Microsoft will redesign its software-as-a-service Office.com and Office 365 productivity suites over coming months, with select customers being given access to new features for testing, validation and refinement.
A simplified and smaller context-sensitive ribbon is the first change to be rolled out to the web version of Microsoft Word for consumers on Office.com.
The ribbon can be expanded to the three-line view used in current versions of Office, should users prefer it.
Users on the Windows Insider early adopter program will get the new ribbon for Outlook in July this year; Word, Excel and PowerPoint for Windows won't get the new ribbon yet, as Microsoft believes it has to be extra careful with those programs so as not to interrupt users' muscle memory.
An improved search function that uses artificial intelligence and the Microsoft Graph API for recommendations has already been deployed for Office.com, SharePoint Online and Outlook mobile; commercial customers of Outlook on the web should see the new search in August this year.
Finally, Microsoft has given its productivity suite a colour makeover as well as new icons that are now created as scalable graphics so they can work on screens of any size. Again, the new look will first appear on Office.com first.
Later in June, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for Windows will get the new colours and icons, with Outlook for Windows and Mac getting them in August.
Jared Spataro, who runs Office and Windows marketing, said "the Three Cs" were the guiding principles behind the redesign.
Spataro explained that for the new design effort, Microsoft had researched and analysed customer input, and given them access to concepts and involvement in creating the new look for Office 365.
Context - by which Microsoft means looking at what people are working in and with, so as to present relevant features - and control that allows specific features to be toggled on and off are the other two Cs driving the redesign.
Separate to the Office 365 redesign, Microsoft said the preview of Office 2019 for commercial Mac customers is ready to roll.
The preview comprises Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote, and is the "perpetual update" - Microsoft's term for standalone software - for Apple's macOS operating system.
Microsoft said the Mac variant of its Office productivity suite is set to ship alongside Office 2019 for Windows some time in the second half of this year.