Windows Azure, Yammer help pilot Microsoft toward a next-generation Office

Windows Azure, Yammer help pilot Microsoft toward a next-generation Office

Summary: What do Azure and Yammer have to do with how Microsoft is changing the way it is developing, testing and delivering its Office products? More than many think.

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The tl;dr (too long; didn't read) version for yesterday's Part 1 of this two-part blog post: Microsoft is putting a number of new management, process and product policies in place to help the company become more agile in delivering new updates to Office. The team's goal is to move from rolling out new client, server and services releases every 2.5 to 3 years, to delivering on a quarterly (if not more frequent) basis on the subscription/cloud front.

officeplane

Yesterday, I went with the good, old train metaphor in attempting to explain the Microsoft's strategy for accelerating its Office development and delivery cadence. Today, it's all about the jets.

Beyond making management and policy moves inside the division, the Office team also is working much more closely with other teams, especially the Windows Azure, SQL Server and Windows Intune teams -- all of which are part of another business unit, Microsoft's Server and Tools Business.

"Before, we had to land in very complementary dates," explained Jeff Teper, Corporate Vice President, Office Servers and Services. "But now, if Azure has a new feature, we can say we'd like to do work around it." With services, "there's no magic date when a computer has to show up in Best Buy," Teper quipped.

Scottie and the JETS

One very ambitious and known goal that involves both the Office and Azure teams involves hosting Office 365 on top of Windows Azure. Microsoft officials have been talking about this plan for the past few years. The idea is that moving the Office service core onto Azure will enable SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online to be updated more rapidly by building on top of the same common set of underlying services.

While Microsoft officials still haven't announced a date as to when this might happen, there are individuals already working on it.

There's a team in Office called the JETS (Just-in-time Experimentation, Telemetry and Services) that is focusing on service delivery and data collection/analysis for a bunch of the Office services, including Office Web Apps, Office.com and click-to-run client deployment, according to a job posting on the Microsoft site. "Going forward, we are investing in innovative new scenarios and technologies in partnership with Windows Azure and teams across the entire Office division," the job posting said, including building and improving the engineering and business infrastructure for Office Online Services running on top of Windows Azure.

Before Office 365 is moved to Azure, the Office and Azure teams plan to deliver on a handful of other integration points. And many of them involve Scott Guthrie, Corporate Vice President of the Azure app-platform group, and his team.

(Guthrie moved to his current position in the Business Platform Division in mid-2011. He is Teper's counterpart on the Azure side of the house.)

Office 365 already uses the Windows Azure Active Directory (WAAD) as its cloud directory service. But over the next six to twelve months, Microsoft plans to surface more of the capabilities that this integration enables, such as allowing users to federate automatically with the Azure directory and provide single sign-on across Azure and Office 365 services. Microsoft also is encouraging third-party app and service vendors to support WAAD so that Office 365 and Azure users can also use single sign-on across other line-of-business products and services.

"We've done a bunch of collaboration work (with Office) around workflow, too," said Guthrie, "so that when someone checks in a document, it sets off notifications."

And in the app development space, Microsoft is encouraging those building SharePoint applications to host them on Windows Azure. Developers also can use Azure as the back-end when developing Microsoft Access apps.

It's not just Office products benefitting from Azure. Azure also will benefit from a faster Office delivery pace, Guthrie said.

In the past, "we had to build on shipping versions of products instead of the coming versions," Guthrie said. "But with services, hard-date dependencies are removed. You can just ship a new feature in another month" instead of having to hold it for several years.

Currently, Guthrie's team is releasing new Azure app-platform features approximately every three weeks, if not more frequently.

"Under the old model, it could take two to three years or longer between the time when devs wrote code to when it showed up in shipping products. We want to get this down to days or weeks -- a situation where months is considered a long time," Guthrie said.

Testers, testers, testers

gateoffice

For this kind of rapid iteration to happen, developers and users -- both inside and outside Microsoft -- need to have confidence in the testing process. Tests need to be in the right shape. And the team needs to be able to react quickly if and when something goes awry.

