Microsoft recently announced major visual changes coming first to Office.com and Office 365, according to a Microsoft blog post. In an effort to bring the visual styling of Office more in line with that of Windows 10, Microsoft is changing aspects of the core Office apps to match their "Fluent Design" visual guidelines.
Fluent Design was first made widely available in the Windows 10 Fall Creators update in late 2017, which largely blends Google's similar "Material Design" guidelines with that of the blurred translucency, drop shadow, and highlight effects that were found in Windows Aero.
The updates include a simplified version of the oft-maligned "Ribbon Interface" which was was introduced in Office 2007. The new simplified layout, by default, hides the 3-line view and option grouping that was endemic to the Office 2007-style layout. For comparison, while the Office 2007 ribbon featured toolbar content organized both horizontally and vertically, the new design reverts to a single horizontal bar, which is more in line with Office 2003 and G Suite. That said, the new Fluent Design toolbar can be expanded to resemble the Office 2007 style ribbon interface.
In the post, Microsoft notes:
Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for Windows offer our deepest, richest feature set-and they're the preferred experience for users who want to get the most from our apps. Users have a lot of "muscle memory" built around these versions, so we plan on being especially careful with changes that could disrupt their work. We aren't ready to bring the simplified ribbon to these versions yet because we feel like we need more feedback from a broader set of users first. But when we do, users will always be able to revert back to the classic ribbon with one click.
This is coming first to the web version of Word, and will be rolled out to Outlook for Windows in July.
SEE: Comparison chart: Office suites (Tech Pro Research)
Likewise, Microsoft is adjusting other design aspects, including colors and icons—replacing previous bitmap icons with vector versions for improved appearance on Hi-DPI (Retina) and large-format displays. Likewise, this is coming first to the web version of Word, and will be rolled out to Outlook for Windows in July. "Select insiders" will see them in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for Windows. The updates will also come to Outlook for Mac in August.
Search functionality is also being updated, the post said, with "zero query search" adding recommendations when users place the cursor in the search box.
Interestingly, these changes—alongside other recent changes to Windows 10—undo in large part the most highly-criticized design decisions found in the Ribbon design of Office 2007 and Metro design of Windows 8, which were created under the guidance of Steven Sinofsky and Julie Larson-Green. Sinofsky left Microsoft on December 31, 2012, months after Windows 8 shipped, in a move that was widely seen as Sinofsky being pushed out of the company. He was succeeded by Larson-Green, who left in 2017 and Tami Reller, who left in March 2014.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Microsoft is changing aspects of the core Office apps to match their "Fluent Design" visual guidelines, with features coming first to Office Web and Office 365 users.
- Changes in Office and Windows undo, in large part, the most highly-criticized design decisions found in the Ribbon design of Office 2007 and Metro design of Windows 8.
- 30 things you should never do in Microsoft Office (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Microsoft Office update brings simplified design, better search (CNET)
- Windows 10 Fluent Design makeover: Microsoft reveals what's coming next (ZDNet)
- Windows 10 April 2018 Update: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
- Microsoft delivers Office 2019 for Mac test build (ZDNet)
- Comparing office suites: What features are vital to your workflow? (TechRepublic)
James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.