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We had a peek at Office 2019 and here's how it will enhance your business

Late in April 2018, Microsoft released a downloadable preview of their upcoming Office 2019 productivity suite to people enrolled in the Microsoft Office Insider program. This gives current users of the Office 2016 apps the ability to try Office 2019 for free with the caveat that the 2019 apps are "works in progress." Anyone can join the Office Insider program to try out these in-progress versions of future Microsoft Word, Outlook, Excel, and PowerPoint apps by clicking File > Office Account from any of your current Office 365 apps then clicking the Office Insider button shown in the screenshot below:

Office 2019

Because not every entrepreneur is comfortable installing and using the beta versions of Office 365 apps available from the Office Insider program, Amaxra looked at the Office 2019 preview to see how these upcoming enhancements could help businesses be more efficient. As a Microsoft Gold Partner with numerous successful deployments of Office 365, we have objectively analyzed the pros and cons of the latest build of Office through a business lens. For current and future Office 365 users, we see four important ways that upcoming changes in Office 2019 will enhance your business: 

Feature parity between Office 365 and Office ProPlus apps 

For the small-to-midsized business (SMB), the cloud-based convenience of Office 365 comes with a downside that large enterprise deployments of Office 365 also have: incremental feature additions can introduce incompatibilities with other corporate line of business (LOB) apps. It doesn't always happen when new features of Office 365 are made available from the cloud, but it happens enough that IT departments will typically delay cloud-based updates to employees until extensive testing can be done in their business environments. This is why some businesses chose to subscribe to the Office 365 ProPlus subscription. For the Office 365 ProPlus apps, the cloud-based security and feature updates could be delayed by corporate IT administrators to allow for feature compatibility testing with LOB apps. However, this often means that ProPlus business users have significantly fewer of the new cloud-based app features available to Office 365 users. For example, users opening PowerPoint 2016 from their Office 365 Home subscription on their Macs and PCs at home would see "Icons" and "3D Model" options but their laptop at work with Office ProPlus would not have these useful features. In an effort to achieve some feature parity, Office 2019 will have the same features found in the home and business versions right from the start. 

More in-app stylus support

Certain apps in Office 2016 such as OneNote had seamless integration with stylus accessories such as the Microsoft Surface Pen, the Apple Pencil for iOS, and any reasonably-good stylus for Google Android tablets. However, it would be frustrating to be used to these wonderful "electronic ink" features in OneNote 2016 then switch to either PowerPoint 2016 or Word 2016 and your Surface Pen would have much fewer abilities (let's not even mention stylus support in Excel 2016). In Office 2019, the must-have apps are getting richer stylus features that facilitate drawing on documents and/or taking notes with a stylus when using a tablet. The most powerful of these are the ink analysis feature in PowerPoint 2019 and the ink gestures feature in Word 2019.

Ink analysis in PowerPoint 2019 enables you to convert any handwritten words on a slide into text that matches the font and colors of your deck's master template. You can also draw entire diagrams with the stylus on a slide that are instantly converted into industry-standard shapes. We tried sketching out a new conference room layout and a simple LAN configuration as a test. PowerPoint 2019 was able to read the labels of "chair," "table," "server," "internet" written in various people's handwriting flawlessly and turn a hand-drawn cloud into a very professional-looking cloud networking icon.

The ink gestures in Word 2019 were also impressive. You can now split paragraphs into multiple lines, insert words into existing sentences, and join separated words using standard editing marks. We can see how, when combined with the cloud collaboration features inherent in Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Teams, businesses that generate a lot of documents in Word that require sign-off from multiple stakeholders and copyeditors will find this feature extremely valuable. 

Cross-platform voice dictation and grammar assistance

The productivity enhancing cloud-powered voice dictation features we've grown to love in Office 365 are currently relegated to PCs with Windows 10. However, with Office 2019 these voice dictation features will be available on both PC and Mac platforms.

While we did not get a chance to try this feature in Office 2019, Microsoft has publicly announce that it is adding a built-in grammar checker for Word. Microsoft will leverage their cloud-based machine learning (ML) platform to help users improve their grammar when typing (or dictating) documents. The grammar checker will be trained by thousands of Office 365 users on Windows ML, the new cloud-powered artificial intelligence platform Microsoft introduced in March 2018; thereby improving the accuracy of the Word grammar checker based on their responses. But the most interesting feature is that internet connectivity is not required. Microsoft says the ML for Word's nascent grammar checker will be able to work offline. 

Outlook for iOS finally gets quick reply

Although the Windows 10 version of Outlook 2016 for the PC (and the Outlook app for Windows Phone, RIP poor Windows Phone) already had this feature for a long time, the Outlook iOS app is getting the "quick reply" feature. When the reminder for a scheduled Outlook Calendar meeting appears your iPhone or iPad, you will soon have the option to send a quick "I'll be five minutes late" response directly from the reminder 

Will Office 2019 help your business?

Even though we've only seen just a few of the new features available in the Office 2019 Insider Preview, we can confidently say that every business can benefit from it. We've also been impressed with the new IT administration, management, and cybersecurity features available to businesses coming in Office 2019 and Windows 10 Professional through the Microsoft 365 subscription plans.

Contact me at Rosalyn.arntzen@amaxra.com or call 425 749 7471 if you have any questions or comments on this blog.

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