Microsoft adds 'Tell Me' help field to Office Web Apps

Microsoft adds 'Tell Me' help field to Office Web Apps

Summary: Microsoft is rolling out some user interface changes to its Office Web Apps, including the addition of a new 'Tell Me' help field to assist with command navigation.


Microsoft made some changes to its Office Web Apps, including the addition of a navigational tool that goes beyond the current ribbon.


In a January 22 post to the revamped Office Blogs site, Microsoft officials described the changes the team has made to Word Web App. Word Web App is one of the four free Webified versions of Microsoft's Office apps. (The other three are Excel Web App, PowerPoint Web App and One Note Web App.)

The most telling -- no pun intended -- change is the addition of a new search field to help users more easily navigate the commands presented by the Office Web Apps ribbon. Microsoft calls the new search technology "Tell Me." Microsoft officials noted the addition of the Tell Me box to Word Web App, but didn't mention the fact that it also has been added to Excel Web App, too. I've asked when and if Tell Me will come to PowerPoint Web App and OneNote Web App. 

I doubt the new Tell Me has anything to do with Microsoft's acquisition of TellMe Networks in 2007. However, there's a rumor circulating that Microsoft may require users to say the words "Bing, tell me..." in order to activate the Cortana search technology set to debut as part of Windows Phone 8.1. (I don't know whether MSNerd is right about "Bing, tell me" and Microsoft isn't commenting.)

Microsoft has been honing Bing's ability to process natural-language queries, so it's not completely far-fetched that the new Tell Me search box in Office Web Apps could make use Bing on the back-end. I've asked Microsoft officials if this is the case; no word back yet.

Update: This is kind of interesting. Right now, Tell Me uses "a mapping engine to help users discover functionality based on what they want to accomplish," a spokesperson said. In other words, Tell Me isn't currently using Bing as its back-end; it's using proprietary mapping technology. But, the spokesperson said: "The future of Tell me will definitely include Bing."

Microsoft made a few other tweaks to its Office Web Apps as part of this latest update. The four apps all look flatter and more "Metroish" from a user-interface standpoint. There also seems to be a bit more spacing between buttons, possibly to make Office Web Apps easier to use with touch.

The Word Web App also includes a simplified footnotes/endnotes experience, plus "enhanced rendering support for Shapes, Textboxes and WordArt."

I've asked Microsoft officials for more information on changes it made to the Web Apps beyond the Word Web App and am awaiting more information on that. 

Update: A Microsoft spokesperson said Tell Me would come "soon" to the PowerPoint and OneNote Web Apps. There was no additional information from Microsoft on any new features added to anything beyond Word Web App.

Microsoft first introduced Office Web Apps with Office 2010. Office Web Apps are usable in a variety of browsers -- including Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Safari -- on different operating systems and form factors (PCs, tablets, smartphones). Office Web Apps include a subset of the functionality in the full Office versions of each of the apps.

Topics: Cloud, Collaboration, Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Machine augmentation

    This is a great example of the strategic initiative $MSFT has laid out "Applying machine learning to make technology more intuitive and able to act on our behalf, instead of at our command." - Progress like this will certainly keep them competing and keep shareholders happy.

    The real question will be if MSFT will put features like this into their products to bring machine augmentation to the masses or to truly innovate the way machines cater to our needs.

    More on the strategic initiatives and what that means for the stock price here ->
    • Wunnerful Wunnerful

      Not sliced bread, but real, real close!!!!!


      Here's where you can buy my shares of Microsoft, because, you know it'd be awesome to own and that's why I'm selling!!!!!!
  • Why annoy Office users with Bing Me

    Office is user unfriendly. About time MS addressed that (late by twenty years IMHO).
    • Office is extremely user friendly.

      In fact, it probably has one of the best-designed GUI's out of any Office suite.

      Out of Google Docs, iWorks, and LibreOffice, only Apple's offering can match it, and that's ignoring the missing functionality.
      • no its the worst

        that ribbon thing is insane. it shows that microcrap people are out of reality.

        as for the new search engine, it just that: search engine. to make story out of it its just ridiculous
        • oh, really?

          So what would've been your constructive input for a 'real' GUI?
  • Search Commands re-hash?

    This reminds me of the free Search Commands tool that Microsoft cooked up after it released Office 2007 and realized that all sorts of people were lost with the new Ribbon interface. This is more than that, but that's what this reminds me of.
  • Microsoft adds 'Tell Me' help field to Office Web Apps

    I like the changes. Looks nice and easy to use. The tell me will be a feature that will get used quite a bit especially in those times where you only do one task once a month and you have to keep remembering how to do it.
    • Reminds me of clippy...

      a bit of trash... only now more expensive.
      • Yeah, that was my first thought...

        Paperclip 2.0 :-)
        I'm amazed people actually still use Office, there are so many nice alternatives:
        And the alternatives often contain wider set of functionality that Office.
        (Not more options... like Office would need more options! More functionality.... drawing, paint, mind mapping, etc.)
        • Maybe for a home user

          I don't think you need full Office for a home user. Most home users get Office at home because they either are working on work or school items on their home computer or they are use to MS Office and its just worth it for them to pay then relearn an OS. I once loaned my Mac to my daughter when her PC died and she hated it because she was not interested in learning a new OS. Understandable, people are not interested in learning technology, they want to do XYZ with tech with the least effort.

          I work on the team that sets the standards and buys the software and systems for stuff like Office. We looked at Open Office (before Sun bought it), Lotus Notes version of Office, Google Docs, etc. Just could not find a product to do what we wanted it to do. Heck, even in my own job I do a lot of copy/paste functions in and out of Excel and no product has the high degree of format control of copy/paste then MS Office. We ended up going with 365 2013 and have been very happy with it so far. Its been worth the money.
          Rann Xeroxx
          • filthy microcrap liar

            that openoffice couldnt do the has same copy paste format abilities as microcrap bloat. its definitely not worth of wasting so much money
          • For a business user as well.

            You talk about evaluating OpenOffice before _Sun_ bought it. Things have changed beyond belief since then... with the LibreOffice fork of OpenOffice being the most MS-Office compatible.

            You should take a new look, your evaluation many years ago simply doesn't reflect the current state of the free office suites.
        • I'm amazed that people who dont' use the product being blogged about.....

          still show up to put in their .02 about how there is something better. Apparently there is not something better or they wouldn't have to come on here to tell everyone about it.
          Either that or they think they need to do the thinking for the rest of the world. ;)
          With the wide use of iOS and Android, you'd think you woudl see a decline in Office users, but I guess when it's the best Office software on the planet, people don't want to mess around with inferior products just to draw or paint.
      • So, how is adding "Tell Me" increasing the cost?

        These are the Office Web Apps, you remember, the FREE ones. In your haste to troll you must have overlooked that little detail.
      • Going back to the Good old days?

        Reminds me of Clippy too.
      • Have You At Least Tried It?

        Because, outside of trying to help, this feature has no DNA from Clippy at all.

        In fact, it's a brilliant on-the-fly menu generator that aggregates features that seem to match what you asked and that you can activate on the spot.

        Let's start the timers and see how long other products will be "inspired" by it.
        • microcrap megatroll is hillarious

          brilliant on the fly menu generator...ha ha much words about simple search engine...its obvious that microcrap marketing department works in manical mode
    • microcrap troll vomits all over

      about some changes, while its just search engine and it reminds of the office assistant disaster.
  • I miss the animated helpers of the past..

    I used to tell my co-workers "ask the paperclip" when they asked me silly MS Office questions.
    Hopefully this tool will be usefull and funcion as designed. But being a DoD Army employee, I am sure that the function will be disabled on our workstations.