Tag Archives: office

Office 2016 now “built out of one codebase for all platforms” says Microsoft engineer

Microsoft’s Erik Schweibert, principal engineer in the Apple Productivity Experiences group, says that with the release of Office 2016 version 16 for the Mac, the productivity suite is now “for the first time in 20 years, built out of one codebase for all platforms (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android).”

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This is not the first time I have heard of substantial code-sharing between the various versions of Office, but this claim goes beyond that. Of course there is still platform-specific code and it is worth reading the Twitter thread for a more background.

“The shared code is all C++. Each platform has native code interfacing with the OS (ie, Objective C for Mac and iOS, Java for Android, C/C++ for Windows, etc),” says Schweibert.

Does this mean that there is exact feature parity? No. The mobile versions remain cut-down, and some features remain platform-specific. “We’re not trying to provide uniform “lowest common denominator” support across all platforms so there will always be disparate feature gaps,” he says.

Even the online version of Office shares much of the code. “Web components share some code (backend server is shared C++ compiled code, front end is HTML and script)”, Schweibert says.

There is more news on what is new in Office for the Mac here. The big feature is real-time collaborative editing in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. 

What about 20 years ago? Schweibert is thinking about Word 6 for the Mac in 1994, a terrible release about which you can read more here:

“Shipping a crappy product is a lot like beating your head against the wall.  It really does feel good when you ship a great product as a follow-up, and it really does motivate you to spend some time trying to figure out how not to ship a crappy product again.

Mac Word 6.0 was a crappy product.  And, we spent some time trying to figure out how not to do that again.  In the process, we learned a few things, not the least of which was the meaning of the term “Mac-like.”

Word 6.0 for the Mac was poor for all sorts of reasons, as explained by Rick Schaut in the post above. The performance was poor, and the look and feel was too much like the Windows version – because it was the Windows code, recompiled. “Dialog boxes had "OK" and "Cancel" exactly reversed compared to the way they were in virtually every other Mac application — because that was the convention under Windows,” says one comment.

This is not the case today. Thanks to its lack of a mobile platform, Microsoft has a strong incentive to create excellent cross-platform applications.

There is more about the new cross-platform engineering effort in the video below.

Microsoft announces Office 2019, Exchange Server 2019 and SharePoint Server 2019

This was not one of Microsoft’s most surprising announcements, but even so, confirmation that some of the company’s most significant products are to receive updates a year or so from now. The announcement was made at the SharePoint and OneDrive session at the Ignite event here in Orlando.

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If you have an hour or so spare, you can view the session here:

Note that fewer people now use these products; that is, increasing numbers of users are on Exchange Online and Office 365. These are the same but not the same, and get updates earlier than the on-premises equivalents. Still, we may well see a makeover for Office 365 at around the time Office 2019 is released.

Either way, we should not expect a radical departure from the current Office. Rather, we can expect improvements in the area of collaboration and deeper integration with cloud services.

You will also need to think about the following dialog, if you have not already (the exact wording will vary according to the context):

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The deal is that you send your document content to Microsoft in order to get AI-driven features.

Microsoft financials July-Sept 2015: decline of Windows hits home, cloud rises

Microsoft has reported its financials for its first quarter. Making sense of these is harder than usual because the company has changed its segment breakdown (and the names are misleading). The new segments are as follows:

Productivity and Business Processes: Office, both commercial and consumer, including retail sales, volume licenses, Office 365, Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business, Skype consumer, OneDrive, Outlook.com. Microsoft Dynamics including Dynamics CRM, Dynamics ERP, both online and on-premises sales.

Intelligent Cloud: Server products not mentioned above, including Windows server, SQL Server, Visual Studio, System Center, as well as Microsoft Azure.

More Personal Computing: What a daft name, more than what? Still, this includes Windows in all its non-server forms, Windows Phone both hardware and licenses, Surface hardware, gaming including Xbox, Xbox Live, and search advertising.

Here are the latest figures:

Quarter ending  Sept 30th 2015 vs quarter ending Sept 30th 2014, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Operating income Change
Productivity and Business Processes 6306 -184 3105 -233
Intelligent Cloud 5892 +417 2400 +294
More Personal Computing 9381 -1855 1562 -57
Corporate and Other -1200 -1200 -1274 -55

A few points to note.

