OFFICE SOFTWARE ❘ £60 per year from Microsoft www.snipca.com/18047
Cloudy upgrade to the perennial work suite.
It’s a big year for Microsoft. Windows has hit double digits with version 10 – just don’t mention 9 – and now Office reaches sweet 16. It comprises Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote (for jotting down ideas and to-do lists), plus Outlook, Access and Publisher if you take out a subscription. This bundle of Windows apps is still the standard choice for business, but buying it isn’t the obvious choice it once was.
Cloud storage and collaboration
If you’ve used Office 2013, you’ll recognise the user interface, although it’s now more colourful. Each app still has its own separate ‘Backstage’ area for file management, a feature that was dropped from Office 2016 for Macs (see our review, Issue 457), but which has been merely simplified for Windows. A revamped folder list highlights Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud service, encouraging you to store more of your work online. It lets you close a half-finished document on your PC, say, and pick it up later on your iPad or Android device.
By sharing links to files on OneDrive, you can also collaborate more easily with other users. There’s less chance of confusion over which is the latest version, and Word now even lets several people edit the same document at the same time, so you can watch what changes others are making. This avoids a lot of back-andforth editing, or and even prevents the end of some beautiful friendships.
If you prefer to email files, Outlook, Microsoft’s fully featured email app, makes that quicker and more flexible too.
The Attach File dropdown menu lists your most recent work, wherever you saved it.
For files stored in the cloud, Outlook attaches a link rather than the file itself, so all you’re sending is the text of the emai. The recipient can click to download the document from Microsoft’s server. A benefit of this is that if you’ve changed the file since you sent the email, they’ll receive the latest version.
PowerPoint is used for all sorts of stuff, not just business presentations, so improvements are always welcome.
When others propose changes, you can reject or accept each slide rather than go through individual edits. Alternatively, you can use Microsoft’s Ink system with a touchscreen to jot annotations directly on to slides. Like Windows 10, Office 2016 does more for users of touchscreen PCs all round – although you’ll still get more done with a keyboard and mouse. Word now lets several people edit a document at the same time
Even if you’re working alone, there are useful new features. Smart Lookup, which uses Microsoft’s Bing search engine, lets you right-click a word and get definitions and related articles from the web. It’s a handy shortcut for facts and background info. Using it on each instance of ‘ink’ in the sentence ‘I need to buy some new ink for my printer because this squid ink isn’t working’, for example, gave us hits both for inkjet consumables and squids.
Office is a big suite, and you may get the feeling you’re missing most of it. New ‘Tell me’ boxes (previously only in the online Office apps) make it easier to find hidden features. Click one and type something in plain English for relevant menu options. So align pulls up commands to justify text and cell- alignment options for spreadsheet tables.
This should help new and even experienced users, as will the formatting previews, which show you what your document would look like as you hover over a theme or text style. This only works if you consistently apply styles for headings, body copy and so on in your documents (or work from templates that have these), rather than formatting bits and bobs individually. It’s good practice to do so, and once you get into the swing of it, it soon becomes second nature.
The improvements to Excel are mostly for advanced users, but if you’re not one yet, there’s never been a better time to do interesting things with spreadsheets. The Power Query function, previously an add-in, now comes as standard, letting you fetch data from web pages, other files on your PC, servers, databases, Facebook and so on.
Six new chart types include Waterfall (which depicts changes from one cell to the next) and Sunburst (which combines ‘parent’ cells with the ‘child’ cells that contribute to their value). Again, touchscreen users get some extra, erm, touches, like recommended charts appearing in the Ribbon menus so you don’t need to use fiddly floating controls.
For maths, the new equation editor in Word, PowerPoint and Excel also works with Microsoft Ink, so you can draw the function you want, with your finger or a stylus, and the app will convert it to proper typesetting. If you don’t have a touchscreen PC, you can build your functions from the Ribbon.
Only database specialists will need Access, Microsoft’s database program, so we won’t take up space with it here.
As for Microsoft Publisher, if you need DTP software it’s not a patch on Serif PagePlus, let alone Adobe InDesign.
How to buy it
There are various ways to get your hands on Office, partly depending on whether you want to pay once to own the current version or annually to keep it updated.
Office Home and Student 2016 costs £120 to buy and lets you use Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote on a single PC for as long as they keep working. Or you can subscribe to an Office 365 Personal or Home plan for £60 or £80 respectively for the year, and get Outlook, Publisher and Access on top of those core apps, plus Office 2016 on Macs, tablets and phones as well as PCs: one of each or five of each, respectively. That’s very good value if you can make use of it.
If you don’t need the extra apps, don’t plan to upgrade again in the next two years (other than applying Microsoft’s free security patches) and only use one device, buying outright could be a better deal, but you’ll miss out on the cloud features, including an extra 985GB of free OneDrive storage and 60 minutes a month of Skype calls. Existing Office 365 subscribers can feel smug, because they get Office 2016 automatically.
There are perfectly good word processors, spreadsheets and presentation programs that cost less than this (or nothing at all), and if you’re already using them, there may not be enough here to change your mind. Macs and iPads come with Apple’s Pages, Numbers and Keynote, matching Word, Excel and PowerPoint; they may not have as many features, but they’re simple and help you make neat-looking documents.
LibreOffice (www.snipca.com/18049), which works on Windows, Mac and Linux, is a very good open-source alternative.
Windows 8 or later (PC)
• iOS 7 or later (iPad/iPhone)
• KitKat 4.4 or later on an ARM or Intel x86 processor (Android)
• Any modern web browser (online Office apps)
• Also available for Mac www.snipca.com/18047