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Here comes the new Office: Microsoft melds applications to present data in flexible, shareable ways

Mark Hachman | Nov. 12, 2014
On Monday, Microsoft reiterated its push toward enabling productivity for personal and business life alike. But the real news is a new crop of apps that mash up different elements of Microsoft's existing products.

Now, the Zuckerberg generation of executives supplies free gourmet meals, coffee bars, and beer bashes to a cadre of employees who text, message, and Instagram rather than call or email. And while companies like Evernote and Google attempt to engineer productivity into their own applications, Microsoft has also come down from its Office mountain to walk among the people. Microsoft's simplified reworking of the Office experience within the iPhone, iPad, and Android platforms indicates this, almost more so than the company's decision to make more of Office's features free to use.

So in these three apps--and, conceivably, more to come--we see two things: a blending of existing Microsoft technologies, and a wrapper that's designed to allow information to be widely accessible, shareable, and connected.

What interested me most about McCracken's report was seeing a photo of Julie Larson-Green, now the chief experience officer at Microsoft. Recall that in February, Larson-Green, who helped create the look and feel of Windows 8, was "demoted" to oversee the look and feel of Windows and Office across all of the Microsoft's platforms. For those who despise the look and feel of Windows 8, that was bad news. But what that photo tells me is that there's a method to the madness, and this isn't Microsoft throwing out apps to see what will stick.

Let's be honest: Many of you will just shrug your shoulders and keep on using Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. But there isn't just a generational gap in how younger users think, but in how they work, too. There's less of an emphasis on formal communication, and greater weight placed on the speed of delivery. The sum total of curated information is now more important than the source of that information--for better or for worse.

Does this mean that we now can expect to see crazy hybrids of Word and SQL Server? Or Visio and Windows Media Player? Of course not. But based on what Microsoft has been talking about, this concept of "blended apps" appears to be here to stay.

A decade ago, Microsoft might have measured its success by the number of copies of Office it sold. Now, a well-liked Facebook post--"Hey, apparently Sway is from Microsoft. Heh. Never knew they were actually cool"--could be enough to launch a spontaneous round of high-fives in Redmond boardrooms.


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