Death of Windows Phone: Microsoft acquired Nokia’s Devices and Services business in April 2014. In fiscal year 2015, according to Microsoft’s 10-Q report, the company “eliminated approximately 19,000 positions in fiscal year 2015, including approximately 13,000 professional and factory positions related to the Nokia Devices and Services business.” This was rationalisation following the acquisition; the real blow came a year later. “In June 2015, management approved a plan to restructure our phone business to better focus and align resources (the “Phone Hardware Restructuring Plan”), under which we will eliminate up to 7,800 positions in fiscal year 2016.”

Windows Phone is not quite dead, but Microsoft seems to have given up on the idea of competing with Android and iOS in the mainstream. Year on year, phone revenue is down 58%, Lumia units down from 9.3 million to 5.8 million, non-Lumia phones down from 42.9 million to 25.5 million. This is what happens when you tell the world you are giving up.

Windows: Revenue down 7% “driven by declines in the business and consumer PC markets”.

Surface: Revenue down by 26% because Surface Pro 3 launched in June 2014; this should pick up following the launch of new Surface hardware recently.

Cloud: Microsoft’s “Commercial cloud” comprises Office 365 Commercial, Azure and Dynamics CRM online. All are booming. Azure revenue and usage more than doubled year on year, with 121% revenue growth. In addition, Office 365 consumer subscribers increased by 3 million in the quarter, to 18.2 million, an increase of nearly 20%.

Server products: Revenue is up 6% thanks to “higher revenue from premium versions of Microsoft SQL Server, Windows Server, and System Center”

Xbox: Steady, with Live revenue up 17%, Minecraft adding 17% to game revenue, and hardware revenue down 17% because of Xbox 360 declining (and by implication, not being replaced by Xbox One, a worrying trend).

Further observations

Is Microsoft now facing permanent long (but slow) decline in Windows as a client or standalone operating system? It certainly looks that way. The last hope is that Windows 10 in laptop, tablet and hybrid forms wins some users over from Mac computers and iPad/Android tablets. Despite some progress, Microsoft still has work to do before Windows delivers the smooth appliance-like experience of competing tablets, so I do not regard this as likely. The app ecosystem is also a problem. Tablets need Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps but developers can still target more Windows users with desktop apps, discouraging UWP development.

Microsoft is also busy removing the advantage of Windows by stepping up its first-party Mac, iOS and Android application development, though this makes sense as a way of promoting Office 365.

That leads on to the next question. If Windows continues to decline, can Microsoft still grow with Office 365 and Azure? Of course it is possible, and on these figures that strategy looks to be going reasonably well. That said, you can expect both Google to continue integrating Android and of course Chromebook with its rival cloud services. Apple today does not compete so much in the cloud, but may do in future. If the future Microsoft has to relying on third-party operating systems for user interaction it will be a long-term weakness.

Inside Microsoft: Ex design lead gives perspective on Metro, Office, iOS and Android battles

Here is a must-read for Microsoft watchers. Two days ago a former design lead on the Office on Windows Phone team turned up on Reddit and said I designed the new version of Office for Windows Phone. Ask me anything.

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The overall theme is that Microsoft did not get the design of Windows Phone quite right and is changing it; that Windows 8 was even worse; and that Windows 10 just might begin to pull it all together at last, though the company is also consciously moving away from a Windows-centric view. The Windows, Windows Phone and Office teams are now working together for the first time, we are told:

Windows didn’t believe in working well with others, certainly not that dumb upstart Windows Phone team.

Office believed it was the greatest software on earth, and didn’t get along with Windows.

Windows Phone was pretty proud of itself despite its middling marketshare. Too proud.

So now when these three teams got together to do something for the good of Microsoft, and the good of customers, there was a ton of ego in the way. Windows believed in the Windows way. Windows Phone believed their way. Office was like "fuck all y’all, we’re Office."

The new situation at the company is way better. People actually do care about working together in a way I hadn’t historically seen in my short time there. (or read about in many MS history books)

So I wouldn’t say Windows Phone caused the shift. You know what did? Sinofsky leaving, Windows 8 being a failure, Windows Phone failing to gain significant traction, and then Ballmer leaving.

They basically had to start working together. And it’s cool to see.

Here are a few more things that caught my eye. There are long discussions about the “hamburger” menu, three lines appearing at top left of many new apps where it is hard to reach if you are using the phone with one hand:

Don’t get me wrong, this is clearly a tradeoff. Frequently used things have to be reachable, even one-handed. But hamburgers are not frequently used, and one-handed use is not ironclad. Combine those two factors together and you see why the industry has settled on this standard. It wasn’t random.

From a developer perspective, the key insight here is that hamburgers are not frequently used. In other words, do not design your app so that users will have to reach constantly for the hamburger menu. Reserve it for stuff that is only needed occasionally.

