If you’ve been in the working world since the mid to late nineties, you’ve probably heard the term “going paperless” for quite some time now. Heck, even if you’ve only just landed your first job, it’s a phrase you’ve likely heard bandied about in some form or other.
Thus far, the idea of truly “going paperless” has proved to be little more than a pipe dream, because if anything, offices today are more full of paper than they’ve ever been despite the “digital transformation” drive that’s been the big business buzzword for the past ten years or so.
Part of the problem has been the lack of widely-available digital tools to achieve that end, as well as a dearth of devices that can offer paper’s qualities in some digital form.
Today, both of those problems are much smaller, thanks to the growing number of touch-enabled devices like tablets and convertible 2-in-1 portable PCs, and the commitment from big companies like Microsoft to keep improving their software and services to take advantage of these technologies, which are themselves getting better and more advanced all the time.
It may not be the first thing to spring to mind when thinking about technologies that offer hope for the paperless office to one day come about, but Microsoft’s Office 365 suite of productivity applications are constantly being tweaked to facilitate exactly that.
Here are some of the latest features to be added to Office 365 for subscribers that help to make digital devices versatile enough that you’ll reach for them instead of a sheet of paper in future.
Something to keep in mind is that users of the free web versions of Microsoft’s Office 365 apps don’t get these benefits, meaning subscribers are getting ever-more value from the money they’re spending on their annual subscriptions.
The ability to draw, highlight text or quickly draw shapes on Office 365 and Windows 10 freehand is what Microsoft calls “drawing with digital ink”. You can draw using your finger, a stylus, your mouse cursor, and a digital pen.
Digital pens – also called active pens – are best as they offer additional features, like variable pressure sensing that lets your drawing surface respond like a piece of paper would to how hard you press with your pen/pencil. Microsoft’s new Surface Pen, for example, now comes with 4096 pressure points for even more accurate translation of your presses.
Microsoft has also added new ink effects, including a “pencil texture”. That one is a bit of a puzzle, though – how wasn’t it the first thing they included in their range of drawing options? Pencils have been doing this a lot longer than pens have.
And to drive home the message of subscriber benefits (and to encourage more people to sign up, of course), some of these inking features – like Office 365 responding to your digital pen drawing near to the screen by activating draw functions automatically – are only available to Office 365 subscribers.
A digital pencil case that follows you around
Office 365 users have been able to draw on their documents since Windows 10’s Anniversary Update that came out in late 2016. Microsoft has recently added new features to this suite of tools that make drawing, annotating and getting straight-up creative with documents just that much easier.
They’ve done this by allowing your pen/pencil preferences to follow you around, no matter where you use Office 365. All you need to do is sign into your account on whichever device you’re using, and your personalised set of drawing tools will be available for you to use, right on the Draw tab of supported Office 365 applications.
Researcher integration with OneNote and Word
Subscribers now get access to Microsoft Researcher right within Word and OneNote. As Microsoft says, it “…helps you find topics and incorporate reliable sources and content for your research paper in just a few steps”, and you don’t even have to leave Word or OneNote to use it.
All you need to do is click the References tab, then on Researcher, and tell Word/OneNote what it is you want to look up. Naturally, Researcher works with Microsoft’s own Bing search engine to bring you results on your chosen topics. The idea is to help people do research without leaving their document creation app, while also providing verifiable and trustworthy sources of information to reference.
The service is available in French, English, Spanish, German, Italian, and Japanese.
Built-in translation services – no add-in required
Part of Researcher’s subscriber-only functionality is a translation component. It works across Word, Outlook and PowerPoint, and can be used to translate the entire document into your chosen language, sections of highlighted text, or you can set it to quickly translate words or highlighted paragraphs that your mouse hovers over.
It’s not 100% accurate – don’t expect Beeld-level Afrikaans if you choose that option, for example – but it’s good enough that you’ll be happy to use it. You will have to tweak the final result if you’re sending it on to other people within your organisation (or to clients), but the heavy lifting will have been done by the service so it shouldn’t take long to bang into proper shape.
For instance, for this feature I attempted to translate this:
“I have a puppy that I love very much. He is so cute I just want to eat him all up. That’s why his name is Pudding.” into Afrikaans.
This was the result:
“Ek het ‘n hondjie wat ek baie lief. Hy is so oulik ek net wil hom alles af eet. Dis hoekom sy naam is poeding.”
See what I mean? Still, it’s a pretty solid feature that is sure to help a lot of Office 365 subscribers with their work. The only potential catch is that whatever you want to translate is submitted over the internet in “a secured format to Microsoft or a third-party translation provider”, so if the information is sensitive, you may want to explore other translation options first.
Anyone who’s been faced with a blank page when tasked with creating a fantastic presentation knows just how intimidating it can be, even if you have an idea of what it is you want to cover.
Microsoft also knows this, and has built a feature into its latest version of PowerPoint called QuickStarter to help get those creative juices flowing. It literally couldn’t be easier to use without someone else clicking for you: fire up PowerPoint and choose QuickStarter as your base; you’ll be asked to turn on Intelligence Services, which takes but a few clicks; PowerPoint then asks what the presentation is about, and then uses those Intelligence Services you just activated to offer you outlines of a presentation covering that subject, complete with pictures chosen from a library of free-to-use images and some basic text filled in.
You just have to customise it with your own information, tweak the design a bit, choose to use Microsoft’s pics or add your own, and boom, instant presentation. Well, “instant” – input is still required from your side.
The point isn’t to use Microsoft’s suggestions verbatim, though – the best presentations are still highly personalised ones that come directly from your own creativity. Microsoft just offers you a means of kick-starting inspiration through QuickStarter. Neat!
Naturally, this is a subscriber-only feature as well.
Make photo albums with PowerPoint
I bet you didn’t know that PowerPoint is also a brilliant photo album creation tool. I didn’t when I started this feature, but apparently it’s a thing.
It’s not a new thing, though, as PowerPoint has long had the ability to use whatever photos you supply in a number of ways, and is limited only by your imagination and creativity. But now, there are specific templates available that make putting photo albums together a quick and easy process.
And if the templates included in Office 365 aren’t to your liking, you can find others online that might suit your needs a bit better.
From there, it’s a simple matter of dragging and dropping your photos, choosing frames and an overall design for each page, chucking in some captions and your memories will be ready for upload to your favourite online repository of such things.
The point is…
…that Office 365 keeps getting better and better as Microsoft continues to add new features and refinements to the suite as time goes by, just like the company is doing with Windows 10.
And the more Office replaces analogue ways of doing things with superior digital tools, the less you’ll be inclined to use paper in your business, making the paperless office a dream that could some day become a reality.
Thus, there has been no better time to be an Office 365 subscriber. And better yet, it’s just a quick download away as it’s a flagship Electronic Software Delivery (ESD) product that’s available for purchase online, at any time of the day or night.
For more information on Office 365 in general, contact Andrew Firman at Tarsus Distribution by sending him an email. And if you’re interested in how ESD works, or you’re interested in becoming an ESD reseller, you can find out more information at the Tarsus Distribution ESD information page.