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Researcher in Word 2016. Credit: Microsoft.
Researcher in Word 2016. Credit: Microsoft.

Microsoft announced new updates for Office 365 and Outlook this morning, designed to help users focus in an era when people have more and more work spread across different devices and programs.

The new features leverage intelligence and machine learning with the goal of increasing productivity — helping people “work smarter, not harder,” said David Alexander, Microsoft Office senior product marketing manager.

office-620x465For example, new features let users assemble research papers without leaving Word, filter email to highlight the most important messages, and add interactive summary slides to PowerPoint presentations.

Microsoft is trying to fuel new interest in its Office apps as it continues to shift users from traditional packaged software to the Office 365 subscription service. The number of Office 365 consumer subscribers topped 23 million in the company’s latest quarter. Office 365 for businesses has become the most popular enterprise cloud service in the five years since its launch, outpacing Google Apps for Business.

The new updates to Word include tools called Researcher and Editor. The most searched terms in Tell Me, the in-Word search bar, is how to write a research paper. So Microsoft is focusing on that.

Researcher lets users search a topic within Word. News articles, journal articles and other results then appear in a window within the document. The search results also include formatted citations that can easily be dropped into a bibliography.

Editor helps with the writing process. We’ve gotten used to the squiggly red lines that denote a misspelled word or the blue ones correcting grammar. Editor will include a new gold line for writing style recommendations. Users can ask Editor to weed out passive voice, look for a certain tone or filter out slang.

Researcher is available in this month’s updates, and the first pieces of Editor will be available next month. Microsoft will add more capabilities to Editor in the fall.

Focused Inbox already exists on Outlook for mobile, and Microsoft is rolling it out this week for desktop Windows, Mac and Outlook on the Web users. Users can turn Focused Inbox on or off, and it learns from user behavior. Emails from people with whom the user regularly interacts will show up in the Focused Inbox tab. Senders to whom the user typically doesn’t respond will be filtered out.

Outlook also added @ mentions. That feature, Alexander said, shows emails where the user has been specifically mentioned in a message. If a user @ mentions someone in an email, that person’s email address is automatically added to the subject line.

Focused Inbox and @ Mentions in Outlook. Credit: Microsoft
Focused Inbox and @ Mentions in Outlook. Credit: Microsoft

A new feature in PowerPoint, called Zoom, allows presenters to add interactive summary slides to a presentation. That lets a presenter jump around and reference earlier points in a presentation. The idea is to improve engagement during long presentations where the presenter and the audience can lose focus. Zoom is available in this month’s updates.

Alexander said these updates fit with Microsoft’s goal to further integrate Office into people’s work, beyond being a way to create and manage documents.

Zoom for PowerPoint. Credit: Microsoft.
Zoom for PowerPoint. Credit: Microsoft.
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