April 22, 2015

10 Things Office 365 Will Do For You This Year

Remember the old Microsoft suite? It was delivered on a floppy disk and it took approximately 20 minutes to load onto your hard drive. One disk furnished you with Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Excel. It was easy to use and equipped with an animated setup wizard called Merlin (or Clippy, depending on your preference). There was a lot of Clip Art.

Now that Microsoft has gone “cloud first,” it almost doesn’t make sense to talk about specific versions of the software. For Office 365 users, there is no “Microsoft 2013.” The platform is updated several times a day – it is current – the original version isn’t hiding in some dusty filing cabinet in Redmond.

What makes Office 365 revolutionary is that it brings Microsoft Office online, integrating various Microsoft applications into one experience. In Office 365, you can move seamlessly across platforms, updating your status, sharing your comments, and collaborating with others. Creating a document in Word is less like writing on a typewriter and more like writing on a whiteboard. Information is sharable. Social networking meshes with team projects meshes with personal computing.

Office 365 is relatively new, but it has big implications. Here are the top ten things Office 365 will do for you this year.

1. It Will Anticipate Your Needs

Microsoft is experimenting with machine learning. It wants your computer to learn your habits and anticipate your needs. This month, it will launch Office Delve, an app that pulls data from Outlook, Yammer, PowerPoint and Bing, aggregating it into a personalized newsfeed. Delve uses your calendar, contacts, and emails to predict the sort of content you will need throughout the day. If it knows that you have a meeting, it searches the agenda topics and pulls relevant information, creating a feed to help you prepare your notes.

2. It Will Look Like YouTube

You might soon be spending a lot of time in a SharePoint site that looks enticingly like YouTube. Office 365 Video is a video sharing portal where you can internally share webinars, presentations, and training modules without relying on a third party video host. In Office 365, videos are arranged in Channels and Communities that facilitate internal sharing and discussion. Since the videos are held within Office 365, there won’t be any more of that clumsy switching between PowerPoint, SharePoint, and YouTube during company presentations.

3. It Will Move Like Prezi

If you are already an Office 365 user, you probably know about Sway, a cloud tool that allows you to format and share presentations online. Sway is like PowerPoint, except with a completely different interface. There are no slides, no dropdown menus, no buttons. The end product looks more like a next generation website than like a slide bank. “What we did with the software,” says Chris Pratley, the senior product manager of Sway, “is take the design instincts of real designers and encode them into algorithms.” Instead of relying on users to manually select fonts and formats, Sway formats their presentations automatically, suggesting layouts and fonts that pair well with the project content.

4. It Will Feel Like Facebook

Microsoft wants your office to be more social, it is has integrated Yammer into the Office 365 environment and it wants you to use it. Now that Yammer is equipped with an external messaging feature, it is embedded in Outlook, One Drive, Delve, and Skype for Business (now a Microsoft product). It’s unavoidable. Sharing, social tags and status updates are now part of the Office experience.

5. It Will Know You Personally

Underpinning many of Office 365’s new features is Office Graph, which uses machine learning to analyze user behaviour and map the relationships between people and content. Graph collects information about its users so that it can anticipate patterns and highlight relevant content. It is designed to save time, and although it is still in its infancy, it is an instrumental part of apps like Delve and Outlook.

6. It Will Video Conference

Microsoft’s “Skype for Business” is officially replacing Lync video and web conferencing. The product rollout has already begun and Office 365 users can expect to see it on their computers by the end of May. Skype for Business allows you to message, call, and video chat with fellow Skype users – regardless of whether they are part of your Active Directory, meaning that video conferencing will be more seamless than ever.

7. It Will Link to your Calendar

Last February, Microsoft acquired Sunrise, a calendar app valued at roughly $100M USD. Sunrise consolidates calendars from different service providers, uniting Google, iOS and Outlook calendars in one screen. The Sunrise acquisition is part of Microsoft’s push for “mobile first” technology, but it also betrays the company’s new willingness to run its services on rival platforms (like Android and iOS).

8. It Will Work on your Smartphone

Earlier this year, Microsoft acquired the email startup “Accompli” and integrated it with Microsoft Outlook, giving iPhone and Android users mobile access to Outlook for the first time.

9. It Will Take Over your DropBox

Microsoft’s OneDrive for Business rivals Box and DropBox as the best cloud storage system on the web. If you are already running the Office suite, OneDrive interfaces with your document library, allowing you to open and edit files in Word while automatically synchronizing them across all your devices.

10. It Will Cost You Less

Microsoft has adopted a “buy only what you use” strategy toward pricing. Instead of charging companies per device, they charge them per usage, offering month-by-month subscription plans. Like Apple, they now offer free OS updates as part of their service. This has made Microsoft products more affordable for commercial users, and might explain why Microsoft has seen a 30% increase in non-corporate subscribers over the last quarter.

Learn more about the benefits of cloud-based applications.