Why is Microsoft appearing to prioritise iOS and Android over Windows, for example with Office?

When Ballmer saw the iPad version of Office, he reportedly said something like "you’re killing me." It was so fucking good. Way better than anything on any other platform. It leveraged a bunch of iOS stuff in a really good way, but it was still "unmistakably Office," as they say.

Ballmer knew it was good. And he knew the company’s other efforts were years and years out. And he iced it. Because his mentality, and what I’d call dogma, was that Windows had to be first. At all costs.

Good riddance. It was an outdated philosophy.

… The way Microsoft wins the long term war is to remind people where they’re strong. And no, it’s not through withholding Office on iOS. Not anymore. The ship sailed on Ballmer’s watch

I would love to know the date when Ballmer “iced” Office for iPad.

What was wrong with the design of Window Phone?

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple, he said he was going to save the company by reminding people of Apple’s sex appeal. He described colored plastics and technology as fashion. And the board thought "uh-oh, this guy is going to drive us into a ditch."

But from "Bondi Blue iMacs" and "OS X has an interface you just want to lick" you’ll notice their design went more and more subdued over the last 15-20 years. It’s because you need to shock people at first, then you get back to being more practical.

Metro had to shock people. It had to look like its own thing. And it did that really well. Pivots, panos, big text, black everywhere, it looked like art. And more than that it looked different. Something to witness. Steve Jobs even gave kudos to the Windows Phone design team! He said something like "I mean, it’s still clearly a v1, but it’s really beautiful." And he was right.

So what would I change?

Well. The interaction models, honestly. The pivots and the panoramas are a nightmare in day to day use. They’re as distinct as a Flower Power iMac, but it painted the interaction models into a corner.

In another post, there is a discussion of the difficulty with the back button. “when back is good, it’s good. But when it’s bad (from a user experience standpoint) it’s really bad.”

Here is another insight:

The stark look of Windows Phone seemed to turn off more people than fell in love with it. I know here in this forum we’re all fans but in the mainstream marketing was only one problem. Apps was another. But the biggest one was lack of relevance. People didn’t understand why they should care. A lot of people said it looked like a nice phone, but it wasn’t for them.

Despite the criticisms, the ex-Microsoft designer (who now works for Twitter) is optimistic, saying “I do have a lot of hope for Universal apps. It’s not a magic bullet, but given enough time for the system to mature, and the business support, and new initiatives, I see rosy days ahead.”

Microsoft may be well positioned for “the next big shift”:

Look beyond just Windows. Just make amazing software. Get back some relevance that was lost. 2) Of course keep competitive with hardware, and keep improving WP. 3) Then, a few years out, when the market experiences another big shift (it’s not a matter of if but when) I suspect MS’s strength as a multi-OS developer + cloud leader will help Windows regain a ton of relevance

Fascinating stuff, though note the disclaimer:

I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m one designer and I don’t work at MS anymore.

Microsoft financials show robust performance, Office in transition to subscription, both cloud and server growth

Microsoft released its financial results yesterday, for the quarter ending September 30th 2014. It was a good quarter in most respects, though consumer Windows and Windows Phone licensing are weak.

Good news outweighs bad though, particularly the company’s success in transitioning Office customers from perpetual licences to subscription, even in the consumer market. It also seems to be performing some magic in the server segment, growing both cloud and on-premises revenue, a trick CEO Satya Nadella attributes to the “unique hybrid and private cloud capabilities that are built into our Servers”.

Here is the segment breakdown, if you can make sense of Microsoft’s segments:

Quarter ending June 30th 2014 vs quarter ending June 30th 2013, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Gross margin Change
Devices and Consumer Licensing 4093 -391 3818 -102
Computing and Gaming Hardware 2453 +1044 479 +274
Phone Hardware 2609 N/A 478 N/A
Devices and Consumer Other 1809 +255 312 -12
Commercial Licensing 9873 +262 9100 +295
Commercial Other 2407 +805 805 +531

A few notable stats.

Devices and Consumer licensing is weak, in line with the PC market, a decline in Office consumer review (these figures exclude Office 365), and a 46% decline in Windows Phone revenue – the non-Nokia licensees.

Surface Pro 3 is a hit and brought in revenue of $908 million, “twice the [sales] rate of Surface Pro 2”, according to CFO Amy Hood. The gross margin on Surface is “positive this quarter”, said Microsoft, though it is undoubtedly negative over the lifetime of Surface.

2.4 million Xbox consoles were sold (including 360 as well as Xbox One), and overall revenue is up 58%; a decent performance considering that Sony’s PlayStation 4 is generally outselling Xbox One.

