Microsoft Word 2016 succeeds the 2013 version with enhanced collaboration and mobile productivity. However, you might not like your buying options if you’re not an Office 365 subscriber.
Familiar interface and better collaboration: Microsoft Word 2016 retains the ribbon interface introduced in 2007, as well as the flat aesthetic of Office 2013. Document collaboration is more prominent than before, presumably to make Office more competitive with Google Docs. Multiple users can now edit the same document in real-time, instead of having to save or refresh to see changes made by the other contributors — though individual paragraphs are still locked to one user at a time. If you rely on Office for business and your business needs to upgrade, Word 2016 won’t throw curveballs at you.
Downloadable version: As with Office 2013, if you buy the digital version of Word, it gets permanently linked to your Microsoft account, so you don’t have to worry about a disc getting lost, damaged, or stolen. Of course, you might forget your account password, but customer service has fallback options.
Limited shortcuts: While you can do all kinds of formatting via keyboard shortcuts, there aren’t any built in for directly accessing things like the word count tool or the spell-checker. You can create your own keyboard shortcuts, but the tool is buried several layers deep in the settings, and it’s fiddly and tedious.
The ribbon tool: Microsoft’s ribbon tab titles remain problematic. For example, print layout is on the View tab instead of the Layout tab, and the References tab contains a number of insertable items that are duplicated on the Insert tab, but with a different design language that makes them look like different actions at first glance.
Buying options and support: Microsoft really wants you to subscribe to Office 365, which costs $10 per month or $100 per year, instead of buying your own copy of Word or Office. The street price for Office Home and Student is $125, and if you want only Word 2016, that’s $110 for a download (the lone option) from Microsoft’s site. If you get the buy-once version instead of subscribing, the license is good for only one desktop computer, whereas Office 365 can be installed on five desktops, five tablets, and five phones simultaneously, whether they’re Windows, OS X, iOS, or Android.
The buy-once versions of Office and Word are split into a Windows version and a Mac version, so you can’t transfer the same license between platforms like you can with 365. There’s no mobile app unless you subscribe. The buy-once version is notably excluded from Microsoft’s Universal Apps program (announced alongside Windows 10), where you buy a program once from the Windows Store and can use it across a variety of platforms.
According to the comparison chart on Microsoft’s website, the nonsubscription version of Word doesn’t get tech support via chat or over the phone, either — not even the $400 Office Professional package.
Word Online or Google Docs is usually good enough: Google Docs doesn’t have as many features as Microsoft Word, but it does an excellent job of incorporating the most popular tools into its streamlined interface, such as word count, find and replace, bulleted and numbered lists, justification, heading sizes, highlighting, and annotations that you can share with people you’ve authorized to view or edit the document. Since Docs is browser-based, it also works across multiple platforms and devices.
Microsoft’s own Word Online is a similarly stripped-down, browser-based word processor, but you can’t use it on a mobile device. Instead, you’ll redirect to the Microsoft Word mobile app, which requires an Office 365 subscription to create and edit documents. Android and iOS both have productivity ecosystems chock-full of mobile office apps, but Google Docs’ visibility, platform independence, and integration with Android put it far enough ahead of the other free options to make it a viable choice even for regular users of Microsoft Office.
Microsoft Word is still a powerful productivity tool, but it’s competing with free, multiplatform options like Google Docs and LibreOffice. With the steady improvement of these (and Microsoft’s own Word Online), it’s increasingly difficult to make a case for Microsoft’s licensing and price structure, unless you have specific needs or file formats that are not compatible.