Office 2016 Review

 

What is Office 2016?

Microsoft’s latest update to its office productivity software is not on the surface a radical overall, with most of its core apps including few fundamental changes. Instead, much like Windows 10, the focus is on refining the experience, sharing documents and tying together PCs, tablet and phones for a more cohesive experience.

The most prominent feature overall is a push towards document sharing and collaborative working, with Word finally getting real-time collaboration. There are also a number of more significant changes to Excel and Outlook plus a couple of new tools – Sway and Delve.

Otherwise the tweaks are largely modest, but they add up to a potentially significant change across the whole suite, depending on how you work and who you work with. There are also updates to Office 2016 for Mac and for mobile too, though I’ll be looking at those updates separately.

With many users now switching to Microsoft’s Office 365 subscription service the Office 2016 changes will simply be incorporated into their regular updates but for traditional license users Office 2016 will set them back the usual sort of amounts, with prices ranging from £119.99 for the Home and Student version and topping out at £389.99 for the Professional version.

Related: Windows 10 Review

Office 2016 – A colourful new look and better for sharing

The most obvious change in Office 2016 is simply a tweak to the overall styling. Where Office 2013 sparingly used the signature colours that denote each app, for 2016 those colours are now splashed across the title bar and Ribbon menu via the default Colourful theme.

This replaces the previous White theme, with Dark and Light options remaining and being essentially identical to that of Office 2013.

This extra dose of colour ties in with Windows 10, which includes a new feature that lets program developers choose the colour of the title bar, without having to create a completely custom design.

The title bar and Ribbon are also ever so slightly larger than before and the labels for the Ribbon menu tabs have moved from all capitals to just the first letter being capitalised. It all adds up to a noticeable change though not an altogether significant one.

The same could be said of the other main changes that span the whole Office suite. There are just just two of them and for many people they’ll be of next to no consequence.

Related: Microsoft Edge Review

The first is the Share button that sits next to the account button on the right of the menu bar. This allows you to quickly share the file you’re working on with your One Drive contacts or create a link to your files to share via email.

However, unlike the more universal share feature that allows any Windows 10 app to quickly share content with a variety of cloud storage and social media services, this only works in conjunction with One Drive. Without an account the whole menu is left blank – there’s no option to choose dropbox instead, for instance.

As such, if you largely work alone and share files through different means depending on the project – email for one client, dropbox for another – it’s a near irrelevant addition.

However, the other cross-program (except OneNote and Publisher) change is far more universally useful. The Tell me feature is a search box that’s used for finding menu items that the user either doesn’t have on the Ribbon menus or can’t find on them.

It’s a really useful addition and does a good job of interpreting what you type, suggesting possible answers even if no menu item specifically matches the words, e.g. returning “Add a chart” if you type “graph”. However, it doesn’t tell you where the menu item otherwise resides so you can’t learn the feature’s whereabouts as you go.

Office 2016 – Collaboration is the name of the game

The biggest emphasis of Office 2016 is on sharing, both with the new sharing button and via inbuilt collaboration tools. Collaborative working has been available through Office for a while but only through a basic whole-document save and share system. With 2016, though, Microsoft is moving towards real-time collaboration where multiple users can edit a document at the same time, just like in Google Docs.

For now, though, the job is far from complete. Proper real-time collaboration is only available in Word so far, with Excel and PowerPoint – the two other programs that would benefit most from collaboration – yet to get the feature.  Essentially it works just like in Google Apps, with users able to see who’s in the document and what they’re working on. Users are also able to manage who can edit what and you can do things like lock a paragraph while you’re editing it.

It’s a great feature that’s largely dealt with well. However, by the very nature of Office, you can’t guarantee that every Office user that might want to access the document has the same version of Office – for instance, if you’re collaborating between different companies or with freelance workers. As such collaborative working can be disjointed and variable.

Related: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

In contrast, if you want to create a collaborative document in Google Docs you know that everyone that accesses it will be able to work on it in exactly the same way.

That said, Microsoft has thought of a way round this. If you send a link to your document to someone that doesn’t have Office 2016 it will open in the Web version of Office and allow them to collaborate through that interface. The web interface isn’t as powerful but is consistent and is likely to suffice for the sort of editing work required when real-time collaborating.

Ways to contact who you’re collaborating with are also integrated into the main suite’s sharing feature, making it easy to quickly fire up a Skype conversation to discuss what you’re doing.

The overall result is it is much easier to work with others in Office 2016. However, until Excel and PowerPoint get the same level of collaborative working, other office tools will likely continue to be the defacto way for multiple people not inside a single office structure to work together on words, data and presentations.