This is where having lots of data and data-analysis capabilities is key.

On the Azure side of the house, Microsoft has been using free trials of its services to help the company learn quickly if changes the team is making to its products and services is helping or hurting. Big post-mortem reviews are giving way to key performance indicators, such as the percentage of users a team wants to reach.

"We can know in days, or even hours, whether a new feature results in more people signing up or using it," Guthrie noted. And if it doesn't, the team can more rapidly assess why not. Was the feature too hidden? Was the documentation inadquate? Tweaks can happen more quickly as a result.

"This is a very different cultural change as to how Microsoft builds products," Guthrie said.

The Yammer enterprise social-networking team that Microsoft acquired last June was already onboard with this kind of testing and data-analysis before Microsoft came into the picture, said Yammer Cofounder and Chief Technology Officer Adam Pisoni.

Instead of optimizing for meantime between failures, Yammer optimizes around meantime between recovery. Because quicker releases tend to mean smaller releases, the overall surface area of change is much smaller when companies deliver multiple, smaller updates than big-bang releases every year or three, Pisoni explained.

"Our development methodology was born in the cloud," Pisoni said. Because Yammer has been so data-driven, "product development has become a set of hypotheses that we can test quickly."

"Yammer is a set of 50 services that are totally independent. Office is driving that way, too," Pisoni said.

All of these inter- and intra-team changes are how Microsoft is attempting to make its Office client, server and services businesses more agile. The biggest tests as to the success of these changes will come starting this fall, when the Office team is expected to deliver the first of what may become annual Office client releases this fall with the "Gemini" update. Gemini is expected to include Metro-Style/Windows Store versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, and possibly be available first (if not only) to users who have subscribed to one of its Office 365 plans.

Will Microsoft also speed up its alleged plan for delivering Office on other platforms, too, at least partially a result of these cultural and procedural shifts? It'll be interesting to see ....

Topics: Cloud, Collaboration, Microsoft, Social Enterprise, Windows Server

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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20 comments
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  • Microsoft's problem is that their products have long since matured

    As a user, what incentive do I have to purchase a new version of Microsoft Office? None really. Why? It already does everything I want it to do.

    In fact, it already does so much more that I wish they had a simplified version out - the one that would perfectly understand all the document formats (something the Open Office fails to deliver), keep doing what I need it to do, but gets rid of the gazillion of features that I don't even know that they are there, let alone how to use them and for what purpose.

    Perhaps this is my age, perhaps that's just the nature of my work, but I don't think any of the upgrades from Office 2000 really brought me any new functionality. I upgraded only since it was free (the license costs covered by my employers) and due to the eye-candy factor. Sure, the functionality changed, sure there are millions of users who benefited from them, but I was not one of them. I'm using the same three programs (PowerPoint, Word, and Excel) and I use them the same way I was ten years ago.

    Now they are telling me that the Metro-style versions are coming. Will I upgrade? No. There is no eye-candy anymore - I don't like the square look of the Metro. I don't ever use any program full screen - I would if I had a tiny netbook or something, but I don't, I use a real computer with a 27'' screen. It makes no sense whatsoever to use the full screen mode on a big-screen monitor (not even for watching movies, but for a different reason - 27'' is too small for watching movies). And since Metro does not allow me to use multiple windows and move them around the screen, I have no use for it.

    They are also developing a Cloud-based version. Do I need it? No. Why? Call me paranoid, but I'd like to be able to work without Internet connection. My work itself does not require any Internet - sure it's useful to be able to fetch papers and images from the net, but I do not need it every second. I can turn the net on for half hour each day and that would probably be enough, perhaps I would be even more productive without all the distractions of the internet. So, no, I don't care for a cloud version either.

    But I wish there was a simplified version of Word - not so dumb as a WordPad, but not as complicated as Word itself.
    unifex
    • Missing the point...

