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Microsoft brings a Clippy-like helper to its refreshed Office Web Apps

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Office Web Apps UI
Office Web Apps UI

Microsoft is refreshing its Office Web Apps this week with a new user interface and some feature additions. The most significant change is a new “Tell Me” bar that sits at the top of documents and allows users to simply type out questions when they need document help. Not to be confused with Microsoft’s TellMe voice service, the Office Web Apps “Tell Me” feature will surface features based on the query. Given the complexity of the desktop versions of Office, it’s not unreasonable to assume this same feature might make its way to those apps in future. It’s not quite the animated Clippy of old, but it’s a basic helper that includes similar features and is a lot easier to use than Microsoft's help documentation.

Alongside new feature additions like Tell Me, Footnotes, and Endnotes, Microsoft is changing the look of Office Web Apps. The interface is now more flattened and there’s additional spacing to make it a little more finger-friendly. While this clearly isn’t a fully touch-optimized UI, Microsoft has previously revealed it’s working on a version of Office designed specifically for Windows 8.1 and touch. The Office Web Apps changes may hint at the future direction for those particular apps. Microsoft is also making one final change to its Office Web Apps by including them in the navigation bar that switches between Outlook, SkyDrive, Calendar, and People sections. It makes the apps a lot easier to find from, as they were previously buried away in the company’s SkyDrive cloud storage service.