Microsoft, the old dog, learns some new cloud tricks

Microsoft, the old dog, learns some new cloud tricks

Summary: The preview release of Office 2013 marks a highly significant change of tack by Microsoft. You can start using it now. Many will.


I’ve always had a policy of never loading up beta copies of Microsoft software. I always wait until the new version is fully beta tested, properly baked into production, and preferably past its first service pack upgrade before I risk it on my computer. Yet I interact in a completely different way with cloud apps; I’ll happily load them up and start trying them out long before the vendor declares them out of beta. So this is something really radical: I’m writing this post in the preview version of Microsoft Office 2013, which I installed on my computer today, just a couple hours after it was unveiled.

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This may be a radical move for me, but it’s an even more radical departure for Microsoft. Over the years, the company’s limp efforts at competing in the online world have provided easy fodder for this blog. Microsoft's on-demand strategy is barely twitching, I wrote in 2005 on learning that its CEO Steve Ballmer thought that a nine-month upgrade cycle was a frequency to aspire to. One of the most popular all-time posts here is a guest post contributed last year by Louis Naugès entitled Google Apps vs Office 365: your choice, which characterized Office 365 as an offering “for companies who do not want to migrate to the cloud and prefer to keep traditional tools, disguised as cloud solutions.” Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post wondering Will Yammer improve SharePoint?, alluding to the absurdity in this day and age of offering social capabilities that customers have to wait months if not years before they can install them.

In that context, delivering Office 2013 as a working preview version that people like me can install and use instantly is a genius move, one that was not expected from Microsoft. At a time when Google Apps, for all its advantages, still has many shortcomings when it comes to serious document editing and remains clunky in how it integrates its various components, this is a counter-strike by Microsoft that is audacious and smart. I’ve read Ed Bott’s write-up and perused his first-look gallery and seen many features that I want to use. Instead of having to wait an age before buying and installing them, the cloud delivery model means I can safely try them out now. At a stroke, Microsoft has cut the delivery cycle for some highly alluring new features by 18 months or more.

The real killer feature for me, though, is the ability to use this cloud-delivered version of Office on up to five different devices – even a machine that I’m temporarily borrowing or renting – and have access to my current work on all of them. For the past 18 months I’ve been using an Evernote-like product called SimpleNote for on-the-go writing, because it allows me to save a half-written draft to the cloud from my PC and then continue to work on it on my iPhone as I travel to a meeting. Office 2013 has a similar capability (although no word yet that I've heard on when the iPhone app comes out), and if it works as seamlessly it will be a major time saver for frequently mobile workers. For Microsoft, it’s also a hugely significant slicing of the umbilical cord that has always tied its software to specific devices. This one enhancement alone demonstrates that Microsoft really is more serious about the cloud than many of us have given it credit for. And I think it signals that Microsoft has realized it must bet its future in the cloud not on Windows but on Office.

Topics: Cloud, Enterprise Software, Microsoft

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • fyi your link to the horribly misrepresentative google app post is broken.

    Just letting you know in case is wasnt intentional so no one would follow it. While it was pretty pathetic and full of errors then, its positively laughable now, so you might want to fix it for humors sake.
    Johnny Vegas
  • Your commentary, as well as your linked previous commentary..

    ...Is outdated. Here is the link YOU should have posted:

    Seems easy enough to proofread and check your links (I mean, where did you find the old link anyways?). I guess it was better to not include a real reference to such a foolish article, and present a bad link as some 'stance of fact'. Who will look, anyways?.. umm.. me.
    • Ohh..

      After reading the thrashing you took in the comment section, I'd post an outdated link as well.
    • @FuzzyBunnySlippers

      Quit playing arm-chair quarterback and write your own article. Then you can see just how "easy" it is...
      Above Reproach
  • About those links

    Just checking to see what is causing this - some software (most likely culprit, Word 2013) has put in some extra characters that invalidate the links. I've corrected in the CMS and it should come right soon. It was pretty late when I posted last night and it looked fine so I didn't check the links as there was no reason to expect they would fail.

