Microsoft's plans for Office: More features, more mobile, more intelligent

Mobile matters

All this means where Office is going is the same place it is now, only more so. Office is as much mobile apps as desktop software, both powered by cloud services – the Outlook mail app on iOS is able to tell you what mail you're likely to want to look at first because it has your mail in the cloud to analyse, just as the Clutter folder in your Outlook inbox is filled by machine learning running inside Exchange on Office 365. So we're going to see more new mobile apps like the Microsoft Garage Invite for iOS app, which lets you suggest multiple times for a meeting.

Sway

Sway is a new authoring tool from the creator of OneNote

Maybe those apps will end up as a feature in a future version of Exchange and Outlook; maybe not. Some, like Sway – a new authoring tool from the creator of OneNote, that creates something halfway between an app and a website – will stay as their own tool, adding extra features and connections. And like Invite and Sway, these new apps are likely to start on iOS first and only come to Windows later.

Office will get new features as services on Office 365, like the Delve system that shows you what colleagues are working on (and lets you give them a Facebook-style 'thumbs up'). And the Office apps – on Windows and iPad and probably Android and eventually Windows Mobile too – will get plugins and add-ons through the Office Store (although we wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft changes the name a few times).

Some of those will be from Microsoft, like the Social Share plugin from Microsoft Garage, which lets you send slides directly from PowerPoint to Twitter and Facebook. Others will be from partners like Uber and even competitors like Box and Dropbox.

Importance of machine learning

But Office will also get new features right in the Windows and Mac apps, maybe every month. Office 365 has its roadmap for new features on the business service and businesses can opt in to try those out on their tenant. As part of any Office 365 subscription, you get new features – PowerPoint already has a new Designer that suggests layouts, which looks very much like the same feature in Sway, as well as a Morph tool that animates individual objects from one slide to another. But if you want to try out new features as they're being developed, the way you can with Windows 10, you can sign up as an Office Insider.

Like Windows, every part of Office is now a service, with a regular changelog of what's new. Our prediction – many of the features that get added to Office will be driven by machine learning, which already powers predictive analytics and Sway's design layouts. Some of those may show up courtesy of Cortana, which can already warn you when it's time to leave for a meeting in your Outlook calendar – but we're guessing Microsoft will be pretty careful not to let Cortana turn into Clippy.