Office 2016 review

Colorful, intelligent, intuitive and cross-platform

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Our Verdict

The look is colourful, the emphasis is on collaboration and business intelligence, we love the way Outlook shows recent files to attach to emails and it's easier to find files you've been working with (especially in OneDrive).

For

  • Changes to backstage make it easier to find documents
  • Attaching recent files in Outlook is very convenient
  • Better sharing and collaboration options

Against

  • The colourful Windows 10 look can be a bit overpowering
  • You can't see files shared on OneDrive inside Office apps
  • Some programs – OneNote in particular – don't get many new features

[Editor's Note: What immediately follows is a short rundown of each major version of Office 2016, as well as information on the latest developments for the app suite. If you'd like to get right to our critique of Office 2016, click right here.]

Microsoft Office is a lot more than just Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook, although that's what most people think of first.

There's now a whole range, from the Office 365 cloud services to the mobile apps for iOS and Android (along with Skype for Business, Dynamics and Power BI), backing up CEO Satya Nadella's claims that Microsoft is the productivity company.

The mobile Office apps are certainly popular, but Office on Windows and Mac remains the main attraction, even in Microsoft's cloud-centric approach.

At any rate, Office 2016 isn't the same Office everywhere. It's more like the right Office for each platform – and in this case, that's Windows 10 and Mac OS X. Here's how they all break down at a high level:

  • Windows still gets the lion's share of tools and features simply because it's had the most attention over the years. And though it might be hard to keep adding major features to something with this much power already, there are some very welcome improvements – but also some changes you need to be aware of.
  • Office 2016 for Mac gains many new features (or at least, features that are new to Mac users) and its OneDrive integration is unmatched. It doesn't have all the Office applications and it doesn't have all the Windows Office features, but what you get has the both feel of a real Mac application and the tools of a real version of Office.
  • The touch version of Office for Windows 10, otherwise known as Office Mobile, sits somewhere between Office for iPad and the Windows RT version of Office for Home and Student, but brings in features from Office Online.

Microsoft is trying to make sense of the core Office tools across multiple platforms, and to make the Office 365 subscription a great deal. But, before we get into the meat, let's see what's new with Office lately.

Latest news

Available from the Windows Store, Office 2016 spent the turn of the year battening down the hatches and squashing bugs, most recently putting the kibosh on abusive uses of macros.

In April Microsoft announced improved collaboration features, ostensibly in an effort to compete with Google Drive. Meanwhile, MacOS users were treated to Office-specific extensions called add-ins, leaving Android as the only remaining operating system without the feature.

Also implemented in Office 2016 for Mac was the option to get Fast Ring Insider updates directly from Microsoft. By opening any application from the suite, clicking Help and Check for Updates, users can now trigger a dialog box that asks whether they would like to join the Office Insider Program for early access to the latest builds of the software. Choosing Office Insider Fast will put you in the fast ring, but watch out, these updates are often premature and could still be contaminated with a few remaining bugs.

An Office 2016-inspired "Office Online" extension was added to Microsoft Edge in June. This add-on gave users a new way to access their Office files stored in OneDrive without opening a bunch of different apps or entering a web address. Early impressions however, such as those from famed tech journalist Paul Thurrott, deemed the extension unnecessary. Nonetheless, the option is there if needed.

Towards the end of June, upon realizing some major security vulnerabilities in the Office 2016 suite, Microsoft released version 15.23 to patch these out. Moreover, the ability to export any file in the OpenDocument format was added in addition while Microsoft finally put an end to the gratuitous CPU usage increase spotted in version 15.22.

Subsequently, Office 365 was struck with a massive zero-day ransomware attack exposing over 57% of Microsoft's 18.2 million subscribers to phishing attempts. Fortunately, Microsoft quickly patched things out with a fix, though this blunder could sway some users over to Office 2016 proper.

Nevertheless, it's clear at this point that you'll need experience with Microsoft Office, 2016 or otherwise, if you're on the prowl for a new job.

Move on to Page 2 for a look at what Office 2016 will do for your productivity – our full reviews of Office 2016 for Windows, Office Mobile and Office 2016 for Mac.

Joe Osborne and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this review