Microsoft to give Office 365, Office.com apps a makeover

On the heels of recent redesigns by Google and Apple, Microsoft is giving its Office apps a facelift over the coming months.

Over the coming months, Microsoft will begin rolling out changes to the interface of Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint for Office 365 and Office Online (Office.com) users.

Key to the Office app redesign are an updated Ribbon, icon refreshes and new ways to more easily see changes coming to the Office suite.

 The new simplified Office Ribbon

The new simplified Office Ribbon

There's a simplified version of the Office Ribbon, which allows users to collapse it so it takes up less space and hides many options, or keep it expanded into the current three-line view. Microsoft is starting to roll out this new Ribbon in the web version of Word to "select consumer users today in Office.com." In July, Microsoft will also make this new Ribbon design available in Outlook for Windows.

"We've found that the same ten commands are used 95% of the time by everybody," said Jon Friedman, Chief Designer, Microsoft Office.

 Outlook on Windows is first to get the updated look-and-feel

Outlook on Windows is first to get the updated look-and-feel

In Outlook such as "Reply," "Reply All" and "Forward" are basically universal. But that other five percent is different for every person, so Microsoft is adding an option to remove commands from the Ribbon, such as Archive, for example, and pin others to it, such as "Reply by IM."

Microsoft is adding new colors and icons to Office, starting, again with the web version of Word at Office.com. Later this month, a select group of Office Insiders also will see these new design elements in Word, Excel and PowerPoint for Windows. Then in July, they'll show up for users of Outlook for Windows and in August for Outlook for Mac users.

 The full set of Office icons are continuing to evolve

The full set of Office icons are continuing to evolve

The new icons are meant to render more crisply and cleanly on screens of any size and to look better for those with vision impairments.Currently there are more than 10,000 different icons in Office, Friedman noted, and Microsoft wanted to make them more consistent and accessible from the get-go, using color, contrast and other design elements.

Microsoft also is making search smarter by providing recommendations that officials said are "powered by AI" and the Microsoft Graph programming interfaces. The updated so-called "zero query search" feature will give users suggested content, people and documents based on which app they're in and where they are.

Microsoft also is starting to test a "coming soon" feature in Outlook so people can see new things coming. currently only in outlook on windows. if it works, will scale to the rest of office

Microsoft is taking a phased approach to introducing these changes because the company has found that muscle memory is strong among the one billion Office users on the planet. Microsoft has been testing the simplified Ribbon with 30 large Office 365 customers and has been flighting changes to users there to see how they would be accepted, Friedman said.

Friedman said that some of these changes have been inspired by what Microsoft already has introduced with the recent Outlook.com beta, Outlook Mobile and even the Windows 10 Mail and Calendar programs. The ultimate goal is consistency across all these flavors of Office, Mail and Calendaring products to the extent that it makes sense.