After nearly two years of teasing, Microsoft finally released a preview version of its touch-optimized Office apps for Windows 10 yesterday. The software maker has been focusing on iOS and Android recently, having released better versions of Office for rival platforms than its own Windows Phone equivalent. That’s changing with Windows 10, and Microsoft’s loyal customers will no longer be left out in the cold. Was the long wait worth it? It looks like it. Microsoft’s new Office touch apps show great potential for Windows 10 apps as a whole.
I installed Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, after testing the new touch-optimized version of OneNote for Windows 10, and I’m impressed with the early results. After covering Microsoft for nearly 15 years, I’ve seen Office move steadily into a beast that tries to do a million things that could be greatly simplified. Some call it bloated, others call it powerful, but nobody in the industry has successfully challenged its dominance yet, so Microsoft is clearly doing something right.
Whether you think Office is bloated or not, there’s no argument to be had about these latest Office touch apps: they’re blistering fast. They feel lightweight, speedy, and really easy to use, and they’re mostly identical to Office for iPad and Android. I used to work at various investment banks, so my Office experience is extensive, but these days I only have basic document needs for keeping an eye on my finances, authoring some reports, and maybe the occasional presentation. The desktop version of Office has far too many options for someone like me, but these new apps aren’t as daunting and are simple enough and still functional to get stuff done.
Word syncs all my documents to OneDrive, or there’s options to navigate manually to Dropbox or other cloud storage that’s synced locally to a PC. While Dropbox is accessible, it’s not as integrated as the Android and iOS equivalents, but it works as you’d expect from File Explorer. All the basic formatting options are present, with options to insert pictures, shapes, tables, and alter headers and footers. There’s even track changes and the usual reading mode to take away all the formatting controls and focus on the text itself. The entire UI looks and feels like I’m using the iPad version, but that’s exactly what I was hoping Microsoft would do.
Excel and PowerPoint are equally feature rich. Basic calculations, formulas, and the usual formatting options can all be found in Excel, although formula bar controls are currently missing in this preview version. PowerPoint has enough transitions to please anyone wanting to create a flashy presentation, and there’s also inking support for annotations in presentation mode. All three apps offer up enough functionality right now for me to not need to switch back to the regular desktop version of Office, and I suspect that’s the same for a lot of consumers. Obviously, for businesses the requirements are far more complex, but these apps are clearly aimed at quick and easy editing.
The only thing that’s missing for me from Word is the ability to use ink. OneNote for Windows 10 has inking capabilities, but it’s not there yet in Word and Excel. It’s a differentiator for Microsoft’s platform, so I can only assume it will arrive before the company ships final versions of these apps. Printing support also seems to be missing, but that’s something Microsoft added to the iPad version fairly quickly after users understandably demanded options to print their documents.
Windows 10 apps might have great potential
Overall, these apps feel like a good demonstration of what Windows 10 apps are capable of. Microsoft struggled to create a good set of Windows 8 apps for its launch, and it took developers months to strike the right balance of speed, usability, and user interface to start creating decent Windows 8 apps. It’s probably a good sign that Microsoft has managed to create a compelling version of Office as a Windows 10 app ahead of its launch. Alongside the upcoming Mail and Xbox apps for Windows 10, Microsoft’s latest operating system looks like it will be a lot more promising for built-in apps than initial versions of Windows 8.