Hands on with Microsoft Office for Mac 2016 Preview

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After a five-year gap, Microsoft has unveiled the first public beta of its forthcoming Office 2016 for Mac with the release of Microsoft Office for Mac 2016 Preview. The new release is free for all Yosemite users during the remainder of the product’s pre-release phase, with the final version slated for release later this year.

Office for Mac 2016 Preview ships with five components: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote. It boasts a refreshed and optimized codebase, Retina-friendly visuals and support for full-screen mode.

Previously, Office on the Mac has always been considered as an afterthought by Microsoft. However, Apple’s dumbing down of its own iWork suite coupled with changes to Microsoft’s top brass has left the company keen to exploit what it sees as a gap in the Mac market.

As a result, the first new version of Office since the beginning of the decade has been given a real shot in the arm.

Office 2016 is all about the cloud -- it’s tightly integrated into Microsoft’s OneDrive and SharePoint services, but you won’t be obliged to use either during preview testing. Of the five components, Outlook is based on the recent standalone release, while OneNote contains only one update of note: improved sharing capabilities.

Both apps already showcase the modern Office look that has already been rolled out on other platforms -- including iPad and Windows -- and this look has now been extended to the core components: Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Office 2011 users will notice the ribbon has been updated along with the task pane to make features more immediate and visible. Word users gain a handy new Design tab for managing a document’s layout, and a Navigation sidebar (confusingly referred to as Document Sidebar) for working more efficiently with larger documents.

Excel’s new features bring it in line with Excel 2013 on Windows, and include a new Analysis Toolpak offering a wide number of statistical functions, as well as a PivotTable Slicer, which is designed to pick out patterns from large volumes of data.

PowerPoint debuts a new Presenter View that makes it easier than ever to present your slideshow, plus a new animation pane is supplemented with a number of new slide transition effects.

The current preview version will function for 60 days, and can be installed alongside Office for Mac 2011 -- users will need to keep updating to newer preview builds to extend this deadline.

Once Office for Mac 2016 is officially released -- "later this summer" was the vague date provided on the Office blog -- then the preview will expire within one month.

Pricing for Office for Mac 2016 has yet to be confirmed, but it will be available as a free update to all Mac users with a valid Office 365 subscription. In the meantime, Office for Mac 2016 Preview can be downloaded now (be warned, it’s a hefty 2.5GB) for Macs running OS X 10.10 (Yosemite).

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