Windows Phone: Nadella reported “modest growth driven by sales in Europe, where we gained share with lower priced devices”. 9.3 million Lumias were sold overall. Non-Lumia devices are expected to decline; Microsoft is not interested in this business, though it said sales were “in line with the market for feature phones.” No mention of the mis-conceived Nokia X.

Devices and Consumer Other is where Office 365 consumer revenue lives. There are now over 7 million consumer subscribers and it grew 25% over the previous quarter (most comparisons are year on year). Microsoft’s ability to shift customers to a cloud-based subscription model is key, especially as more of them run Office on an iPad or Android tablet.

Windows Server, System Center and SQL Server grew revenue again; revenue from server products overall is up 13%

Cloud – Office 365, Azure and Dynamics – delivered revenue up by 128%. Nadella added in the webcast that a “major Azure service or feature” is added every three days.

From a financial perspective, Microsoft has an advantage over cloud rivals Amazon and Google, in that its customers are more likely to purchase licenses for products like SQL Server along with the commodity-priced cloud infrastructure.

A key comment from Nadella: “Our premium services on Azure create new monetization opportunities in media, data, machine learning, advanced analytics and enterprise mobility.”

Aside: Microsoft created its online slide deck using a beta PowerPoint add-in called Office Mix, which I had not seen before. It creates a video from a powerpoint deck, with the ability to insert audio, video and interactive content like quizzes, as well as screen capture. Then you can upload it to the cloud. It is mainly aimed at education, but might also be useful for, say, journalists doing product review.

Coding Office for cross platform: Microsoft explains its approach

At last month’s @Scale conference in San Francisco, developers from a number of well-known companies (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox and others) spoke about the challenge of scaling applications and services to millions or even billions of users.

Among the speakers was Igor Zaika, Distinguished Engineer in the Microsoft Office team, and the video (embedded below) is illuminating not only as an example of how to code across multiple platforms, but also as an insight into where the company is taking Office.

Zaika gives a brief résumé of the history of Office, mentioning how the team has experienced the highs and lows of cross-platform code. Word 6.0 (1993) was great on Windows but a disaster on the Mac. The team built an entire Win32 emulation layer for the Mac, enabling a high level of code reuse, but resulting in a poor user experience and lots of platform-specific bugs and performance issues in the Mac version.

Next came Word 98 for the Mac, which took the opposite approach, forking the code to create an optimized Mac-specific version. It was well received and great for user experience, but “it was only fun for the first couple of years,” says Zaika. As the Windows version evolved, merging code from the main trunk into the Mac version became increasingly difficult.

Today Microsoft is committed not only to Mac and Windows versions of Word, but to all the major platforms, by which Zaika means Apple (including iOS), Android, Windows (desktop and WinRT) and Web. “If we don’t, we are not going to have a sustainable business,” he says.

WinRT is short for the Windows Runtime, also known as Metro, or as the Store App platform. Zaika says that the relationship between WinRT and Win32 (desktop Windows) is similar to that between Apple’s OS X and iOS.

Time for a brief digression of my own: some observers have said that Microsoft should have made a dedicated version of Windows for touch/mobile rather than attempting to do both at once in Windows 8. The truth is that it did, but Microsoft chose to bundle both into one operating system in Windows 8. Windows RT (the ARM version used in Surface RT) is a close parallel to the iPad, since only WinRT apps can be installed. What seems to be happening now is that Windows Phone and Windows RT will be merged, so that the equivalence of WinRT and iOS will be closer and more obvious.

Microsoft’s goal with Office is to achieve high content fidelity and consistency of functionality across all platforms, but to use native UX/UI frameworks so that each version integrates properly with the operating system on which it runs. The company also wants to achieve a faster shipping cycle; the traditional two-year cycle is not fast enough, says Zaika.

What then is Microsoft’s technical strategy for cross-platform Office now? The starting point, Zaika explains, is a shared core of C++ code. Office has always been written in C/C++, and “that has worked out well for us,” he says, since it is the only language that compiles to native code across all the platforms (web is an exception, and one that Zaika did not talk much about, except to note the importance of “shared service code,” cloud-based code that is used for features that do not need to work offline).

In order for the shared non-visual code to work correctly cross-platform, Microsoft has a number of platform abstraction layers (PALs). No #ifdefs (to handle platform differences) are allowed in the shared code itself. However, rather than a monolithic Win32 emulation as used in Word 6.0 for the Mac, Microsoft now has numerous mini-PALs. There is also a willingness to compromise, abandoning shared code if it is necessary for a good platform experience.