    Apologies for the inconvenience, and I'm glad to see Louis' guest post still has the power to provoke powerful emotions in its readers :-)
    • About Links

      I highly doubt it was word that added those characters. Your link is still broken.. it currently shows up as

      when it should be
      • About links

        Yes, Word has now been eliminated as the cause. Investigations continuing ...
      • Links now fixed

        The root cause was Word 2013 putting smartquotes into the HTML link code, which prevented the CMS from interpreting the links correctly. I'll put that down to operator error as I should have realized this would cause a problem.
        • Typical

          Rather ironic that this "cloud enabled" version continues to have the same problems that word 2003 had with links. One reason I've always hated using word for anything but basic documents. Strike one against Word 2013...
          Technical John
        • Interesting because Exchange mangles email addresses

          I have endless email addresses that either exchange or Outlook has mangled into crazy variations of ""Lars Dennert"" and on and on. Typical...
  • Is it culture change?

    It is good to know that Microsoft is doing what they are doing with Office; but the effort still lacks full cloud based thinking. It is just not in their culture to untie Office from underlying products such as Windows, Internet Explorer, Exchange and Sharepoint.

    At Microsoft they are always afraid of creating products which can standalone and provide necessary functionality without having to buy whole plethora of products from them.

    This is moving in right direction; just need bit more push...
    • All software vendors want to tie you in...

      ...You are kidding....Microsoft seems to me to be the ONLY major software company that is trying to let you use all its software and services across whatever devices you want and being platform independent while not tieing you into a plethera of other services, ecosystem junk and apps...

      I cant stand the fact Google wants me to tie everything I do back to Google+, and I cant stand the fact that anything that is related to Apple has to be carried out on their OS and on their hardware...

      I think MS are looking pretty flexible and a good Cloud option compared to the competition (and I mean the big players here)
      • @AndrewOneDegree - I was thinking the same thing. To make a statement like

        and ignore Apple and Google - who are just as bad if not worse is pure ignorance.
        But Hey' it does bump up the Google+ #'s.
      • Um, one small issue.

        Your argument is that Google ties you into Google+.

        How is that different than Windows Live?

        • They are VERY different

          Windows Live is not really a Social Network by any standards. It has some social networking abilities. But really all it is is a single Microsoft Account that allows people to keep their information stored in the cloud so it can be shared across various devices.

          Google+ is both a single account and is Google's cheesy attempt to compete with Facebook. Its not a bad product, its just realllllly late in the game. And most people don't need umpteen Social Network profiles. Especially when Facebook is the clear dominant/winner.
        • Google steals...

          your information. That is what the difference is.
          • Oh Please!!!

            If you are not going to make sense or state facts be quiet.
      • All the same

        I think people are starting to ever so slowly realize that the other 2 juggernaut (google and the fruit) do business just like microsoft and to think that any 1 of the 3 are here to be kind to us and help us is just silly. If we were a company we would do whatever we can to earn money first and help the world hold hands a lot later in the process. MS is no more evil than the other two. And I would argue one of the 3 (rhymes with snapple) has shown itself to be significantly more evil and selfish than the other 2 but with the right PR make the masses believe otherwise.

        MS is "finally" competing outside of how it used to compete with its stronghold on everyone. I am glad they are attempting to change it up and taking bold steps before it goes into the late stage (hello yahoo and rim). If you suspect you have cancer you fight it early not when its at stage 4.
    • Some people still don't "get" Microsoft...

      It's de rigueur to hammer on MSFT and say they should break up Office and Windows. Why? Interoperability has always been the strong suit between the two technologies. Enterprise users want to know that when they Ctrl-P from Word it will get shoe-horned into Excel, or that they can copy data from an SQL query and have it slam right into a spreadsheet - and these are just simple answers. Is MSFT perfect? Hardly, but trying to hit them on interoperabiility is a swing and a miss.
      Chris Huennekens
  • Good improvements

    After spending a little time with Office 2013 myself I have to say I like the improvements. Nothing too drastic, nothing that takes time to learn, rather everything seems rather intuitive.

    I like Microsofts take on the cloud, using apps that are cloud enabled rather than live 100% in the cloud and have to be accessed through a browser. When you access cloud apps in a browser the experience will always be clunky at best and it will always be rather limiting (and very frustrating if you become disconnected for longer periods).

    The smart way to use the cloud is to deliver apps that leverage the cloud and also your local hardrive, apps that actually live on your machine and take advantage of all that processing power in your device. Microsoft with Office 2013 seems to be doing this very well, and I think the experience will get better when run on a Windows 8 machine...

    I think Microsoft hasnt just woken up to the cloud, its starting to embrace it and explore it more than anyone else....