Microsoft's themes at Microsoft SharePoint Conference 2014 can be summed up into 3 main points. Here's what we observed.
Oslo is the code name of a people-centered "experience" in Office 365. The official name will be announced later and will no doubt step on someone's toes, copyright-wise, thus having to be rebranded and renamed again. But it basically takes search and makes it sexy. An amazing feat, actually.
And it enables Microsoft to transform workers or employees or even, say, "people," into "networks." As in, "work like a network."
Whether that notion is interesting to you or a little disturbing (don't think too hard about it), the visuals of Oslo look cool.
Microsoft General Manager Julia White demoed Oslo at the keynote in a dynamic sweep of energetic pointing and clicking that, interestingly, involved moving from a desktop to an Apple iPad (!) as we checked on what colleague Bill Baer was up to.
"Oslo knows meetings you're in, Yammer content you've shared. You don't have to go looking for it, it sits across the organization," she said. "Content and conversation follow you."
With its natural language search, you can find things that were harder to articulate how to search for before. With Oslo, a person becomes a trend, oddly enough. You can see information around that person, if they choose to share it: who they're working with, who they're talking with.
Oslo taps into Office Graph, born of Yammer’s Enterprise Graph, a single mapping of a variety of sources of information. As Microsoft General Manager of Enterprise Social Jared Spataro said, this also turns a person into a network. You'll see that metaphor surface again and again throughout the conference.
Developer Message vs. IT Pro Message
Of course the messages to devs and IT pros, even those in the SharePoint universe, will differ. It's useful to examine what Microsoft is saying to both parties.
About 3.4 million devs build solutions around SharePoint, Corporate Vice President, Office Servers and Services Jeff Teper noted at the keynote. For devs, Microsoft's message is a two-part one: We want to give you flexibility, and we want to give partners the opportunities to build solutions.
To that end, Microsoft announced a new open-source SDK for Android using Office 365 and SharePoint Services. On the "ultra dev lite" side, Microsoft also announced it will enable end users to build cloud apps with no code, by using Access, a factoid which elicited much Twitter-based gasps of surprise.
For IT pros, the message was reassurance or "reassurance"—with quotation marks, because I'm really not sure how reassuring it was, if you really think about it. The message was 'yes, the cloud is more secure now; yes, your job is going to change from what you knew, but don't worry, you'll still manage to find a way to stay employed. And you might even like this new world.'
Demo attention shifted to the new compliance center in Office 365, and to new multi-factor authentication, which you can turn on for all users or just for a selected set of users.
And, in a final bone thrown out for the dog to chew, Microsoft announced server editions of SharePoint and Exchange coming out in 2015. But. There's a caveat, now, to going for on-premises, and one you'll hear throughout the year, or longer.
Server Equals Stodgy, Cloud Equals Cool
Look, even the alliteration holds up. (Mine, not Microsoft's—at least not explicitly.)
What's the caveat? If you go with on-premises, you will be behind from the get-go.
Because Microsoft is creating new features and releasing them quickly in the cloud and much more slowly into the on-premises versions, there will be a lag time for on-premises users to get their hands on the new features.
And given the time it takes to plan for and migrate to a new on-premises version, as Jared Spataro put it, "You get 4 or 5 years out [waiting for updates to on-premises versions that already occurred in the cloud versions], you're at a competitive disadvantage."
Is Microsoft seeing a sense of urgency, or also trying to create it? Doesn't matter, really. As Spataro said, "Companies are saying 'we have to do something to survive in this environment.' It really is about the CEO deciding for change."
In my briefing with them, both Yammer CTO Adam Pisoni and Spataro noted the "big shift" in technology interest from company leaders from a year and a half ago. Then, they said, briefings were with CIOS. Now, it's the CEO, the CFO, the CTO, and the CIO. "They recognize technology is part of the answer," Spataro said.
Go big or go home, is another sub-text I'm seeing. Microsoft's Office investment is becoming big in ways those of us who remember when Microsoft Word was just beginning to compete with Word Perfect might not yet realize. It's far beyond Word, of course. As Spataro said, "We're building Office for companies that don't yet exist."
There's a sense that Office has the potential to change not only how people work, but the part Microsoft plays in that future.
Analyze the number of times Microsoft people use that word during these four days. I'll bet it will confirm what my unscientific conclusion is: Not much.