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Office, Outlook, Slack, Handoff: The digital workplace reborn

Galen Gruman | Aug. 19, 2016
Office and Outlook have been reinvented, collaboration tools like Slack are finally useful, and devices are evolving for new digital workflows

"Office productivity" has meant Microsoft Office and Outlook on a Windows PC for nearly two decades, and most of us take it for granted as part of the technological woodwork. New versions of Office and Outlook long ago outstripped the functionality 99.9 percent of us need, and except for jarring UI changes like the introduction of the Ribbon in 2007, we take new versions in stride.

But the digital office has undergone a fundamental, positive change in the past few years, one that should cause a rethink by users and IT alike.

The rebirth of Microsoft Office is (hopefully) only the start

Five years ago, I would have said that Microsoft Office and Exchange were dying dinosaurs, given Microsoft's active development of crappy mobile versions and continued crippling of the MacOS versions.

But in the past 18 months, Microsoft has turned around Office for mobile users and is well on the way to doing the same for the Mac version, though issues remain. (Some good news: 64-bit is finally coming!)

Outlook is still behind on all non-Windows platforms, but Microsoft is (for now) committed to turning that around -- and even exposing its core functionality to non-Microsoft apps via common APIs across platforms. Give it a couple years.

I can't wait for the day that Outlook on iOS or Android is as good as those platforms' native apps, and when basic features like email blocking and Outlook Groups work on Mac Outlook. Hopefully, SharePoint, Skype for Business, and OneDrive will follow the same path.

The mobile and Mac equality is critical: Work has moved well beyond the Windows PC, even if that platform remains the center of gravity, and the tools we use need to be fully functional throughout that heterogeneous world.

Had Microsoft not reversed its prior Office course, we would likely have ended up with the ill-fitting combination Office and Outlook on Windows; iWork, Mail, Calendar, Notes, and Contacts on MacOS and iOS; Gmail and Kingsoft's WPS Mobile Office on Android; and Google Apps and basic webmail in the browser. Phew!

Collaboration: Two steps forward, one step back

But the new office is not solely Office and Outlook. It's also collaboration tools, from conferencing to group chats to file sharing. That world is still uneven: Microsoft's collaboration suite remains poor, even with recent moves to bring SharePoint to iOS and Skype for Business to MacOS, iOS, and Android. The fact is we're years away from those tools doing the job right. Even OneDrive, which has made the most improvements after Office itself in the new heterogeneous reality, still has big cross-platform gaps.


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