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New Microsoft Office 2016 touts collaboration

The new Microsoft Office 2016 includes a Groups collaboration tool for building convenient team workspaces.

The new Microsoft Office 2016, released this week, includes advanced tools for business collaboration and teamwork that are expected to make Microsoft a stronger competitor against similar products available from numerous startups.

Office 2016 includes a new Outlook application, called Groups, which lets a team of workers set up a workspace for messaging and sharing calendars, inbox items and online storage. Groups is meant to be an easy alternative to email. Other enhancements in Office 2016 include tight integration with Skype for Business.

The collaboration features will help Microsoft compete in a crowded market, said Irwin Lazar, analyst for Nemertes Research, based in Monkea, Ill. Other experts believe businesses are already overloaded with ways to collaborate and don't need any more options.

"Introducing yet another way to collaborate may be more complexity than many businesses want," said Michael Jude, analyst at Frost & Sullivan, based in Mountain View, Calif.

The new Microsoft Office 2016 provides a number of timesaving features that boost worker productivity. For example, when users are preparing to send an attachment, a drop-down box will appear with a list of the documents they have worked on recently. There's also a mobile feature that translates calendar availability into an email, so people don't have to toggle between the applications to schedule an appointment.

"Microsoft has been pretty vocal about the definition of productivity being the time that it takes to do things. They want people to save time," said Vanessa Thompson, analyst for IDC, based in Framingham, Mass. 

The 15 million subscribers to Office 365, the online version of the suite, will also get Groups. Microsoft plans to include the software in an automatic update scheduled for the next few weeks.

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