Microsoft is redesigning Office to simplify the user experience

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Over the next few months, Outlook, Word and other cornerstone Office applications will feature some revamped interface elements meant to help users get the most out of the productivity software suite from Microsoft.

Today, Microsoft announced a bunch of design changes to its Office applications, the most major changes that the suite of apps has seen since the Office 2016 apps; possibly before that, depending on your perspective. Today, Redmond announced that it will be simplifying the ribbon and using the slick new Fluent Design system that's been making its way into Windows 10.

Microsoft's also talked up new menu aminations, plus "inclusive and accessible" icons that use colour to achieve "higher contrast". Following the new update, the Search field in Office 365 apps will begin recommending results based on what it thinks you're looking for. Like the simplified ribbon, the new colors and icons will first appear in the web version of Word. The company is vastly reducing the size of the ribbon - the toolbar that for so many years has been loaded up with buttons.

"Then, later this month, select Insiders will see them in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for Windows". The company promises that, at least for now, users of those applications will be able to revert to the old ribbon should they prefer it.

The new Ribbon will have just one row of icons, which were redesigned to be scalable not only for a sharper, more modern appearance, but also help with accessibility.

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Microsoft said the Mac variant of its Office productivity suite is set to ship alongside Office 2019 for Windows some time in the second half of this year. Microsoft calls this "zero query search" and notes that the recommendations are powered by artificial intelligence and Microsoft Graph.

Another new change is to search functionality, which Spataro said would be a "much more important element of the user experience".

The new search features are already available to commercial users on Office.com, SharePoint Online, and Outlook Mobile, and will show up on Outlook Online in August. In August, they will roll out to Outlook for Mac. It comes with new features across Office apps like Powerpoint and Word.

But instead of flipping a switch, Microsoft said the new features will roll out to Office365 and Office.com users over the next few months, "after they've made it through rigorous rounds of validation and refinement".

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