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How do you ensure cross-platform fidelity in places where you cannot share code? The alternative is unit testing, says Zaika, and there is a strong reliance on this in Office development.

There is also an abstraction layer for document rendering. Office requires composition, animation and touch APIs on each platform. Microsoft uses DirectX on Win32, a thin layer over Apple’s CoreAnimation API on Mac and iOS, a thin layer over XAML on WinRT, and a thinnish layer over Java on Android.

The outcome of Microsoft’s architectural work is a high level of code sharing, despite the commitment to native frameworks for UX. Zaika showed a slide revealing code sharing of over 95% for PowerPoint on WinRT and Android.

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What can Microsoft-watchers infer from this about the future of Office? While there are no revelations here, it does seem that work on Office for WinRT and for Android is well advanced.

Office for WinRT has implications for future Windows tablets. If a version of Office with at least the functionality of Office for iPad runs on WinRT, there is no longer any need to include the Windows desktop on future Windows tablets – by which I mean not laptop replacements like Surface 3.0, but smaller tablets. That will make such devices less perplexing for users than Surface RT, though with equivalent versions of Office on both Android and iOS tablets, the unique advantages of Windows tablets will be harder to identify.

Thanks to WalkingCat on Twitter for alerting me to this video.

Office, Azure Active Directory, and mobile: the three pillars of Microsoft’s cloud

When Microsoft first announced Azure, at its PDC Conference in October 2008, I was not impressed. Here is the press release, if you fancy a look back. It was not so much the technology – though with hindsight Microsoft’s failure to offer plain old Windows VMs from the beginning was a mistake – but rather, the body language that was all wrong. After all, here is a company whose fortunes are built on supplying server and client operating systems and applications to businesses, and on a partner ecosystem that has grown up around reselling, installing and servicing those systems. How can it transition to a cloud model without cannibalising its own business and disrupting its own partners? In 2008 the message I heard was, “we’re doing this cloud thing because it is expected of us, but really we’d like you to keep buying Windows Server, SQL Server, Office and all the rest.”

Take-up was small, as far as anyone could tell, and the scene was set for Microsoft to be outflanked by Amazon for IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and Google for cloud-based email and documents.

Those companies are formidable competitors; but Microsoft’s cloud story is working out better than I had expected. Although Azure sputtered in its early years, the company had some success with BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), which launched in the UK in 2009: hosted Exchange and SharePoint, mainly aimed at education and small businesses. In 2011 BPOS was reshaped into Office 365 and marketed strongly. Anyone who has managed Exchange, SharePoint and Active Directory knows that it can be arduous, thanks to complex installation, occasional tricky problems, and the challenge of backup and recovery in the event of disaster. Office 365 makes huge sense for many organisations, and is growing fast – “the fastest growing business in the history of the company,” according to Corporate VP of Windows Server and System Center Brad Anderson, speaking to the press last week.

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Brad Anderson, Corporate VP for Windows Server and System Center

The attraction of Office 365 is that you can move users from on-premise Exchange almost seamlessly.

Then Azure changed. I date this from May 2011, when Scott Guthrie and others moved to work on Azure, which a year later offered a new user-friendly portal written in HTML5, and Windows Azure VMs and web sites. From that moment in 2012, Azure because a real competitor in cloud computing.

That is only two years ago, but Microsoft’s progress has been remarkable. Azure has been adding features almost as fast as Amazon Web Services (AWS – and I have not attempted to count), and although it is still behind AWS in some areas, it compensates with its excellent portal and integration with Visual Studio.

Now at TechEd Microsoft has made another wave of Azure announcements. A quick summary of the main ones:

  • Azure Files: SMB shared storage for Azure VMs, also accessible over the internet via a REST API. Think of it as a shared folder for VMs, simplifying things like having multiple web servers serve the same web site. Based on Azure storage.
  • Azure Site Recovery: based on Hyper-V Recovery Manager, which orchestrates replication and recovery across two datacenters, the new service adds the rather important feature of letting you use Azure itself as your space datacenter. This means anyone could use it, from small businesses to the big guys, provided all your servers are virtualised.
  • Azure RemoteApp: Remote Desktop Services in Azure, though currently only for individual apps, not full desktops
  • Antimalware for Azure: System Center Endpoint Protection for Azure VMs. There is also a partnership with Trend Micro for protecting Azure services.
  • Public IPs for individual VMs. If you are happy to handle the firewall aspect, you can now give a VM a public IP and access it without setting up an Azure endpoint.
  • IP Reservations: you get up to five IP addresses per subscription to assign to Azure services, ensuring that they stay the same even if you delete a service and add a new one back.
  • MSDN subscribers can use Windows 7 or 8.1 on Azure VMs, for development and test, the first time Microsoft has allows client Windows on Azure
  • General availability of ExpressRoute: fast network link to Azure without going over the internet
  • General availability of multiple site-to-site virtual network links, and inter-region virtual networks.
  • General availability of compute-intensive VMs, up to 16 cores and 112GB RAM
  • General availability of import/export service (ship data on physical storage to and from Azure)

