Microsoft opens Office 2016 preview to more testers

Microsoft is broadening its Office 2016 desktop preview to include anyone willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Microsoft is now allowing more testers into its Office 2016 Consumer Technical Preview.

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On February 9, Microsoft made it possible for those who sign into/sign up for its Connect test site to download the Office 2016 preview to download the test bits, after agreeing to non-disclosure agreement (NDA) terms.

(Thanks to Robert McLaws for tweeting the information about how to get the Office 2016 test bits.)

I asked Microsoft if today's availability of the test bits was accidental or planned. A Microsoft spokesperson sent the following statement:

"Anyone can access the bits under the terms of the NDA. And what people are currently accessing is very early NDA preview."

Update: Oddly, after providing this statement to me, Microsoft has since removed access via the Microsoft Connect site to the Office 2016 preview bits. Maybe this signifies the public preview is close? Got me.

Microsoft has been testing Office 2016 -- the desktop version of its Office suite (formerly codenamed Office 16) for months. The company released an updated test version for Office 2016 in October 2014, and refreshed that test build at the end of January 2015. Neowin.net has screen shots from the January 2015 Office 2016 test release.

Microsoft officials have said to expect the company to release Office 2016 in the latter half of 2015.

So far, the new features that testers have been able to access via the Office 2016 preview builds have been quite minimal.

Microsoft is adding its "Tell Me" tool that's already part of Office Online and Office for iPad to the coming version of Windows. "Tell Me" allows users to ask how to accomplish a task in Office without having to wade through documentation or hunting around within the Office Ribbon.

There's also an automatic image-rotation feature to help users correctly position images in Office documents, the screen shots indicate, as well as a new "black" theme option for Office users (in addition to the current light gray, dark gray and white themes).

In other Office-related news, Microsoft already disclosed that it is dropping its InfoPath electronic-forms application from the full Office suite. InfoPath 2013 is the last client release of InfoPath.

But Microsoft is extending its support of InfoPath Forms Services, company execs revealed at the end of January. Originally, InfoPath Forms Services was not to be updated after SharePoint 2013. But Microsoft has pushed that date out to 2016.

From the Office Blogs post update:

"As part of the update shared around the Evolution of SharePoint and the next SharePoint Server on-premises release, we are also updating the timelines for removal of InfoPath Forms Services components of SharePoint and SharePoint Online. Specifically, InfoPath Forms Services will be included in the next on-premises release of SharePoint Server 2016, as well as being fully supported in Office 365 until further notice. Customers will be able to confidently migrate to SharePoint Server 2016 knowing that their InfoPath forms will continue to work in their on-premises environments, as well as in Office 365."

(Note: SharePoint Server 2016 is coming out in the latter half of 2015.)

Microsoft also made available to testers last week a first public preview of the touch-first version of Office (the "Modern"/Metro-Style version) for Windows 10, which is officially known as "Office for Windows 10."