Microsoft Rolls Out Previews Of Office 2016 And Skype For Business

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Microsoft this morning announced a preview of Office 2016 for Windows, in a release aimed at putting the software in front of IT professionals and developers for further testing ahead of a broader roll out. Additionally, the company announced the technical preview of its Skype for Business client, which serves to replace Microsoft Lync in the enterprise with a communications experience that better resembles that of the popular, consumer-facing Skype service.

The company had previously announced that the next version of Office would arrive in the second half of 2015, but today’s announcement provides a few more details about what’s in store. The software, which has been in private preview already, is now being made available to commercial Office 365 customers, allowing them to try out the product before their wider deployments.

Microsoft notes that the current version of Office being offered won’t contain all the features that will ship in the final product later this year, but customers will receive monthly updates during the testing cycle.

Of particular interest to IT pros are a number of technical improvements being made to Outlook, the expansion of Data Loss Protection (DLP) to Word, Excel and PowerPoint, new “click-to-run” deployment features for managing Office distributions across a network, extended Information Rights Management protection for Visio, and more. In addition, Microsoft says it’s not making any changes to Macros or Add-ins, so that companies won’t have to deal with compatibility issues during testing.

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Meanwhile, Skype for Business’s technical preview is said to become available”in the coming weeks” for Lync customers, and will ship with a new client, new server and an updated service within Office 365. Based on Skype’s infrastructure, the new service will allow business customers to communicate with both those inside their organization as well as anyone else who has a Skype ID.

The software, which was announced at Convergence by CEO Satya Nadella, resembles Skype in look-and-feel, but also includes enterprise-grade security, compliance and control to IT. The service is also built into Office, so features like presence, IM, voice and video calls, and online meetings are a part of the Office experience, the company says.