Windows and Office have led separate lives until now.
Microsoft has quite a challenge on its hand with Windows 8. Apple has all but dominated the marketplace, with the term “iPad” becoming the default noun used when referring to a tablet (similar to how people “Google” when they search or “Skype” to make an internet call). While Android is certainly becoming popular as a smartphone operating system, I don’t see many people driving along the beach in an open-top Jeep filming running horses on their tablet device.
The key differentiator for Windows 8 against these consumer-style tablets is the fact that it builds on its heritage as an enterprise-grade operating system that is suitable for the masses. As the adoption of Office 365 increases within businesses of all sizes it will be important for Microsoft to tightly integrate this across other its platforms – and the key will be Windows 8.
The current Windows 8 beta version (known as Consumer Preview) includes apps for mail, calendar, and contacts. All of these work very well and have simple to use interfaces – similar to what is currently experienced on Windows Phone devices. However, for Windows 8 to really create a beachhead over the other tablets with Office 365 I believe there’s a few other areas that should be covered.
Lync is fast becoming the golden child of Office 365 with customers quickly discovering that they can communicate with business partners as well as offer their staff more flexible working conditions. We have already seen the Lync Mobile app appear on all major smartphone platforms (except for RIM). Windows 8 needs an App version to allow Lync to run in full screen mode and respond to touch and gestures. At present a user needs to switch from the Metro interface back to the traditional Windows user interface in order to work with Lync.
Office file readers
Office 365 boasts Office Web Apps (which become more feature rich every few months), and Office 2010 allows for desktop-based viewing and editing of documents. iPad makes it easy for a user to click on an attachment to an email and have it display on screen instantly.
The Windows equivalent of this is to either read the app within the browser using Office Web Apps, or if offline to utilise Office 2010 on the desktop. Unfortunately the result is nowhere near as instantaneous as what iPad users experience.
If Microsoft were to bundle in Office file readers (which are freely available for download) this would be a great step towards providing a simple, quick and touch-based experience for the user.
Many versions of Windows have included a feature known as “Offline Files” – the ability to synchronise content from network file shares and have it accessible on the local device when not connected to the network.
As more businesses move towards SharePoint as their document management platform users will use Windows Explorer less and less. The problem with SharePoint is that offline access is only available by synchronising the list or library to Outlook or through the use of SharePoint Workspace (part of Office 2010 Professional Plus).
Users of Windows Live have the ability to synchronise their content using Windows Live Mesh which will soon be integrated into SkyDrive and become a contender for online storage and compete against Dropbox, Box, and so on.
With Windows 8 I would hope to see a cut down version of SharePoint Workspace that allows users to synchronise various SharePoint lists and libraries for offline access with the ability to navigate via a Metro-style app.
SharePoint social integration
The People Hub within Windows Phone and Windows 8 is capable of natively linking across multiple social media platforms: Windows Live, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
As SharePoint becomes more accepted as an internally-facing corporate social media platform (mainly for larger organisations) it will be important to integrate this into the People Hub of Windows 8 so as to allow tablet/PC users to seamlessly communicate across both corporate and personal social media networks.
Bringing it together
While Windows and Office have led relatively separate lives as product lines this will need to change somewhat moving into a world comprised of cloud services and tablet devices. The user experience will need to be more ubiquitous and platform independent as more and more services are delivered by the web. For Microsoft to remain a dominant desktop and tablet platform they will need to greatly enhance the desktop experience to work with Office 365 without the expectation that users will have it installed on their devices.
Loryan Strant is a Microsoft Office 365 MVP (Most Valuable Professional). Follow him on Twitter @TheCloudMouth.