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TechEd: Microsoft reveals new Office features available only in the cloud

Tim Greene | May 14, 2014
Microsoft showed off new Office features at TechEd 2014, but some of them will never be available to customers who don't embrace the cloud version of the software suite, Office 365, and the company will take its time bringing others to market for Office Server users.

HOUSTON — Microsoft showed off new Office features at TechEd 2014, but some of them will never be available to customers who don't embrace the cloud version of the software suite, Office 365, and the company will take its time bringing others to market for Office Server users.

During the keynote at the annual conference, attendees saw a demo of Office Graph, a feature that monitors users' behaviors and makes it possible to intelligently sort available data so that the most relevant is presented.

That sorting requires machine learning, which in turn requires massive CPU power available only in the Office 365 cloud, says Julia White, head of Office technical marketing for Microsoft, who demonstrated Office Graph.

"So when I talked about Office Graph and that intelligence fabric, essentially that's just possible because of massive compute power [in the cloud]. It's because we can update the service with learning every single day that that's possible," White says.

Other features also will be delayed for Office Server customers. "Some of that means it's coming first to Office 365 and you'll see it come to SharePoint and Lync and Office on-premises later but some of it is just not possible in an on-premises approach," she says.It's not capricious favoritism toward Office 365 customers, White says.

"Our philosophy is anything we technically can ship in servers, we will. We want our server customers and our cloud customers to have as much as we can ship to them. If it's possible technically and it's feasible then we'll put it in the servers."

At the same time she acknowledges that Office 365 having fuller features should prompt businesses to consider it over on-prem servers. "So at the highest level, if your readers haven't started thinking about how they're moving to the cloud, they haven't gotten started with any aspect of Office 365, they really, really should," she says.

Another feature White talked about that won't wind up in Office Server is called Clutter and is scheduled to come out later this year. Clutter monitors information coming at users via email and analyzes what is received vs. what is actually acted on. If something is read, replied to, edited or otherwise actively responded to, it gains higher relevance than things simply received. After a learning period, Clutter sorts out information that just doesn't get acted upon and drops it in a Clutter folder.

The machine learning aspect is too compute intensive to include on a server version of Office, she says.

White demonstrated a feature called Groups that allows users to set up groups of colleagues to share information while working on projects. That information can be drawn and distributed by Yammer, Outlook, Lync and SharePoint working in concert.

 

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