and Mac as well as increased file size and volume limits per user, a new user interface in the browser, mobile enhancements, and new IT and developer features.

Outlook 2016 has some smart upgrades, with quicker search and removal of low-priority mail (features that Gmail has had for a while now). In addition, everyone on the To: line has the rights access to documents with modern, cloud-based attachments. For those in love with their spreadsheets, Excel 2016 now includes integrated publishing to Power BI and new modern chart types.

Showing an appreciation for the need for an integrated approach toward document management, the most recently used documents list allows users to pick up where they left off, traveling with them across devices, whether they are working in Office Online, in the Office Mobile apps or in the Office 2016 desktop apps.

Finally Office gets a bunch of security enhancements, with built-in Data Loss Prevention across Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook and multi-factor authentication as a native feature.

"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,” said Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft. “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 service designed for modern working, collaboration and teamwork."


I must have said it hundreds of times, but what we are seeing is, frankly, a whole new Microsoft emerging. I've been a Google Apps user for many years, always preferring the fact that it truly felt like a cloud suite rather than a desktop suite with a bit of cloud shoehorned into it. Now, Microsoft has almost completely moved away from feeling clunky and can stand shoulder to shoulder with Google in terms of office suite cloudiness. My last peeve is with Outlook, which I still find horrendous to use — especially when compared with the ease of use of Gmail's Web-based interface. If Microsoft could find a way of releasing a web-based Outlook UI that was close in terms of functional fidelity with Outlook on the desktop, the battle would pretty much be over.

Google Apps certainly stole many of the initial early adopters to the cloud away from the Office franchise. While many of those customers might likely be lost for good to Microsoft, there is the massive middle majority of adopters who are just about ready to make the move to the cloud. For these customers, the fact that Office is a known and familiar quantity, alongside the love and attention that Microsoft is giving to the suite, would make it seem like far too much disruption and bother to move away from Office. I'd love to be a fly on the wall of the Google Apps offices this week.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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