Have you used this new Office feature?
I use Office and have done so for decades. I’ve always found the suite’s many features difficult to use, in part because they aren’t always easy to discover. If only there were an easy way to find the tools I need.
Sure, I can search online for advice or use the built-in Office help system (and I often have), but why can’t the world-dominant productivity suite just work?
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Turns out that someone at Microsoft thinks the same thing, as I learned in conversation with Microsoft Vice President Brad Anderson recently. It’s a feature that has been available in PowerPoint and Excel and will be made available in Word this fall.
It’s called Ideas.
Here’s what the new Ideas button does
Entered a bunch of data into an Excel spreadsheet and want to turn it into a graph? Tap the Ideas button at the top right of the ribbon and choose a design.
Creating a presentation in Keynote? Enter your copy, tap ideas and you can create a professional looking slide show.
Need help with your writing? Word will guide your writing style and automate formatting to make documents easy to read.
There are some limitations: You need to be using OneDrive, can’t change the color palette and need to be using the most recent pro edition of Office 365. But it is a great way to save a little time when working on an Office document – better yet, you’ll find the feature on iPads and iPhones, too.
Finally: No more fiddling with formatting on an iPhone screen.
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The feature is heavily based on server-led AI – it’s not in-depth and (we’re told) isn’t going to mean your ideas are going to a server far away. But it does figure out what kind of story you are trying to tell with your information:
A pie chart? A timeline? It tries to figure that out.
It’s really impressive in use and will save you a lot of time.
Making things better
In a sense, the fact the feature exists across all Office’s supporting platforms (including Apple’s) reflects the strong cooperation that exists between Apple, Microsoft and other partners in the Apple in the enterprise space.
Anderson rejects the polarization that characterizes the traditional Apple vs. Microsoft world view:
“Historically, there’s more cooperation than there is competition,” he said, noting that Microsoft sometimes offers enterprise solutions Apple lacks.
Shrewd partnerships with enterprise-focused companies such as Microsoft, SAP, IBM or Jamf enable Apple to equip its products for enterprise IT.
There’s lots of illustrations of how this kind of relationship benefits workers in heterogenous deployments - Jamf will enable users to login to Windows PCs using Touch ID on an iPhone beginning next year, for example; set Macs up with access to corporate applications using Azure Active Directory; and provide endpoint security.
When it comes to Office, Anderson observes:
“The majority of the world uses Office 365. Apple doesn't look at office as a competitive thing. Office makes their devices better.”
(There are 200 million monthly active Office users, I learned.)
Anderson also noted that Microsoft and Apple continue frequent discussions on other ways they might work together.
That’s a significant change.
“I think part of that’s to do with leadership, part of that is that Microsoft’s a different company than we were six years ago.”
Useful features like the Ideas button in Office 365 and big features such as using your iPhone to authenticate a Windows machine using Jamf Pro are the fruits of these conversations, enabling Apple technologies to become peer players in the rapidly changing world of enterprise IT.
It's a world in which Apple solutions are now in use across every single Fortune 500 firm.