If you’re one of the billion-plus people who employ Microsoft’s bread and butter Office software each month, you may start noticing some changes. On Wednesday, Microsoft announced new updates for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, but the company is proceeding rather cautiously and rolling out these out gradually over the next few months.
The changes, from a collapsed “ribbon” to newly drawn icons, may help modernize a venerable but aging franchise.
In recent years Office has mostly been transformed from a set of desktop applications to a cloud-connected app and services. And that means Microsoft no longer piles on a bunch of new features at once into software that you bought and were meant to live with every two to three years, until the next new version came along.
“We were like bakers in a kitchen putting all the wonderful touches on our creations and then we did the big reveal,” says Microsoft corporate vice president Jared Spataro.
So call these next changes coming to Office more of a modes reveal. The refresh is based on the so-called “Fluent Design” system that Microsoft announced last year for Windows 10:
The three-line ribbon toolbar at the top of your screen is being whittled down to a space-saving single line. The idea is that you can better focus on your own content in a Word document, for example. If you’re not keen on this new view though, Microsoft still gives you the option to expand the ribbon back into its present form.
You can also now customize the ribbon. According to Microsoft, 95% of us use the same 10-ish commands in the ribbon. But the remaining 5% of commands differ from user to user. You will now be able to pin the commands most meaningful to you to the ribbon.
The online version of Word is the first app to get this simplified ribbon. It comes to Outlook for Windows next month. But those of you who toil in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on Windows have to wait for until Microsoft solicits more feedback from a broader set of users.
Users of the web version of Word at Office.com will also be the first to experience new colors and higher contrast icons that may be easier to make out for people with poor vision.
A Microsoft designer with low vision found that when the contrast is lower, and icons are of the same color, they may blur, making them harder to disseminate.
These newly designed icons will appear for select “Insiders” in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for Windows later this month. In July, they will show up in Outlook for Windows, and in August start rolling out to Outlook on the Mac.
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