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AMD Radeon Software Crimson Edition Review

 

What is AMD Radeon Software Crimson ReLive?

In late 2015, AMD launched a completely new version of its graphics driver and graphics settings software. Out was AMD Catalyst and in was AMD Radeon Software Crimson Edition. The new driver, and in particular the AMD Settings interface for controlling it, was far quicker to load, largely more intuitive to use and just generally was a big improvement.

Over the last year AMD has been steadily improving that software, adding features such as the Wattman overclocking tool, but a year on from launch AMD thought it was time for another big launch, in the shape of AMD Radeon Software Crimson ReLive.

The headline feature here is the addition of in-built game capture and streaming, which had previously been handled by AMD Gaming Evolved that was essentially a rebranded version of Raptr’s software. There are several other changes too, so let’s take a deeper dive to see what’s new.

The new AMD Radeon Software Crimson driver is free to download and is compatible with all existing AMD graphics cards so you can go and try it today.

AMD Radeon Software Crimson ReLive – Radeon Settings

The single biggest new feature of the original Crimson software launch was the new AMD Settings app, which was quicker to install, faster to load (up to 10x faster) and far sleeker looking than the Catalyst Control Center of old.

This remains largely unchanged with the ReLive version, in terms of overall look and feel, but there are plenty of tweaks and new features in this latest update.

The most visually obvious change is the removal of the superfluous Eyefinity tab – it did nothing unless you had more than one monitor – to be replaced by the ReLive tab. Multi-monitor tweaking is now done via the Display section.

Related: AMD Radeon RX 480

Dive into one of the sections and it fills the whole window – which can be resized and made fullscreen – presenting all the various options. Oddly, though, the main navigation buttons move from the top to the bottom when you enter each section, which we found a bit unintuitive.

Helping to keep things tidy is that certain options are kept hidden until needed, such as the number of samples used in anti-aliasing. If you select “use application settings” it keeps this option hidden but if you select to override the application settings then the extra option appears.

This works quite well though isn’t perfect. For a start, it can sometimes be frustrating that you can’t find the setting you’re after because you haven’t turned on the parent setting that enables it. Also, the whole grid of rectangles that makes up each option is dynamic so you can resize the window and they all shuffle around and restack to fit.

Combined with the new blocks appearing for otherwise hidden options and the fact the blocks are in no obvious order (not alphabetical etc) and it can sometimes take quite a bit of scanning back and forth to find the option you’re after.

Some settings are hidden…

…until other settings are turned on.

Still, it’s mostly quick and easy to use and a big improvement over both Nvidia’s current driver and previous AMD drivers. We just wish there was an option to stop the AMD Settings icon appearing at the top of the context menu when you right click in a folder or on the desktop.

AMD Radeon Software Crimson ReLive – Gaming settings

Hit the Gaming tab and you’re presented with what initially looks like just a list of your games. However, the top left tile is labelled global settings and its here that you can setup your preferred settings for whatever games you’re running.

If you then want to set specific options for certain games you can select the corresponding tile. This is a much more intuitive way of managing game specific settings than the previous CCC version and the driver does a good job of automatically detecting all the games you have installed.

Jump into any of the game settings and you’re presented with essentially the same list of options as the global settings, with things like anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering and tessellation mode on the left tab and the new WattMan overlocking settings on the right tab.

The latter is AMD’s graphics card overclocking tool that replaces AMD Overdrive. As well as having a far more clear layout, it’s also much more granular with a host of options for balancing performance, power consumption, noise and heat.

WattMan was only available for RX 480, RX 470 and RX 460 cards but with the ReLive launch it’s now available for R9 Fury, R9 390, R9 380, R9 290, R9 285, R9 260, R7 360 and R7 260 cards.

One of the features of WattMan is Chill. This is a new addition that allows your graphics card to reduce its performance during times of low on-screen activity. I.e. if you’re standing still or in a loading menu, the card will dynamically reduce its speed, saving power and reducing heat. It’s less of a concern for desktop users but could make for much better battery life on laptops.

AMD Radeon Software Crimson ReLive – Video

Moving onto the Video tab and this is where you can tweak how your graphics card handles colour profiling and some video effects for making any video on your PC look its best.

You can quickly choose from a selection of presets that load what AMD thinks are the optimal set of features for films, sports and the like or hit Custom and you can choose for yourself which to load.

Most of the settings are ones that have been around for a while on existing versions of AMD drivers but one new feature is directional scaling, which is essentially anti-aliasing for video.

