Tomorrow's students may never know the trials and tribulations of properly citing sources and formatting a bibliography for a research or term paper.
On July 26, Microsoft announced a handful of cloud-enabled "intelligent services" that help point Office 365 users in the right direction while they are creating written content in Word or crafting PowerPoint presentations. Dubbed Researcher and Editor for Word, and Zoom for PowerPoint, the new features take Microsoft's machine-learning technologies and focuses them on some of the stumbling blocks faced by budding researchers, writers and presenters.
Researcher, Editor and Zoom offer assistive recommendations and even pointers to helpful or relevant content, at least in the case of Researcher, in a "thoughtful and contextual way," according to Carol Grant, senior product marketing manager for Microsoft Office.
During a recent in-person demonstration of the new features, Grant said that although the new features may help users create more polished papers and engaging, pixel-perfect PowerPoint presentations, Microsoft aims to help Office customers use the software to its full potential, and by extension, help users reach their potential, said Grant.
"The underlying theme is about efficiency and helping our users get the most out of the apps," she told eWEEK. "These features are allowing our users to interact with our apps more. They're more intuitive, [and] they're more adaptive to our users' needs."
With a mouse click, Clark showed how Researcher springs to action in Word, calling up the appropriate information from credible sources, and optionally incorporating it into the body of the paper along and appending the proper citations at the end. According to Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Office group, Researcher is based on the Bing Knowledge Graph—which, in keeping with the search engine's education-focused safe search capabilities, only pulls information from reputable and work-safe sources.
"We'll continue expanding Researcher's body of reference materials to also include sources like national science and health centers, well-known encyclopedias, history databases and more," he wrote in a blog post. "We'll also soon bring Researcher to mobile devices so you can start creating a quick outline for that term paper no matter where you are or what device you're using."
Editor, meanwhile, expands on Word's spelling and grammar tools (the red and blue "squiggles" that appear when something is amiss, respectively) to serve as a digital writing assistant, said Clark. Employing Microsoft growing expertise in machine learning and natural language processing, with a dash of input from the company's own linguists, Editor can help writers hone their copy by addressing wordiness, redundancy and other, more nuanced flaws that can detract from their work.
Editor highlights these issues with a gold dotted line. In fact, the red and blue squiggles are also being overhauled. They will soon appear as more restrained underlines.
In PowerPoint, the new Zoom feature allows users to create non-linear, interactive presentations. Should discussion turn to a previous slide, presenters can now zoom out and back into the slide in question, in a smooth and natural manner or take a "choose your own adventure approach" and use the new, auto-generated Summary Slide to explore a presentation's content in a way that fits the audience's mood.
Finally, one of the hallmark features in the Outlook mobile apps, the Focused Inbox, is making its way to their desktop and Web-based counterparts, revealed Grant. Focused Inbox prioritizes emails from colleagues and contacts that users frequently collaborate with, essentially enabling users to cut through the noise of promotional and off-topic emails while trying to get work done.
A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed that Focused Inbox will be rolled out to all platforms. "It will be available for all Office 365 and Outlook.com users over the next several months. We can't wait to bring Focused Inbox across all platforms to provide a consistent Outlook experience for users. Stay tuned for additional availability updates."