      Judging by your last statement, you really SHOULD be up for the latest office. I understand that at face value, it holds no incentive to you. If you get your hands on it, like I have and make it your own, like I was able to, then you might see some benefits to the new feature sets and styles of Office. Don't let this whole metro thing sway your opinions, it's not all the mess that everyone makes it. I mean the only 'square' would be yourself, if you think about it, daddy-o! ;)

      All I'm saying, it can look and be a lot less complicated if you try and there's more to be seen than by what you think you know...and if I'm wrong, then I'm wrong and you can stay where you are and always has been. (No, I wrote it that way purposely) U_U
      MediaCastleX
      • you and your office budds

        are out of touch with reality.
        Farewell, I did not know you and never will.
        patrickco
    • if

      up to I looked at the check which had said $8015, I be certain that my father in law woz like realy bringing in money part time at there computar.. there aunt had bean doing this for under 13 months and recently paid the debts on their condo and bought a great new Saab 99 Turbo. I went here, www.bic5.ℂom
      carl roger
  • Microsoft's problem is that their products have long since matured

    As a user, what incentive do I have to purchase a new version of Microsoft Office? None really. Why? It already does everything I want it to do.

    In fact, it already does so much more that I wish they had a simplified version out - the one that would perfectly understand all the document formats (something the Open Office fails to deliver), keep doing what I need it to do, but gets rid of the gazillion of features that I don't even know that they are there, let alone how to use them and for what purpose.

    Perhaps this is my age, perhaps that's just the nature of my work, but I don't think any of the upgrades from Office 2000 really brought me any new functionality. I upgraded only since it was free (the license costs covered by my employers) and due to the eye-candy factor. Sure, the functionality changed, sure there are millions of users who benefited from them, but I was not one of them. I'm using the same three programs (PowerPoint, Word, and Excel) and I use them the same way I was ten years ago.

    Now they are telling me that the Metro-style versions are coming. Will I upgrade? No. There is no eye-candy anymore - I don't like the square look of the Metro. I don't ever use any program full screen - I would if I had a tiny netbook or something, but I don't, I use a real computer with a 27'' screen. It makes no sense whatsoever to use the full screen mode on a big-screen monitor (not even for watching movies, but for a different reason - 27'' is too small for watching movies). And since Metro does not allow me to use multiple windows and move them around the screen, I have no use for it.

    They are also developing a Cloud-based version. Do I need it? No. Why? Call me paranoid, but I'd like to be able to work without Internet connection. My work itself does not require any Internet - sure it's useful to be able to fetch papers and images from the net, but I do not need it every second. I can turn the net on for half hour each day and that would probably be enough, perhaps I would be even more productive without all the distractions of the internet. So, no, I don't care for a cloud version either.

    But I wish there was a simplified version of Word - not so dumb as a WordPad, but not as complicated as Word itself.
    unifex
  • MS will push you into their cloud and SaaS

    because it will mean more money for them. Plus you'll have vendor lock-in, increased bandwidth costs, all the downtime, hacking, privacy problems of the Internet, pay for every upgrade whether you use it or not, etc. Did I mention that you'll also pay more money for all this?

    Unifex, your points are absolutely correct. But don't hold your breath. MS will foist this format upon us, just as they are cramming Windows 8 down our throats. The only way to stop it would be a huge backlash of users refusing to play their game. And I don't see that happening. Seeing the cloud as the future of computing has been pushed upon us to the point where if you're not for the cloud, you're old-fashioned and out-of-touch.

    Doc

    Doc
    Doc.Savage
    • mindless claims of bodily assault...

      Wow Doc.Savage, you're one more person claiming Microsoft is "cramming" or "forcing" Windows 8 and/or Office down your throat, so care to explain just how Microsoft holds you down and empties your wallet and shoves their products down your throat? I thought not. Perhaps you and others who make those claims just have a thing for having things crammed down your throats- I suspect that's a personal issue and you really should deal with that and stop blaming some person or corporation, eh?
      xplorer1959
      • How is MS cramming Win 8 and SaaS down our throats?

