Microsoft Makes Office 2016 Collaboration a Group Effort

New Groups support in Outlook 2016 brings Microsoft a step closer to its vision of an innately collaborative ecosystem of Office apps.

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Yesterday, more than two months after the Mac version made its debut, Microsoft officially launched Office 2016 for Windows. Enterprises with volume licensing plans can start downloading the software on Oct. 1.

Although it remains anchored by the software giant's stalwart business applications—namely Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint—the latest version of Office hews a little closer to the company's mobile-friendly, cloud-enabled vision of getting work done. "The way people work has changed dramatically, and that's why Microsoft is focused on reinventing productivity and business processes for the mobile-first, cloud-first world," said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, in a Sept. 22 statement.

"These latest innovations take another big step forward in transforming Office from a familiar set of individual productivity apps to a connected set of apps and services designed for modern working, collaboration and teamwork," continued Nadella. That collection of connected apps includes Outlook 2016.

The email management and calendar software now supports Office 365 Groups, a Yammer-inspired information-sharing and collaboration feature introduced last year. Today, Groups are natively supported in Outlook 2016, according to Christophe Fiessinger, senior product manager, Microsoft Office 365.

"In Outlook 2016, creating a group is easy and new colleagues can also join existing groups and quickly get up to speed," Fiessinger noted in a blog post outlining the new capability. "Each member of a group can participate in conversations, schedule meetings, share files and notes and even initiate a Skype for Business voice and video call for urgent real-time decisions."

In Outlook, Groups resemble the familiar Inbox view and are organized in the main navigation pane alongside Favorites and Folders. Conversations, attachments and mentions are displayed in the main message window, which is typically inhabited by the contents of an email.

Rather than launching Outlook, mobile users can keep up with Group conversations with purpose-built apps. "With the new Outlook Groups mobile app for Windows Phone, iOS and Android, you can now engage with your group on your phone while on the go—continue conversations, view files, @mention colleagues and even discover other relevant groups," informed Fiessinger.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is working on integrating Groups with more Office 365 applications, said the company.

"By the end of 2015, we'll introduce Office 365 Groups insights and discovery in Delve. We are targeting the Office 365 Groups and Yammer integration to be available during the first half of 2016," said Microsoft in a FAQ concerning the features planned roll-out across the Office ecosystem.

Despite introducing new tools to share content between workers, Microsoft's Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Enterprise Client and Mobility, assures that Office 2016 is "the most secure Office ever."

"There are Data Protection and Data Loss Prevention capabilities natively built-into Office 2016," wrote Anderson in a separate post today. "With these features, IT pros can define policies about the kinds of information and data that, when detected in an Office document, can be flagged to users—thus requesting them to ensure they mean to be working with this data."

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 network of...