When Apple executives unveiled the latest MacBook Pro in October, they pitched the laptop's new Touch Bar as a big step forward for users. They also bragged about how this bar, which displays above the top row of the laptop's keyboard, would work with third-party applications like Microsoft Office.
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The idea is that the (aapl) Touch Bar can bring to the fore the functions Microsoft Word or Excel users will likely want to access after they fire up the application. In my case, for example, it would probably show the last two or three documents I worked on and then the text formatting tools I'll likely use. For Outlook, the Touch Bar would highlight my schedule for the day.
For more on the MacBook Pro watch:
In theory the Touch Bar will make users more productive since they'll see what they need faster. And, as noted by Geekwire after the MacBook Pro launch, Microsoft knows a thing or three about context-sensitive toolbars. The idea of spotlighting high-priority features, is what motivated Microsoft more than a decade ago to build its own "Ribbon" toolbar.
The ribbon is the series of icons and symbols that lie atop your Word or Excel screen. Exactly how intuitive it is, however, is subject to debate. Microsoft's dilemma was that, over the nearly 30 years of Office's existence, it kept adding more features until it became difficult for users to find the things they needed at any given time. It looks like Touch Bar is yet another attempt to take on that problem.
If you're a Mac Office user but don't care about testing the Touch Bar features in advance, you can just wait for them to roll out across Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook applications over the next few months.