SAN FRANCISCO – Microsoft has released a major update for Office, one of its most successful software products, with new features that reflect the company’s effort to adapt to shifts in how people use computers and software.
The updated versions of Microsoft’s popular word-processing, spreadsheet and email programs are heavy on collaboration tools that let people share information and work together online. Multiple people will be able to edit the same document simultaneously. As you start typing on a Word document, for instance, the letters immediately appear on your collaborator’s screen with a flag showing you as the author.
Competitors including Google have offered this feature in their online editing software, and Microsoft has had a version in the Web version of Office. Microsoft executive Jared Spataro said it’s the first time it’s available in the more powerful stand-alone product.
The new Office also integrates with Microsoft’s Skype conferencing service and its Bing search engine.
Microsoft is also nudging customers to buy the new Office 2016 as part of an online subscription service, known as Office 365, as the traditional practice of selling one-time updates seems threatened. Office 365, which starts at $70 a year, also includes online storage and other services that let users access their files on any Internet-connected device. Microsoft plans to release feature updates monthly to subscribers only.
Subscription sales may also be a good way for Microsoft to build a stronger revenue stream. Many people today are buying PCs less often and also slowing their purchases of new software, Bernstein Research analyst Mark Moerdler said in a recent report. He noted that Office is an important product for Microsoft, providing as much as a quarter of the company’s revenue last year.
Office 2016 is the first major Office update for Windows computers since 2013. In recent months, Microsoft has released a series of new Office apps for iPhones, iPads and Android devices, as well as Mac computers.
Executives say the company recognizes that many people use a variety of devices during the day, and not all of them are based on Microsoft’s Windows operating system. They say the new Office 2016 for Windows is designed to be consistent and familiar, although not identical, to the Office apps that work on other systems. Microsoft says the new collaboration tools will eventually appear on the Mac.
Even as Microsoft pushes its Office 365 subscription, it will offer Office 2016 for Windows and Mac computers as a one-time purchase, starting at $150. The one-time purchase won’t include the monthly feature updates, even for customers who buy it a year from now. Casual users can also get Office for free on Windows, but it’s a touch-optimized version with limited features, including a restriction that only one document can be opened at once.