There is more though. Those above are just a bunch of features, not a strategy. The strategy is based around Azure Active Directory (which everyone gets if they use Office 365, or you can set up separately), Office, and mobile.

Here is how this works. Azure Active Directory (AD), typically synchronised with on-premise active directory, is Microsoft’s cloud identity system which you can use for single sign-on and single point of control for Office 365, applications running on Azure, and cloud apps run by third-parties. Over 1200 software as a service apps support Azure AD, including Dropbox, Salesforce, Box, and even Google apps.

Azure AD is one of three components in what Microsoft calls its Enterprise Mobility Suite. The other two are InTune, cloud-based PC and device management, and Azure Rights Management.

InTune first. This is stepping up a gear in mobile device management, by getting the ability to deploy managed apps. A managed app is an app that is wrapped so it supports policy, such as the requirement that data can only be saved to a specified secure location. Think of it as a mobile container. iOS and Android will be supported first, with Office managed apps including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Mobile OWA (kind-of Outlook for iOS and Android, based on Outlook Web Access but delivered as a native app with offline support).

Businesses will be able to wrap their own applications as managed apps.

Microsoft is also adding Cordova support to Visual Studio. Cordova is the open source part of PhoneGap, for wrapping HTML and JavaScript apps as native. In other words, Visual Studio is now a cross-platform development tool, even without Xamarin. I have not seen details yet, but I imagine the WinJS library, also used for Windows 8 apps, will be part of the support; yes it works on other platforms.

Next, Azure Rights Management (RMS). This is a service which lets you encrypt and control usage of documents based on Azure AD users. It is not foolproof, but since the protection travels in the document itself, it offers some protection against data leaking out of the company when it finds its way onto mobile devices or pen drives and the like. Only a few applications are fully “enlightened”, which means they have native support form Azure RMS, but apparently 70% of more of business documents are Office or PDF, which means if you cover them, then you have good coverage already. Office for iOS is not yet “enlightened”, but apparently will be soon.

This gives Microsoft a three-point plan for mobile device management, covering the device, the applications, and the files themselves.

Which devices? iOS, Android and Windows; and my sense is that Microsoft is now serious about full support for iOS and Android (it has little choice).

Another announcement at TechEd today concerns SharePoint in Office 365 and OneDrive for Business (the client), which is getting file encryption.

What does this add up to? For businesses happy to continue in the Microsoft world, it seems to me a compelling offering for cloud and mobile.

A close look at Word for the iPad. What is included and what is missing?

I have been having a closer look at Word for iPad. This has limited features compared to Word for Windows or Mac, but how limited?

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So far I am more impressed than disappointed. Here are some of the things that Word on the iPad does support:

Spell check with support for a range of languages including Catalan, Cherokee, two variants Chinese, Icelandic and many more.

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Tabs including left, center, right and Decimal

Paragraph styles – with some limitations. There are a range of common styles built in, such as Normal, No Spacing, Heading 1, 2 and 3, Subtitle and so on. If you edit a document including a style not on the list, it will be formatted corrected and the style is preserved, but you cannot apply it to new text.

Text boxes. You can do crazy stuff with text boxes, like word-wrapping around angled text.

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Dictionary. Select a word, hit Define, and a dictionary definition appears. You can manage dictionaries, which seem to be downloaded on demand.

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Tables. People use tables for things like formatting minutes: speaker in left column, actions in right, and so on. They work fine in Word on iPad. You can insert a table, type in the cells, and select from numerous styles including invisible gridlines.

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Track changes. You can review changes, make comments,suggest new text, approve changes made by others, and so on.

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You can change the direction of text by 90°.

You can edit headers and footers.

You can insert page numbers in a variety of formats.

You can use multiple columns. You can insert page breaks and column breaks.

You can change page orientation from portrait to landscape.

Shapes are supported, and you can type text within a shape.

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Text highlighting works.

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Bulleted and numbered lists work as expected

Footnoting works.

Word count is available, with options like whether to include footnotes, plus character count with or without spaces.