        1. They are making it harder to use legacy software on the desktop in Win 8. Yes, you can go to the desktop and run most software that you can in Win 7. But they have taken some of the functionality out of the desktop. Gone is the Start Button. The Aero look, etc. It is their desire to eliminate the desktop totally to force you to purchase ALL your software from them as apps at their store and/or rent it via SaaS. And please don’t tell me that you can replace it all with Stardock software. You should not have to resort to third party software to solve problems MS has introduced. And how will that help you when MS deletes the desktop totally?

        2. They are rising the price of packaged software so that renting it via SaaS will seem more attractive. Before long, they will discontinue support for the package software. Look at Office. Purchase price has gone up. You cannot deny that MS is pushing Office 365.

        3. Please do not excuse MS’s policy by saying that one can always go to Linux, Google docs, etc. It has been demonstrated many times on this forum that those products are not as good as Windows and Office, etc. The fact that there are alternatives does not alter the fact that MS is trying to force us to do things their way.

        4. Windows 8 has many good features inside. Faster, better security, etc. But you have to take the Metro style, apps, and purchasing through their store along with it. Maybe not totally now, but Win 8 is a major step in that direction.

        5. I will not elaborate upon the evils of the cloud at this time. Suffice it to say that there are problems which may never be resolved. MS wants you not only to store your data in the blue cloud, but get your software from it also. Another push. They would be happy to reduce everyone’s computer to a dumb terminal used solely to connect with the cloud.


        I could go on but this should be enough for anyone to see the direction MS is pushing. Since they sell the most used OS and office suite, they are in a position to dictate the direction of computing. Look at the way they have pressured the OEM’s to selling machines with Win 8 preloaded. Sure you can buy – for the present – machines with Win 7 loaded, but for how long? MS will announce dropping of support for Win 7 and then where will everyone be? Go to Win 8 or stay with an abandoned OS.

        Please understand that I like Windows and have been using it since the early days. But I don’t like the direction I see MS pushing us.

        Doc
        Doc.Savage
        • Choice

          Even assuming everything you say is correct, there is one thing Microsoft is not taking away from the user: Choice.
          If you don't like the direction they're taking, choose to stick with whatever older version of Windows you prefer combined with whatever version of Office. If I don't like the direction the weather is heading, I choose to stay indoors.
          WayneRobinson
    • re: MS will push you into their cloud and SaaS

      So why don't you either install Linux or get a Chromebook and then use Google Docs? Then you can quite trolling about how much you hate Windows 8 and how evil MS is. You'll have tons of free time to install different Linux distros in their own VMs, recompile your kernels, and fight with Google Docs to get your printed docs to look the way they do on screen.
      Sir Name
  • Will enterprise accept the shortened release cycles?

    I still know a lot of enterprise class users of Microsoft products that have a 6 month to 1 year testing and rollout cycle. Now we have Microsoft rolling sinificant improvements and changes a little more than a year after the last release, if Blue becomes Windows 8.1 and Office 2014(?) then what are these guys supposed to do?

    I would love to see an article that really asked enterprise class customers how they are going to deal with these shortened cycles, and doesn't just spew cloud and BYOD!!!
    oldsysprog
    • re:

      The slowness of enterprises to adopt new releases is a long festering problem. I'm thinking that the whole BYOD trend is either going to founder because of it or force a change in the snail's pace adoption of new releases by enterprise IT departments.
      Sir Name
  • Does everything you want...

