Microsoft launches new Office Insider test program

Microsoft is launching a new Insider program for consumers who want to test-drive a big early coming Office features, two new PowerPoint add-ins among them.

Taking a page from its Windows Insider book, Microsoft is launching a new Office Insider program.

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Office Insider is for Office 365 Home, Office 365 Personal and Office 365 University subscribers who are willing to opt into pre-release builds of Office 2016 for Windows.

Microsoft's Office Insider page also notes that Office Insider builds are available for Android phones and tablets from the Office Insider for Android community. Office Insider builds for Windows 10 mobile devices are available through the Windows Insider program. At some point "in the coming months," Office Insider will be open to those using Office 365 apps on Macs, too.

(Detailed instructions for joining the program are on the Office Insider page under Frequently Asked Questions.)

Microsoft is launching its Office Insider program starting in the U.S. Over the "coming days and weeks," the program will be open to participants worldwide, a company spokesperson confirmed.

The Office Insider program is a bit different from the Windows Insider one, in that it is for those interested in testing features that are only about one to three weeks away from final release, according to Microsoft officials. Windows Insiders are testing possible new Windows 10 features that may be multiple months away from general availability.

Office Insider also differs from the Office 365 First Release program in that Office Insider is for Office client and app technologies, while the First Release program is for Office 365 Business and Enterprise users who are charged with testing software and services that also extend beyond client.

Among the first technologies available for testing by Office Insiders are two new add-ons to PowerPoint 2016 for Windows: Designer and Morph.

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Microsoft will make these two add-ons -- along with new personal finance templates for Excel; new sharing capabilities for Word, PowerPoint and Excel; and online video embedding in OneNote -- available to Office Insiders "in the coming week." Some time in the following weeks, these November updates will roll out to consumers and commercial Office 365 subscribers, according to company officials.

PowerPoint Designer and Morph are all about automating the creation of slides and presentations using a "cloud-powered" recommendation engine and smart animation technology.

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Microsoft officials said Designer was built in collaboration with professional graphic designers who helped create more than 12,000 blueprints that will help users zoom, crop and frame images and provide various layout choices. Morph creates cinematic transitions between slides. It can animate text, images and shapes and provide effects like morphing objects and slides together.

Microsoft execs describe Designer and Morph as "premium authoring and editing features." The new add-ons will be available first for PowerPoint 2016 for Windows Desktop and Windows Mobile and "in the coming months" roll out to other platforms.

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