Available immediately, Office 2016 is the latest version of Microsoft's widely used suite of productivity applications, and the first to be released since the Windows 10 operating system was released in July. It also follows the release of Office 2016 for Mac OS X users in July.
Featuring new versions of the familiar applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook, Office 2016 is available for Office 365 subscribers to download from today, while organisations with a volume licensing agreement will be able to download the suite from Microsoft's Volume Licensing Service Center from 1 October.
The new Office 2016 apps are available in 40 languages and customers require a PC running Windows 7 or later to install the suite.
Office 2016 also comprises new services such as Skype for Business, Delve, Yammer, and Sway, Microsoft's app for "storytelling" that takes content like text and pictures and builds them into a kind of interactive presentation.
Office 2016 has a greater emphasis on teamwork and collaboration, new security features to help protect data in documents, and also introduces broader cross-platform consistency with a similar look and feel to the Office applications for the Mac and the Office Mobile apps for iOS and Android, in recognition that today's workplace is a multi-platform environment.
For teamwork and collaboration, Word now supports real-time co-authoring of a document, with a "Share" button that enables the creator of a document to invite others to collaborate on it. Word, along with other Office apps, also integrates with Skype for Business, providing in-app real-time messaging between co-authors.
"I don't have to open the Skype for Business client to talk to colleagues; I can do it right from within Word without leaving it," said Richard Ellis, Microsoft's Office Division Lead in the UK.
In Outlook, a long awaited capability is a group inbox and calendar that everyone on a team can access in addition to their private inbox and calendar. These are provisioned automatically when a workgroup is defined, according to Ellis, along with a shared notebook in OneNote.
This is down to the new Office apps tying in with the Office 365 Groups capabilities, and many of the new features are built around cloud-based back-end services, with real-time co-authoring in Word relying on OneDrive for Business, for example.
Meanwhile, a new feature called Tell Me is designed to help users discover and learn how to use features in Word, PowerPoint and Excel by using natural language queries. As an example, Ellis demonstrated how Tell Me could show the user how to generate predictive trends in Excel from sales figures using the Forecast tool.
"It's moving to a ‘tell me what you want to do' process rather than just describing how a function works in the Help system," explained Ellis.
For users of the newly launched Windows 10, Office 2016 not only provides improved touch support, but can also use its Windows Hello bio metric-based authentication system to log into Office 365 as well as Windows.
Office 2016 also adds more information rights management capabilities, to provide greater control over who has the rights to copy, print or forward documents from within Outlook.
"This goes across the suite and across platforms, so if you have an iPad or an iPhone or a Windows phone or an Android phone, making sure you can control access to content across all those devices is key," Ellis said.
Many of these capabilities will have been available to testers running the public beta of Office 2016, the first version of which was made available in May. Many of the new features were also debuted in Office 2016 for Mac.
In this respect, Office 2016 may be perceived as less significant than the Office 2013 launch, which introduced us to touch-enabled apps and first linked them with its Office 365 services.
However, the new collaboration capabilities and the cross-platform consistency with the Mac and mobile versions of the suite are a continuation of Microsoft's "cloud-first, mobile first" strategy.
"It's a cloud-powered and born in the cloud client, it's the magic between having a modern, rich local client, but one designed to take advantage of all the Office 365 cloud services," said Ellis.
Microsoft confirmed that the Office 2016 applications will still be offered under a perpetual licence as a one-off purchase for those who require this, in addition to its preferred Office 365 subscription model.