AMD is also highlighting reduced power consumption with Crimson when playing YouTube videos. That’s quite a specific scenario but a useful one nonetheless and in my tests I did record around a 20W reduction in power consumption when playing the same Star Wars The Force Awakens trailer AMD used in its tests. To highlight its specific nature, though, I also tested with VLC and saw no difference.

AMD Radeon Software Crimson ReLive – Relive

The big new feature of this release is ReLive. This is AMD’s new completely integrated live streaming and game capture facility that means you can do away with secondary software like AMD’s own Gaming Evolved app.

It’s a comprehensive setup for a first outing, with options for recording your gaming sessions manually or just recording instant replay clips. There are also plenty of settings for changing the quality of the video, including setting a specific resolution or going with the in-game resolution, choosing 30fps or 60fps and changing the bitrate.

At the same time you can also stream straight to Twitch, YouTube or a custom server. Again you get plenty of options for tweaking quality and you can choose whether to archive the stream.

AMD claims only a 3-4% performance hit from enabling game capture, though this will depend on your exact hardware configuration. During our tests it didn’t noticeably affect our framerate or responsiveness.

You can also add an overlay to your stream or recording that can include system information, and a camera feed as well as include a custom overlay image.

All told, it’s a great addition both for its comprehensive and easy to use interface and the fact that it means you have one less bit of software to install.

It remains to be seen how this will work in conjunction with the upcoming game capture feature that’s being built into the Windows 10 Anniversary update but for now it works well.

AMD Radeon Software Crimson – Display

Under the Display settings tab is a key new feature of Radeon Software Crimson, which is the ability to use custom resolutions and framerates, rather than having to choose from a list of verified supported resolutions.

This can potentially cause problems for your monitor so AMD makes you agree to a waiver before accessing the option, but once opened you can pick from a large range of monitor options, even including detailed timing settings. This feature has also now been fully updated to run within the Crimson interface, where earlier versions of the software opened an instance of CCC to change these settings.

Otherwise, it’s here you’ll find options for enabling AMD Freesync, virtual super resolution (this makes everything on screen smaller as you try to emulate your monitor having a larger resolution), GPU scaling and a new colour temperature setting. The latter provides a quick way of manually tweaking how red or blue your display looks, with the default option set to the standard 6500K temperature.

If you have multiple monitors it’s here you can set them up with the usual Eyefinity options.

AMD Radeon Software Crimson ReLive – System

The System tab is where you find all the information about your graphics card hardware and AMD software. So if you ever need to look up your driver version or find out how much graphics memory you have, it’s the place to go.

AMD Radeon Software Crimson – New features

As well as the Radeon Settings app, there are some key under-the-hood features in Crimson, one of which is Shader Cache.

This works by storing the compiled shaders needed for the game on the hard drive. Normally these shaders are compiled on the fly, which can lead to pauses in open world games as you move around the map, as well as other micro-stutters and generally longer game and level loading times. Shader Cache aims to reduce all these issues.

Enabled by default it will take at least one run of each game for the cache to be filled and any benefits to be realised but thereafter the game and levels should load quicker, plus there should be reduced stutter from CPU overhead and from “map hitching”.

However, in my testing I didn’t notice any difference in game and level loading times using Battlefield 4. By its nature this isn’t the easiest thing to test, though, as it will vary greatly from game to game and even machine to machine.

However, the feature has been available on Nvidia cards/drivers for a while now and in general there’s a modest but welcome reduction in these issues when the setting is enabled so it’s reasonable to expect the same improvement for AMD cards.

Another new addition is wider AMD XConnect support. XConnect is the ThunderBolt-based technology for connecting a laptop of all-in-one PC to an external graphics card to boost graphics perforamnce, and previously it was something that only worked with specific hardware and specific driver versions.

Now, though, AMD XConnect is supported across all Thunderbolt certified PCs and laptops and external graphics solutions. We’re yet to test this out though, so the jury is still out on whether the holy grail of portable gaming is truly a viable option yet.

AMD is also expanding its Linux support. Freesync is now supported as well as all discrete GCN graphics cards – that’s basically everything since the HD 7000 series.

Supported Linux distros include Ubuntu 16.04, RHEL 7.2, RHEL 6.8, Ubuntu 14.04, RHEL 7.3, SLED/SLES 12 SP2 Linux.

Verdict

Overall, AMD appears to have once again made a significant enough update to its driver and software to justify the fanfare it has tried to whip up around AMD Crimson ReLive. AMD Crimson was a big improvement in speed and ease of use and now the ReLive edition adds useful new functionality and further improves the usability. In the end it’s just a free driver update but we think AMD is definitely doing a good job of making it quicker and easier for users to make the very most of everything their graphics cards has to offer.