Microsoft's Office 2016 intro guides are here, a week late and short on useful details

Microsoft has a great opportunity to draw new users to Office 2016, and so far, the effort is falling short.

We concluded our Office 2016 review by noting how poorly Microsoft was promoting the new features of the suite. A new series of Office 2016 guides, published Monday, help rectify that shortcoming—barely.

On Monday, Microsoft launched a series of guides to Office 2016—covering Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, and OneNote—that cover the basic features of each app, as well as a quick guide to getting started. In addition to the guides that cover the new Office 2016 apps, there are guides that cover Office Mobile, Office 2016 for the Mac, and Skype for Business, as well.

Each are available either in PDF format, or as a Sway, the light content-creation app that Microsoft also launched as part of Office 2016. (Perhaps somewhat oddly, Microsoft did not publish a guide to using Sway.)

Microsoft does surprisingly uneven job with these new guides, however. In certain cases, you could argue they’ve dropped the ball.

Why this matters: Microsoft is eager to move users onto its new Windows 10 operating system, new Edge browser, new Windows apps—new everything, as the company moves to a software-as-service model. Even though an entire generation has grown up around Office (it’s been available for about 25 years), those users may be slow to upgrade to Office 2016 because most of its improvements are under the hood. The guides would be an opportunity to welcome new users. We're not sure why the publications seem so half-hearted.

The bare minimum

Take the snippet about sharing your work with others in Word, for example:

office guide word collaborative editng

What you might expect Word to do in this case would be to show how, if you team up with a coworker, you could edit the document collaboratively and be done with it in a jiff. Instead, the example that Microsoft provides implies that this collaborative process could take days to accomplish. Why would you even imply that?

Directly below that, however, is another blurb that introduces the idea of “Tell me what to do...” one of the key features in Office. The “Tell me” box cuts right through the clutter of the Office menus, finding the exact thing you want to get accomplished. It’s a smart idea, executed well. So highlighting that makes sense.

Each guide opens with a “scorecard” of sorts that shows you a typical screenshot - Outlook, for example—along with what each section of the screen does. It’s the type of thing that’s a handy crutch for those who may feel a little unsure about what to do, or a helping hand for those who are totally new to Office.

tell me what to do outlook

The “tell me what to do” feature in Outlook 2016.

Again, however, you might expect a quick blurb about how the new Clutter feature, which helps cut back on insignificant email, might prove useful. But no, that’s not there either.

Microsoft obviously can update these guides as it goes along—after all, that’s the whole point of a Sway, isn’t it?—and I think it needs to. We don’t need these quick start guides turning into full-fledged manuals. But Microsoft at least needs to explain what’s new in Office 2016 and how to take advantage of those new features. And it still really hasn’t done so.

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Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
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