Updates Provides Easy Access to Frequently-Used Apps

An update is coming with the New Year. The browser-based version of Microsoft's Office software suite is getting a new productivity-enhancing look and feel going into 2017.

Office 365 Updates 2 provides users with access to their Office 365 apps and content anywhere and on practically any device that supports a modern web browser.

With its co-authoring capabilities, it enables users to work collaboratively on Word documents, PowerPoint presentations and other types of Office documents in real-time. The co-authoring feature was eventually ported to the Office 2016 desktop applications.

Now, with an update to the Web application suite that Microsoft is currently rolling out, getting to those apps and files requires less poking around.

Apart from a user interface updates where the current candy-colored visuals are making way for a more sedate, business-friendly blue color scheme—the new homepage prioritizes frequently used online apps, placing the tiled application icons more prominently just under the search bar. With continued usage, the order of those app tiles will change to reflect a user's habits.

For the time being, customization options are limited, acknowledged Microsoft in an online FAQ. The ability to resize or change the order of app tiles is currently not supported, although the company left the door open for potential changes down the line.

The update also enables users to manage their to-do lists. can be used to create and view Outlook tasks that can be synchronized across devices. Users can drill deeper into a task to add more detail and check off completed tasks.

Along those lines, the site also gathers Outlook calendar items into a list of upcoming meetings and events.

"Get an in-depth view of the day's meetings and quickly respond to or join Skype for Business calls with one click," wrote Tom Batcheler, senior product marketing manager at Microsoft Office 365, in a Dec. 28 blog post.

he feature builds on a Skype for Business-Office Web Apps integration that Microsoft first debuted in mid-2015, which allows colleagues to join video or voice calls directly in their browsers. Consumers can get a similar experience using (formerly Hotmail) and the non-business version of Skype.

"Enhanced people pictures help you build stronger connections with coworkers and help you keep track of your different teams and projects," added Batcheler.

Finally, the Recent Documents section has been enhanced with new controls. Users can now "pin" select Word documents, OneNote notebooks and other online Office files to the top of the list. New document type filters (Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint) allow users to further organize their content.

Again, Microsoft isn't currently offering controls to turn off or change the behavior of the tasks, upcoming events and online document panes. But users have the option to collapse or minimize those areas of the homepage. Meanwhile, the company is evaluating ways to add additional customization options for future updates.

And for those wondering about the future of the Install Office button, this fixture of the homepage is here to stay.

The update is rolling out in stages, beginning this month. All users will have access to the new homepage sometime in early 2017, Batcheler said.

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...