In the next version of Microsoft Office aimed at home users, the default location for saving a document is the cloud--Microsoft's SkyDrive service. In the next version for business, the default will be to save to SharePoint. Or maybe SkyDrive Pro, a version of the cloud storage service featuring more enterprise controls. Of course, you can still store files to your local machine, or change the settings to make that the default--but Microsoft wants to make that the last choice on the list. SkyDrive, SharePoint, and other web locations for storing your document all come first, because when it's stored on the web or your business network, it's easier to share.
At some point, Microsoft's $1.2 acquisition of Yammer will also factor into this picture, but with the deal not yet closed Microsoft offered no specifics on how Yammer will fit. One SharePoint engineer told me they were still figuring out the possibilities.
[ For more on the new Office, see Byte's Office 2013: Half Of A Good Thing.]
Cloud and social collaboration features were central themes of Monday's press event unveiling the Office preview release, the beginning of an open beta test phase expected to last several months. Microsoft is also touting the touch screen functionality and consumerized user interface of the new Office, which it hopes will align with the Metro user interface design of Windows 8 to make Microsoft a player in the world of tablets currently dominated by the Apple iPad. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said this version of Office was designed to be "fast and fluid and touchable," so that people will find it a pleasure to use.
Meanwhile, after years of lagging in social software functionality, SharePoint is delivering what appears to be a competitive enterprise social networking experience. The new SharePoint news feed handles threaded discussions and all the social features you'd expect, such as the ability to "like" a post, mention another user by typing the '@' symbol and getting a popup listing of contacts, typing '#' for suggested hashmark tags, and so on. You develop your feeds by following people, topics, tags, documents, or groups. SharePoint is gaining group collaboration functionality, which it never really had before.
Since some of the main things you share on SharePoint are Office documents, the news feed also makes it easy to preview those documents inline--paging through a presentation without the need to open it in PowerPoint, for example.
Office 15 will eventually come to market as Office 2013, for those who install it as traditional software, or as an update to the Office 365 subscription service. Microsoft still isn't saying when the software will be commercially available or at what price. But it led by emphasizing the consumer experience it wants to deliver for Moms organizing a PTA event or using online collaboration, or students doing online research and collaborating with their classmates.
For the first time, Microsoft will be introducing a consumer edition of Office 365, a product originally targeted at small to midsize businesses. Where the business editions employ SharePoint for file sharing, the consumer editions substitute SkyDrive. Where business users working in Outlook can see presence indicators that allow them to kick off Lync voice, video, or instant messaging sessions with other employees, consumer edition users will be able to do the same with Skype contacts.
For good measure, Microsoft is promising to throw in 60 minutes per month of free international calling to landlines in 40 countries and cell phones in 7 countries.
As noted by the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft is paying more attention to the threat posed by Google Apps, which includes a suite of web-based office productivity apps, and is working hard to show the value of combining cloud services with its traditional desktop software. Office 365 includes web-based document viewers and editors, which work much like the document editors in Google Apps, but they're positioned as alternatives for quick access rather than the primary mode of interaction.
"For us in the Office division, the cloud is not the browser," P.J. Hough, vice president of Office Program Manager, said in a presentation on Office for the Enterprise. "We're using the cloud to deliver new experiences."
This model is similar to Adobe's Creative Cloud, which is primarily a subscription-based means of distributing updates to the Creative Suite design products to users on-demand, with some web-based services for designers as the icing on top of the cake.
However, although the main deployment mode of the Office products is as installed applications, Microsoft uses an "application streaming" technique to speed downloads and allow you to start working with an application almost immediately, by delivering the most important parts of the code first.