'Fast' Release Tier Comes to Microsoft Office Insiders

Taking a cue from Windows Insider, Microsoft adds a new "Fast" tier to the Office testing and feedback program.

fast release tier

Windows Insider, a program that provides early access to upcoming builds of the operating system, has a "Fast Ring" that delivers updates as soon as Microsoft can pump them out. Fast Ring users may encounter some rougher edges and bugs than those in the Slow Ring, but they get to test new features first and their feedback can potentially help the company discover issues sooner.

Now, Microsoft is using the same strategy on its Office Insider program.

"Coming in the next few days, we're adding a new level called Office Insider Fast for Windows desktops, Mac and Windows Mobile (Android and iOS coming soon)," Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for the Microsoft Office team, wrote in a blog post. "The Fast level provides even earlier builds of Office, more frequently."

Office Insider Fast builds are equivalent to the ones Microsoft employees can access internally, added Koenigsbauer. That said, users may be taking a bit of a gamble installing Fast updates. The new Office Insider level "is best for Insiders who want to use the earliest preview builds to identify issues, provide feedback to help make Office great, and who don't mind a bit of risk using unsupported builds," he added.

Microsoft launched Office Insider for Windows in November 2015, followed by the Mac version in January. The program has grown to more than 1 million users who have produced "over 100,000 pieces of feedback," Koenigsbauer added.

The company also announced a bevy of new features coming to its Office applications.

OneNote users with Office 365 subscriptions can use the Ink math assistant to handwrite equations. In addition to converting them to text, the software goes a step further by teaching users how to come up with the answer. To add some extra flair to doodles, hurried scribbles and other handwritten content, Microsoft is adding the student-inspired rainbow, galaxy, gold and silver ink effects to OneNote.

Visio is bringing its diagramming capabilities to the iPad and the web, said Koenigsbauer. Visio for iPad is available to select Office Insiders and a Visio Online Preview is currently rolling out to the company's business customers.

Windows Information Protection (WIP), Microsoft's data leak prevention technology is now available the latest versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote for Windows. WIP enables users to designate Office content as "personal" or "work," enabling security-conscious organizations to restrict sensitive information.

Outlook on the Web now generates a Microsoft Graph-powered pane when users click on names of their co-workers. The new pane displays basic contact information, Office 365 Group membership status, and work relationships, along with recent files, emails and meetings.

Finally, the Office Online extension has been released for the company's Edge browser. Already available for the Google Chrome browser, and boasting 3 million installations, the plug-in enables users to create new content (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Sway) using the web-based versions of Office apps and provides quick access to OneDrive content and recent files. The extension requires the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, which recently added plug-in support to Edge.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...