Microsoft Makes PowerPoint Pop With Smart Timelines, 3D Object Support

The latest batch of updates for Office includes features that produce a timeline view of PowerPoint presentations and add splashy 3D effects.


Capping a busy month for Microsoft's business software portfolio, the software giant announced new updates for its Office apps.

Microsoft 365, a new bundled offering that includes Windows 10, Office 365 and Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS), grabbed the spotlight during the Inspire conference in July. For Office 365 Business premium customers, the company also released preview editions of its three new apps—Connections, Listings and Invoicing.

Existing Office 365 users haven't been neglected, though. On July 31, Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president at Microsoft Office, dropped by the company's blog to detail some of the new features being added to PowerPoint, Excel and Word.

In PowerPoint, users can automatically organize date-based information into polished timelines using the Designer feature, Koenigsbauer announced. Powered by Microsoft's growing intelligent services suite, PowerPoint Designer is one of several design aids that assist users in creating more engaging, professional-quality Office content.

"Now PowerPoint Designer recognizes times, dates and topics on your slides and intelligently redesigns your content into professional-looking timelines, making it easier than ever to create high impact presentations," he wrote. "Start with a list of dates, then simply select Design Ideas in the Design tab and choose your favorite layout from the set of suggestions."

The new timeline feature in PowerPoint Designer is available now in the United States (English only) for customers enrolled in the Office Insider early-access program. It can be accessed in the Windows and Mac versions of the software, along with PowerPoint Mobile on Windows and Android tablets and PowerPoint Online, the software's web-based counterpart.

Users wishing to add a little more visual flair to their presentations can now add 3D models to their creations, said Koenigsbauer. In PowerPoint, 3D objects can now be used in conjunction with Morph, a feature that uses animation and other design elements to create seamless transitions. This enables an on-screen object to smoothly change perspective as a presentation progresses, lending a somewhat cinematic touch between slides.

Excel and Word users can also now adorn their files with 3D objects. 3D support requires an Office Insider membership and a PC running the Windows 10 Creators Update. The feature will be generally available later this year, according to Microsoft.

Word gains a new Read Aloud function to its Review collection of proofing tools. It speaks the contents of a Word document while simultaneously highlighting the current passage, allowing users to recognize and correct errors as they write and also help those with dyslexia or learning disabilities better create and consume written content with the software.

Again, Read Aloud is available to Office Insiders, provided they are running Word on a Windows PC. General availability is slated for later this year.

Office 365 enterprise customers can look forward to updated Outlook and StaffHub apps. On Windows desktop and on the web, Outlook now features a To: line with improved contact suggestions, said Koenigsbauer. The StaffHub workforce scheduling app can now be used to access companywide announcements and manage tasks on the go.

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...