New look for Microsoft 365 and Office 2021

From Tuesday 5 October 2021, a new look is be available to Microsoft 365 and Office 2021.  Don’t worry, it’s not a major change.  Everything on the tabs, ribbon and dialogs remains exactly where they are.  Microsoft grandly calls it a ‘visual update’ we call the changes ‘a new coat of paint’.

5 October is the same day that Windows 11 and Office 2021 were unleashed on the public.

The Microsoft example of the new look Office is a little misleading (more on that below) so here’s our real-world example.

It’s a flatter look with nothing to distinguish the tabs from the title bar.  Over time Microsoft has filled the Office interface with more buttons, which we like, because complexity isn’t a vice. On the other hand, it’s over-crowded the Title Bar which has caused other troubles.

The AutoSave and Save button are still fixed on the left of the title bar, whether they are applicable or not.  If the document isn’t saved to a compatible cloud service, the AutoSave label and slider remain. It’s a shameless push to customers who choose, understandably, to save files on their computer not follow Microsoft’s demand to use OneDrive for everything.

All the Office 365/2019 apps are affected.  Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, Project, Publisher, and Visio.  Office LTSC 2021 does NOT get the visual refresh.

The selections at File | Options | General | Office theme are still there; Dark Grey, Black, White, Colorful and Use system settings.  The theme will stay in sync with your Windows light or dark mode by default.

The official spiel

The usual colorful but mostly meaningless Microsoft prose accompanies the announcement:

“ … modern yet familiar, designed to help you focus on your best work.

.. a neutral color palette, softer window corners, refreshed tabs in the ribbon, and colorful presence indicators so you can easily see who’s working on a document with you.  “

It’s not clear if the rounded (sorry ‘softer’) corners will be in Windows 10 or, more likely Windows 11 (Win11 has round corners on all windows

Missing Quick Access Toolbar

The image that came with the announcement intrigued us, from the outset it looked wrong … but why?

Source: Microsoft

There’s no Quick Access Toolbar!

It’s totally missing from the left of the title bar.  Not even the usually compulsory AutoSave and Save items are there.

Source: Microsoft (zoomed version of above image)

In the current Insiders releases, there are options to ‘Hide Quick Access Toolbar’ and ‘Show below ribbon’ but neither of those have been used in this Microsoft image.  That’s probably because the Quick Access Toolbar features are evolving at the moment.

‘Hide Quick Access Toolbar’ nor ‘Show Below Ribbon’ does not remove the AutoSave and Save items from the title bar.  And ‘Show Below Ribbon’ hasn’t been used in the Word example.

Is this an attempt to ‘fix’ the promoted image of the new interface?  Perhaps to make the look less complicated than it really is?  Or hiding the much-maligned compulsory AutoSave/Save buttons from the image that will be copied by many media.

Hopefully, it’s a sign that the AutoSave/Save combo will, at long last, become optional. 

Touchwood, we’re seeing a future, unreleased tweak to the interface.

Inside the new look and defaults in Office 365

How new is the Microsoft Office interface really?
Can I use old Office with Windows 10 or 11?
New look Office 365 isn’t loved by Microsoft’s paying customers