Cloud

Microsoft adds new cloud-based tools and machine learning features to Office apps

Microsoft Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint are getting intelligent updates to help improve productivity and performance with the addition of machine learning and natural language processing.

Image: iStockphoto/maxuser

On Tuesday, Microsoft announced that it was updating a host of its Office 365 applications with cloud-based intelligent services that it says will "save you time and produce better results." Microsoft Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint are all getting updates that could help make users more productive.

The new features, some of which rely on technology like machine learning and natural language processing, will be released in July. Here's how each application is getting a boost.

SEE: Google Apps vs. Office 365: A side-by-side analysis (Tech Pro Research)

Word

Microsoft Word is getting two new services: Researcher and Editor. Researcher is a service that Microsoft said "helps you find and incorporate reliable sources and content for your paper in fewer steps." By clicking on the feature in the toolbar, users get access to relevant content in a vertical window on the right side of the screen.

From there, they can click to add related material into their Word document. Students and academics will be happy to learn that Researcher will add the properly-formatted citation as well. Researcher gets content from the web through Bing Knowledge Graph, Microsoft will be adding additional encyclopedias and databases. Office 365 subscribers using Word 2016 on Windows desktops can use Researcher now, and it will be coming to mobile devices soon.

Editor is a cloud-based service that adds additional proofreading and editing to your Word document. According to Microsoft, it uses machine learning, natural language processing, and additional input from their linguist team, to help improve a user's writing.

Users will see the similar colored underlining that currently denotes misspelled words, but they can now use a "Wordiness and Redundancy" option to reduce "the majority of" to "most," for example. Or, it could show if a user maybe chose the wrong form of effect or affect. Microsoft said Editor will "get better with time," eventually explaining why certain words might be the wrong choice.

Outlook

In Outlook, the Focused Inbox feature that was previously available on iOS and Android is coming to Outlook on Windows, Mac, and the web. For those unfamiliar with the tool, it splits your inbox in two, separating your most important emails into your "Focused" tab, while everything else lands in "Other." As you move emails back and forth, the tool learns what is important and applies it going forward.

SEE: Windows 10 one year on: Has it been a success for Microsoft?

Outlook on Windows and Mac for Office 365 users are also getting @mentions to bring certain emails to your attention or "flag actions for others." According to a blog post announcing the features: "To flag someone, just type the @ symbol in the body of the email and pick the desired person. Their name will automatically be highlighted in the email and their email address automatically added to the To: line."

The goal of @mentions is to make it easier to sort and filter your emails. Outlook 2016 users on Windows, Mac, and the web have access now, and the feature will be coming to mobile users soon.

PowerPoint

The new feature coming to PowerPoint is called Zoom, and Microsoft said it will help users "create interactive, non-linear presentations." Basically, instead of moving through slides simply from left to right, users will set up a summary slide and be able to "zoom" in and out of each section, in whatever order they see fit.

So, if a user wants to jump back to a sales chart from a previous slide, he or she can now do that without exiting the presentation altogether. This feature could also help in the classroom, as a free form discussion may take the presenter to a later point before he or she planned.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Microsoft Word is getting a new tool called Researcher that adds relevant material to your document, and a new machine learning-powered tool called Editor that adds additional proofreading and editing capabilities.
  2. Microsoft Outlook's Focused Inbox feature is coming to Outlook on Windows, Mac, and the web; and it is also getting an @mentions feature to help users filter and sort emails more efficiently.
  3. Microsoft PowerPoint is getting a new feature called Zoom, that will help users build non-sequential presentations that can be presented in a variety of ways.

Also see

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is News Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

Editor's Picks