While at Microsoft Ignite, I had the chance to sit down with Julia White, GM of Product Marketing for Microsoft Office, to talk about the future of the product suite. Julia has been with Microsoft for a long while, but seemingly entered the limelight with the release of Office for iPad in early 2014. This pivotal moment has been seen as a monumental first step in Microsoft’s current march toward platform openness. Julia is high-energy and intelligent and has reluctantly become the face of Office for Microsoft.
Microsoft Office has long been the business standard suite for productivity applications, but some might say it’s become boring, allowing similar, competing products to seep onto the computers and devices of users. Products like Google docs, which can be frustratingly clumsy, has made inroads into the productivity market, particularly for the education sector. While Office has continued to receive new features, and will continue to be enhanced in Office 2016, Microsoft will rely on new products, like Microsoft Sway, to reinvigorate its offering and prove that a product that just works can also be exciting to use.
Sway is an exciting product with the intent to simplify the user experience for creating rich media presentations. Though Sway feels like a heavily consumerized offering, Microsoft also plans to make it an official Office citizen and will deliver it as part of Office 365 for Business which will rely on an organization ID to use like the rest of the business stack. Julia has heard the rumors that suggest Sway might replace PowerPoint someday, but Sway is not a replacement for PowerPoint, just an additional option for users to deliver rich media presentations. While PowerPoint has been the staple for delivering bullet-pointed demonstrations, Sway is provided as an option that can energize the boardroom and deliver content in a different way. PowerPoint will remain the king of content delivery while Sway is provided to tell a story. Sway is a first step to reinvigorate Office and additional products are envisioned for the future.
Office 2016 will deliver later this year and improvements to the core product are all about collaboration. New features will provide abilities for business users to work across documents together easily and in a highly secure fashion. As we’ve seen in other news this week at Ignite, security and privacy features are integrated heavily into Office, allowing organizations to control and manage the data that is available across computers and devices.
Skype for Business is a key collaboration component for Office, and will be even more deeply integrated across all Office suite products for the 2016 version. Like Sway, Skype is also a full Office suite citizen.
Office 365 has become the standard for which Microsoft has envisioned product updates across its entire stable of offerings. Even in Windows 10, which will release for PCs this summer, will utilize updating capability similar to Office 365, delivering new features and updates on an almost 24/7 cadence. Office 365 utilizes Click-to-Run installation technology, with the eventual hope to completely replace the old MSI installation delivery mechanism. IT Pros can attest that Click-to-Run is not the best when it comes to customization, but Julia said that Microsoft is working on that. Click-to-Run will receive enhancements that will allow those that are tasked with delivering personalized business installations similar capabilities that MSI provides currently.
Microsoft would love to get businesses invested and comfortable with allowing the company to be its sole installation provider, but understands that there are still many using Hybrid installations. In the recent past, Microsoft has attempted to dictate how it thinks its technology should be used, but is now taking a different approach. Julia specified that Microsoft is trying to build partnerships with customers, listening intently to their needs and requirements, and delivering what they actually need. MSI installation technology is an old, comfortable, and trustworthy delivery mechanism, and Click-to-Run customization capabilities will be enhanced to be an effective replacement, and allow MSI to finally be retired.
As is being proposed with Windows 10, discussions are going on now to decide if Office 2016 could be the final, versioned edition of Office. That decision has not been made yet, but if Office 2016 can be kept up to date with a constant flow of enhancement updates, it’s highly likely.