Pictures: you can insert images, resize, stretch and rotate them (though I have not found a crop function) and apply various effects.

Overall, it is impressive, more than just a lightweight word processor.

What’s missing?

So what features are missing, compared to the desktop version? I am sure the list is long, but they may be mostly things you do not use.

One notable missing feature is format support. Desktop Word supports OpenDocument (.odt) and can edit the old binary .doc format as well as the newer .docx (Office Open XML). Word for iPad can only edit .docx. It can view and convert .doc, but cannot even view .odt. Nor can you do clever stuff like importing and editing a PDF. Here are a few more omissions:

  • No thesaurus.
  • No equation editor.
  • No character map for inserting symbols – you have to know the keyboard shortcut.
  • Paragraph formatting is far richer in desktop Word, and you have the ability to create and modify paragraph styles. One thing I find annoying in Word for iPad is the inability to set space above or below a paragraph (let me know if I have missed a feature)
  • Academic features like endnotes, cross-references, index, contents, table of figures, citations.
  • Watermarks
  • Image editing – but you can do this in a separate app on the iPad
  • Captions
  • Macros and Visual Basic for Applications
  • SmartArt
  • WordArt
  • Templates
  • Special characters (you need to know where to find them on the keyboard)
  • Printing – I guess this is more of an iPad problem

Office for iPad versus Office for Surface RT

If you have Microsoft’s Surface tablet, would you rather have the equivalent of Office for iPad, touch-friendly but cut-down, or the existing Office for Surface RT? I took a sample of opinion on Twitter and most said they would rather have Office for iPad. This is Office reworked for tablet use, touch friendly in a way that desktop Office will never be.

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Then again, Office on Surface RT (VBA aside) is more or less full desktop Office and can meet needs where Office for iPad falls short.

If Microsoft is still serious about the “Metro” environment, it will need to do something similar as a Windows Store app. Matching the elegance and functionality of the iPad version will be a challenge.

I typed this on the iPad of course, using a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard. I would not have wanted to do it with the on-screen keyboard alone. However for the final post, I moved it to Windows (via SkyDrive) in order to use Live Writer. Word on the Surface has a Blog template I could have used; another missing feature I guess.

Microsoft has exceeded expectations. This would sell well in the App Store, but you need an Office 365 subscription, making it either a significant annual cost, or a nice free bonus for those using Office 365 anyway, depending on how you look at it. The real target seems to be business users, for whom Office 365 plus Apple iPad (which they were using anyway) is now an attractive proposition.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella introduces Microsoft Office for iPad, talks up Azure Active Directory and Office 365 development

New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has announced Office for iPad at an event in San Francisco. Office General Manager Julie White gave a demo of Word, Excel and Powerpoint on Apple’s tablet.

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White made a point of the fidelity of Office documents in Microsoft’s app, as opposed to third party viewers.

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Excel looks good with a special numeric input tool.

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Office will be available immediately – well, from 11.00 Pacific Time today – and will be free for viewing, but require an Office 365 subscription for editing. I am not clear yet how that works out for someone who wants full Office for iPad, but does not want to use Office 365; perhaps they will have to create an account just for that purpose.

There was also a focus on Office 365 single sign-on from any device. This is Azure Active Directory, which has several key characteristics:

1. It is used by every Office 365 account.

2. It can be synchronised and/or federated with Active Directory on-premise. Active Directory handles identity and authentication for a large proportion of businesses, small and large, so this is a big deal.

3. Developers can write apps that use Azure Active Directory for authentication. These can be integrated with SharePoint in Office 365, or hosted on Azure as a separate web destination.

While this is not new, it seems to me significant since new cloud applications can integrate seamlessly with the directory already used by the business.

Microsoft already has some support for this in Visual Studio and elsewhere – check out Cloud Business Apps, for example – but it could do more to surface this and make it easy for developers. Nadella talked about SDK support for iOS and other devices.

Microsoft hardly mentioned Android at the event, even though it has a larger market share than iOS. That may be because of the iPad’s popularity in the enterprise, or does it show reluctance to support the platform of a bitter competitor?

Microsoft is late with Office for iPad; it should perhaps have done this two years ago, but was held back by wanting to keep Office as an exclusive for Windows tablets like Surface, as well as arguments with Apple over whether it should share subscription income (I do not know how that has been resolved).

There was also a brief introduction to the Enterprise Mobility Suite, which builds on existing products including Azure Active Directory, InTune (for device management) and Azure Rights Management to form a complete mobility management suite.

Nadella made a confident performance, Office for iPad looks good.

