Microsoft announces Office 2016 suite, touch-enabled Office for Windows 10 apps

Ngoc Huynh

After describing the next version of Windows on Wednesday, Microsoft on Thursday unveiled the next versions of Office: Office for Windows 10, and the standalone Office 2016 desktop suite.

Microsoft said that the Office for Windows 10 apps, like their counterparts on iOS and Android, would be free to use (and preinstalled) on Windows 10 phones and small tablets—no Office 365 subscription required, apparently. And more importantly, they’ll be available as part of the Technical Previews of Windows 10 that Microsoft is publishing “in the coming weeks,” the company said.

Office 2016 will be likely designed for businesses and cost extra, but Microsoft isn’t saying how much. The desktop productivity suite will ship in the second half of this year—yes, 2015, despite the Office 2016 name.

When Microsoft executives demonstrated Windows 10 for phones at the Wednesday event, they referred to Word as “universal” Word. Julia White, the general manager of Office, also used that terminology in a blog post describing the new apps. And indeed, they look much the same as the superlative Office for iPad Microsoft launched last year.

“They are designed from the ground up to run on Windows 10, built for touch and offer the unmistakable Office experience you know and love,” White wrote. “As ‘universal’ Office apps, they truly are the same app across device size, providing a consistent way for independent software vendors and developers to extend and integrate with Office apps.”

Why this matters: It’s time for Windows devices to receive the same Office love as the Android and iOS platforms. One of my questions at this point, however, is how the new apps will be tied (if at all) to Office 365. Will O365 strictly be a desktop play?

The same but different

The new Windows 10 apps do appear to be slightly different than their counterparts on other platforms, however. In his presentation, for example, Joe Belfiore showed off how the Office “ribbon” is essentially a separate pane at the bottom of a phone.

Here’s how Microsoft describes each of the new touch-enabled Office for Windows 10 apps. You’ll notice that in each image, the text and images expand or contract to fill the available space on the phone or tablet. Microsoft calls this “flow”.

Word for Windows 10: ”Review and mark-up documents, then share your work with others to collaborate in real time. The new Insights for Office feature (powered by Bing) in Read mode brings additional online resources like images, web references and definitions right to you in your reading experience.”

In many ways, the core apps on a tablet look very similar to the Office apps on the iPad.

Excel for Windows 10: “Use Excel to create and update spreadsheets and gain new insights as you analyze data and visualize it with charts. And new touch-first controls shine in Excel, you won’t even miss your keyboard and mouse when selecting ranges of cells, formatting your pie charts or managing your workbooks.”

PowerPoint for Windows 10: “Create and edit beautiful presentations with PowerPoint. Then use Presenter View to prepare and present with confidence, even use Ink Tools to annotate your slides in real time so your audience really knows what you are talking about.”

OneNote for Windows 10: “Getting things done with your friends, classmates and colleagues has never been easier with shared notebooks–now with the consistent Office ribbon experience.”

One note on OneNote: The Metro version of OneNote lacks the “recording” capability, which the desktop version includes. That’s a handy way to type notes in a meeting and record it at the same time—and the audio is keyed to your notes, and vice versa.

Outlook Mail and Outlook Calendar for Windows 10: “Crafting emails has never been easier or more powerful, with the familiar and rich capability of Microsoft Word built into the authoring experience. Simply insert tables, add pictures and use bullets and color to get your point across. Keep up with your inbox with new touch gestures that help you read, sort, flag and archive your mail.”

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