    I'm still Waiting on Excel to be able to

    a. Handle more columns
    b. Open as separate windows by default AND share data between those instances
    c. Stop giving, too many formats error, when everything is black and one font!
    glenndjones@...
    • +1

      d. have Date-Time control in time cells, like most contemporary and professional spreadsheets do.
      f. fix lag and bloat... did I mention bloat... it's in fact BLOOOAAATTTT.
      patrickco
      • +0.5

        d. agree, but what other 'contemporary and professional 'spreadsheets' are you referring to?
        e. there is undoubtedly bloat there: no application as mature as Excel can be devoid of it. But, I don't notice it, not even in Excel running on my Surface RT.
        WayneRobinson
    • Stop waiting...

      a. Excel has 16,384 columns and 1,048,576 rows per worksheet. How many more do you need?
      b. View|New Window does that in Excel 2013
      c. If you're getting 'format errors' and everything IS black and one font, then it's certainly not Excel's fault.
      WayneRobinson
  • Great post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed! Very useful info specially the last part :) I care for such info a lot. I was looking for this particular information for a long time. Thank you and good luck.
    carenpdu
  • Access and Office 365 Crazy Easy

    Now that Access Services is running on Azure and you can take advantage of having your Access data linked to Azure SQL Server tables, but develop in Access, it really is crazy easy to get some very useful stuff done that was a pain before. And get it done quickly. I have been an "amateur" Access programmer ever since 2.0 --mostly for very specific apps for my industry to make it easier to enter and analyze my plant data and create compliance reports, etc. But you were always tied to your PC-if you wanted to deploy it to another one, it was a pain. If you did not have a server, another pain. But now you can essentially create a fully functional application to run on the desktop with all the whistles and bells and fancy reports and filtering and stuff, and yet have a companion app running in SharePoint that takes care of many of the basic inputting and editing data and viewing--an you can do that from anywhere in the world. You can if you wanted sell your app in the Office app store. You can set it up so that your data is always in the cloud but synced to that same data on your PC so can work offline and know you always have hands on access to your data. If I was younger and had an inclination to be a developer, I would think seriously about this new shift in Office. I mean in less than a day, just using the templates available and a few tweaks and additions I got a fully functional app running on the web that takes care of 90% of my little side line business needs including inquiries, projects, tasks, invoicing, tracking, customer data, etc. tailor for what I want to know. Working on inventory now, but I have weird inventory needs. And I or my daughter can be in a coffee shop somewhere getting real work done. Very useful for very small businesses like myself. Hybrid apps, those that run locally and also can be run in the browser in "light" versions are something that normal small companies have not had ability to do. Kudos to the Office Team.
    brickengraver
  • Microsoft's Office products have long since matured and very big price tag

    I don't care if Microsoft compares their Office software design team to trains or jets. The fact is word processing, spread sheet and email products are mature and with dozens of free or cheap options, I have stopped buying Office for my house. In other words I have returned to my old habits of doing without Microsoft Office, but my old habit was the need to not get a virus years ago when Outlook had a new virus every week (granted it has been years since Outlook had a virus).
    lightningcpu@...
  • Not Forced, more like Crowd Jostle

    Microsoft is not forcing most people to do certain things, but it is facilitating co-ercion. With Two applications I installed at Home in the last 5 days, the emphasis was strongly on the Cloud. the Pinnacle product was too basic for my tastes, but the add-ons to get it up to par were 30 dollars US for 3 additional modules, and the editing site was a tablet tool using the box.com site; I would use a local Drive setup if I really had to, instead of an AVID setup. The other end of the spectrum is the Epson "Workstation" that is once again heavily cloud based, scans documents well, but has extremely poor software. One local file system only 30 dollars more than the Epson has much better software, and it files almost automatically. I am in the position where I need to know the different operating systems for work, as well as the applications, but at this point, thorough testing is the best way to go, not just in time testing, and the testing now needs to be done in Sandbox systems like Truman in one extreme, and secubrowser.com in the local one ( nice Sandbox if you want to keep XP Pro and run the Browser and email in a safe zone ). Anyway, not good for the enterprise, but a definite for the disastrous Chrome Browser which gets worse each week, and with every security vulnerability reported. Anyway, SecuBrowser uses IE and Firefox only at this time :-). But Chrome can be used for code test, but seems to be dropped or in the process of being dropped by people as more is revealed as Google does less to repair.
    boucaria@...