Change is scary.
And for a product that’s used by more than one billion people, change can cause a lot of confusion and disruption.
That’s why Microsoft is giving people plenty of time to prepare for the first redesign of its Office apps in three years.
The popular suite of productivity apps, which includes Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, is getting a makeover that will make some familiar parts of the interface, including the uppermost “ribbon” of tools, look different. Overall, it’s a sleeker look that will weave in new search capabilities.
But instead of flipping a switch, Microsoft said the new features will roll out to Office365 and Office.com users over the next few months, “after they have made it through rigorous rounds of validation and refinement.”
“Users have a lot of ‘muscle memory’ built around these versions [of the productivity apps], so we plan on being especially careful with changes that could disrupt their work,” the company said.
Here are some of the changes you can expect to see in your favourite productivity apps (don’t be scared):
The classic ribbon across the top, where menu options like ‘Home’ and ‘Insert’ exist, will be condensed to simplify the look so that it isn’t all or nothing the way it is now.
The classic three-row version will still be available to switch back to, unlike the new Gmail, which will be removing the choice to opt-out of its redesigned version later this year, Microsoft says it doesn’t intend to take that option away: “Users will always be able to revert back to the classic ribbon with one click.”
The web version of Word will be the first of the apps to get it. Microsoft says it will start to roll it out to select users of Office.com today, and then “Select Insiders” will see it in Outlook for Windows in July.
Collaboration commands will all be in the upper right-hand corner inside Office documents.
Collaborators will be represented by an avatar and a colour, so that each person’s cursor can be identified using that designated colour as everyone edits the same document – similar to the way it is in Google’s G Suite apps.
The icons for all of the commands that you see in the toolbar — copy, paste, print, folder, for example — will be updated so that the graphics are more “crisp” for larger screens.
These will also only appear in the Word for Office.com at first, but they will roll out a little further than the simplified ribbon when they go to Windows: the aforementioned select Insiders will see the updated icons in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for Windows later this month.
Outlook for Windows will get the icons in July and Outlook for Mac will get them in August.
AI-powered search will bring up recommendations on actions, content or people you’re looking for, based on your work habits, right when you place your cursor in the query box.
This is already available to some commercial users of Office.com and the Outlook mobile app.
Users can toggle the “Coming Soon” option for more control over the changes as they take affect, and open it up (as shown below) to learn more about the updates or share feedback on them
Here’s a video that showcases the updates, featuring Office chief designer Jon Friedman.
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