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Microsoft Outlines AI and Other Improvements in Office 365 Apps

Microsoft this week highlighted new and coming improvements for Office 365 users.

The announcement mostly concerned improvements for Office 365 end users, but there was one tidbit for IT pros. For instance, Microsoft has released the Office Customization Tool for Office 365 ProPlus and "other Click-to-Run managed Office products." The tool is a Web-based form that will create "the configuration files that are used to deploy Office in large organizations," according to a Microsoft overview document description.

Microsoft also updated Office Online Server this month. Office Online Server lets organizations use their own datacenters to support running Office applications in browsers.

AI-Driven Office 365 Improvements
For Office 365 end users, Microsoft announced a number of improvements that are available this month or the next. In some cases, these improvements were said to be driven by artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities added to Microsoft's productivity suite in accordance with a so-called "connected Office" theme. This notion is said by Microsoft to even extend into some of its upcoming Office 365 redesign changes.

For instance, Microsoft is planning a revamp of the Office 365 icons and color schemes used in applications such as Outlook, OneDrive, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more. The new icons, with a more 3-D appearance, are described as being better suited to illustrating "connections within each app's symbol and the collective suite," according to Microsoft's announcement.

The announcement offered the following advanced glimpse of the new Office 365 icons, which will be rolling out to subscribers "in the coming months, starting with mobile and web":

[Click on image for larger view.] Microsoft's coming "connected Office"-themed icons for Office 365 users (source: Nov. 29, 2018, Microsoft blog post).

Also in the spirit of the AI theme in Office 365, Microsoft has bolstered Word on the Mac. It added the ability for users to automatically create lists of things to do in a document. It's done via AI technology when users insert tags into the text (such as the "TODO" or "<<insert>>" tags), according to another Microsoft announcement this week.

This ability to create task lists in Word for Mac also will work with @mentions, which are a means of sending messages to co-workers using Office 365. These message recipients will get a link to a place where something needs to be added, the announcement explained.

At present, the to-do list AI-based capability in Word on Mac is just available for Office Insider Program testers. Microsoft is promising that it'll be "coming soon," though, for all Office 365 subscribers.

A new "Editor" capability in PowerPoint is getting "machine learning and natural language processing" improvements to help users better proof their presentation content. Microsoft indicated that "Editor in PowerPoint will be available to all users with an Office 365 subscription beginning December 2018." 

Microsoft has described other AI improvements in Office 365 in earlier announcements. For instance, in September, Microsoft announced four AI-driven technologies for Excel. The "Ideas" AI addition is a lightning-bolt icon that offers recommendations for viewing data. Microsoft also introduced AI-powered data types, such as "Stocks" and "Geography," that link to online data sources. An Insert Data from Picture feature in Android devices converts photos of tables into Excel spreadsheets. The fourth AI-powered Excel improvement announced in September is the ability to produce dynamic arrays from Excel formulas, which will show the multiple values in adjacent cells.

Also back in September, Microsoft announced AI-based capabilities in the Microsoft Stream video service. They include using facial-recognition technology to identify speakers, as well as automatic closed-captioning of talks, plus transcript search capabilities.

Other Improvements
Microsoft announced a few other new and coming capabilities in Office 365.

Microsoft Forms is now integrated into PowerPoint in Office 365. Users typically use Forms to create quick surveys and quizzes, and presenters can now use this newly integrated capability to get audience feedback.

The Microsoft Teams Mobile App now permits organizational directory searches for finding personnel. It also lets users schedule meetings. They can set Quiet Hours to avoid notifications when busy. All of these improvements are currently available in the Teams Mobile App.

Outlook on the Web, Microsoft's browser-based e-mail client, will be getting the ability to create tasks by dragging and dropping e-mail content onto the Tasks pane or the Calendar. This capability will be arriving "in December 2018." Also at that time, it'll be easier to sign in to Outlook on the Web using work or school accounts, Microsoft promised. For instance, users will get directed to sign in using their organization's sign-in page, the announcement explained.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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