What is coming up at Build, Microsoft’s developer conference next week? Nadella said that we will hear about innovations in Windows, among other things. Following the difficulties Microsoft has had in marketing Windows 8, this will be watched with interest.

Office 2013 Home and Business requires a Microsoft account to activate, a nuisance for Office 365 users

A small business contacted me with a perplexing problem related to Office 2013 and Office 365. The scenario looks like this:

  • All their staff have Office 365 E1 accounts (for small and midsize businesses)
  • They normally buy laptops with Microsoft Office. That would normally be the OEM version or more recently the Product Key Card (PKC) equivalent. This is licensed only for the PC on which it is first installed.
  • Since they already have Office, purchasing the more expensive Office 365 subscription (£9.80 vs £5.20, or £55.20 extra per user per year) which includes desktop Office is poor value (update: see comments for more notes on this option).

With me so far? Now comes the moment when a new member of staff joins, for whom a new laptop is purchased. They buy with it the closest equivalent to the Office 2010 Product Key Card, which is Home and Business 2013, this guy:

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Note the designation Home and Business, indicating that it is fine for business use.

Next, they set up the laptop for Office 365 and install their new Office 2013. Only there is a problem. Office Home and Business cannot be activated without a “Microsoft account”. You might think that an Office 365 subscription counts as a “Microsoft account” but it is the wrong kind: it is an “organizational” account in Microsoft’s jargon, which is a subtly different creature. The Office 2013 purchase is then tied in to some extent to that account.

Specifically, the normal way to install is to go to http://www.office.com/setup. When you do, you enter the supplied product key, following which the unavoidable next step is to sign in with a Microsoft account.

Another feature of Office Home and Business 2013 (again different from Office 2010) is that there is no way (that I know of) to install it other than via Click and Run, which uses application virtualisation. Personally I prefer the non-virtualised install, after experiencing problems with previous versions of Click and Run. Maybe these are fixed now, maybe not, but this choice has been removed.

You can also install from a DVD as discussed here, if you download the DVD image from Microsoft. Unfortunately this is still a click-to-run install, and still requires a Microsoft account. You can enter the product key when invited to activate, but the process will not complete without logging in online. If you sign into Office 365 instead, you get an error. I also spotted this message:

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It says, “You’re currently signed in with an organizational account. To view or manage any consumer subscriptions you may have purchased, please sign in with your Microsoft account.” This intrigues me, since if you have purchased a perpetual product called “Home and Business” you might imagine that is it neither consumer, nor a subscription.

There are a couple of problems with the requirement for a Microsoft account. One is that the business does not want the employee to start using features like Skydrive which are attached to any Microsoft account other than Office 365. Another is that the employee may leave, and the laptop transferred to somebody new. With the old Office 2010 PKC, which did not require a hook to a Microsoft account, that was a smooth transition. Office is licensed for the laptop, not the individual. The new Office 2013 is still licensed only for one laptop, but also has some sort of relationship to an individual Microsoft account, which will be a nuisance if that person leaves the company.

You can overcome these problems by purchasing a volume license for Office 2013 instead. The ideal product is Office Professional Plus. You can install it without using click-to-run and it does not require a Microsoft account to activate. But you guessed: this costs more than double the cost of Home and Business 2013. The approximate ex-VAT cost in the UK is £150 for Home and Business, versus £375 for Professional Plus.

The dependency on a Microsoft account is not clear on Microsoft’s site. The specifications for Office Home and Business are here. It says:

Certain online functionality requires a Microsoft account.

True; but in this case the product cannot be activated at all without a Microsoft account. It is useless without it.

The workaround is to give in and create a Microsoft account just for the purpose of activating Office. Of course you need an email address for this, though apparently (taking this from the above referenced discussion) you can activate up to 10 Office 2013 installs with one Microsoft account.

Once activated, there is no problem that I am aware of with using the product with Office 365.

It is still messy, since that Office install is forever linked with the Microsoft account you use, even though it is intended for use with Office 365.

Taking a wider perspective, it also seems to be that there may be purchasers who want to use Microsoft Office in part because (unlike, say, Google apps) it does not require online sign-in. They may prefer not to have a Microsoft account. With Office 2010 that was easy, but not with this new edition, and I am not seeing this spelt out in the product descriptions. Once you get it home, you will spot this on the packaging:

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Considering the complications of using Home and Business 2013 with Office 365, it looks like the best option is to upgrade to the Office 365 subscription type which includes desktop Office, but that is a heavy financial penalty for a business that has already purchased Office for all its laptops.