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Ballmer outlines the road ahead for Microsoft Office, Skype, 'Bing Now'

Mark Hachman | July 15, 2013
Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer outlines how Microsoft plans to reinvent the future of documents, collaboration, anticipatory data, and gaming.

If this doesn't sound eerily similar to what Google already does with Google Now, then you haven't been paying attention. Google Now works by sniffing your email, calendar, and location, among other things, and reminds you of what time your flight leaves and how long it will take to get there. Frankly, Google Now is one of those "Wow!" technologies that adds real value to Android -- and Google is busy adding them to Chrome, too. Microsoft offers very little that's comparable, and it seems intent upon changing that.

Using Bing as an "intelligence engine," Microsoft could begin collating information from Mail/Outlook/, the calendaring applications of both, location from Windows Phone, and traffic. Google's foundation is its massive wealth of data, and its ability to understand how that data interrelates to each other and to its users. But Microsoft needs to offer at least an outwardly competitive solution. It appears that the company intends to do so.

3.) Social communications: combining Skype, Outlook, Yammer

"Social communications are time-intensive, high-value scenarios that are ripe for digital re-imagination," Ballmer writes. "Such innovation will include new ways to participate in work meetings, PTA and nonprofit activities, family and social gatherings, and more. We can reimagine email and other communication vehicles as the lines between these vehicles grow fuzzy, and the amount of people's digital or digitally assisted interaction continues to grow. We can create new ways to interact through hardware, software and new services. Next-gen documents and expression are an important part of online social communications. We will not focus on becoming another social network for people to participate in casually, though some may use these products and services that way."

In the beginning, there was email, and Outlook. Over the years, Microsoft has added calendaring (including the ability to share calendars); SharePoint; its enterprise videoconferencing and instant messaging client, Lync; Yammer; and Skype. All of these are different approaches to the same problem: how to easily communicate, collaborate, and share content both between consumers and business colleagues.

What Ballmer appears to be saying is that we should expect these products to coalesce into one another, although what the final form will be isn't clear. Microsoft already began integrating Lync and Skype in June, has previewed Skype for, and announced plans to integrate Yammer and SharePoint functionality, as well as Yammer and email. A planned Lync Room System will provide a simplified videoconferencing system, Microsoft executives have said, while Skype will be part of the Xbox One game console.

For now all of these products should remain separate applications, but look for these to blend together over time. Within the enterprise, the focus appears to be on "collaboration"; within the consumer space, Ballmer implies that "connection" appears to be the emphasis. But both include elements of the other.


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