Office 2016 has been reviewed in great detail by many market watchers, including Microsoft itself. But the release represents something much more important than the specifics of how Delve and Cortana work, the differences between Tell Me on Clippy, or even the focus on collaboration — ‘taking the work out of working together’. Office 2016 is a declaration of Microsoft moving past the Windows era of computing, and staking its claim as a leader in the cross-platform productivity world we now inhabit.
Office 2016 is now available not just on various Windows versions, but on Mac, iOS, and Android. This is the new Microsoft, a company that is committed to providing a revamped notion of productivity to where people are getting things done, which is increasingly on today’s most popular mobile platforms, not on the desktop machines of five or ten years ago.
Instead of digging into the features app-by-app, it’s more useful to consider the forces that Microsoft is channeling in the social architecture of Office 2016. As I said, it’s geared to a mobile world. But in a mobile world, the shape and tempo of teamwork has shifted in profound ways. Work is increasingly connected and improvisational, relying more on people working in parallel — coworking in real-time — so Microsoft has invested heavily in coediting, coauthoring, and coordinating. This is the aspect of Office 2016 that most directly catches up to Google Drive, and which threatens to outdo it. Microsoft has had coauthoring in Office native apps since 2013, but this is the first roll-out in web apps, where more work is getting done these days.
But Office 2016 is not just playing catch-up with the sharing model of Google Drive. I think one of the most important additions — and one that is getting lesser attention from reviewers — is the new task management capability, Planner.
I have suggested for quite a long time that task management is a foundational aspect of work, and so any ‘productivity suite’ should have that as a core aspect. The company has offered Microsoft Project for decades, and while is a great project management tool, it’s not organized to serve as a coordinative task management solution, but rather as a planning tool.
I have not had a chance to use Planner for any length of time — I’ve only had a few demos — so a detailed analysis of how it works in the context of other Office capabilities will have to wait. But with its introduction, Microsoft is taking a step forward toward different set of premises regarding the way that teams get work done, and the tools they need to do so.
I don’t want to reduce such a major release of functionality to one element, but to me much of what we are seeing in Office 2016 is the extension of things that we’ve seen before, at least in part. Planner is an independent advance, and one that shift the discussion about productivity away from the world of documents — in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint — and squarely into the coordination of work.