Microsoft are developing and delivering with a "Mobile First, Cloud First" approach. This extends to "Browser First, Cloud First". They are revealing more new features for their online services which will take some time before they appear in their on-premises and on-desktop counterparts, if at all. This can even be said for Office Online, which is quickly catching up with the desktop feature list. The pace of development and release updates and new versions has noticeably quickened. We are also seeing previews of new Online Only features. As this happens, rubber leaves the road, the road changes to runway and roadmaps change to flight plans. Microsoft's Cloud services are taking off. What does this mean? For one thing, I think we need to get familiar with working in your browser first. "Escalate" to desktop software for the complex or less commonly used features. You have the option to open a document on your desktop and work with a richer desktop experience of the Office applications. But "richer" for how much longer? Commonly used features are being released in Office Online at an increasing pace, as seen in these recent blogs.office announcements - Excel Online, Word Online.
The Office Online experience will become richer in a practical, everyday use sense, where you will be able to edit a document quickly in the browser and have less of a reason to open the document locally.
However, some new online-only features will offer a more people oriented, conversational, and easy-to-find experience. Yammer is extending into both Exchange and SharePoint Online. The universal groups will be more user-centric. A group created in your Office 365 portal will create a group in Exchange Online, Yammer and SharePoint Online. Being a member of a group will mean:
- You can communicate with your group and conversation will be accessible from your Inbox, in Yammer and displayed within a SharePoint Online site.
- Dates and events important to the group will be managed from with your Exchange Online mailbox, a SharePoint Online calendar and referenced on Yammer.
- Oslo will simplify search and bring group (and network) interactions, conversations, dates and events, documents together in a readable, searchable place.
But did you notice something? This level of integration is for online-only Exchange and SharePoint. Yammer is and will continue to be online-only. So, in this "Browser First, Cloud First" working environment, what are some of the advantages of working in the browser first?
- Documents are always saved - Start document from the place you want to save it. SharePoint Online, OneDrive and OneDrive for Business. The changes to the document will be saved constantly by Office Online. You won't lose your work.
- Changes are almost instantly available to anyone else who views the document.
- Documents can be shared in-place. Sharing a document with a recipient no longer means they may not have the right software. From within their browser, they have access to the same software; whether it be by Office 365 subscription or the free Office Online.
- Larger documents don't need to be downloaded to be worked on. Working in your browser, you can work faster because you don't have to wait to download.
- Work from anywhere - If Office isn't installed on the device, you can still get on with work.
- Working with others - sharing the document with others from the browser ensures you are all working from the same source. When you send an attachment using email, the second you download a copy, it is disconnected from the source of truth, the original. When you send a link to your document, your recipient opens the source of truth. With Office Online applications becoming richer, your recipient is more likely to review and edit the document at the source, within the browser. Using SharePoint Alerts, you can be notified when your recipient has made changes.
- Conversation about the document - Yammer integration will soon make this possible. Read and reply to conversation about the document from within an Office Online application. Conversation is held at the source, rather than in an email where the attachment is lost as soon as you hit 'Reply'.
The main disadvantage of working using a browser first approach is you need to be online. But a hybrid working approach, using browser / online first and on-desktop second has you covered for all your working scenarios.
Keeping your apps up to date
How does a Browser First, Cloud First direction help apps on a phone or tablet? Let's look at Outlook Web App. The Mobile and Tablet OWA Apps for iPhone, iPad, Android are based on the online experience. New features are pushed straight to app because the code for the browser is used with the device app. You don't need to update the app as often. Every consuming device - browser and apps, will get the same update. Jeremy Chapman and Steve Chew discussed this during The Garage episode filmed during MEC, "New user experiences with Groups, Attachments and Office 365 mail."
What does this mean for Windows Phone? Windows Phone 8.1 is in the wings with some very useful changes to mailbox features such as a new calendar view. But might we also see an OWA app for Windows Phone? Or do we get that same encapsulation of mailbox data that we do with OWA app on the iP's and 'Droids, that makes a remote wipe leave the users data, photos etc and just wipe the mailbox?
OWA from Windows Phone 8.1 is an OK experience, but dare I ask it, will we see it too offer more? The hints are there with the presence of Office Apps and a default app "My Templates" where you can create and store pre-canned responses. A Windows Phone OWA app might better position itself for Yammer integration and Universal Groups too, not to mention faster updates to software and features.
We are like plane spotters at the end of a runway at the moment. We see the plane taking off and we have an idea of where it's heading. I feel the child-like excitement as I hear the engines roar and the plane pass over my head. The Browser First, Cloud First approach is the platform for many rapid and manageable changes. It allows more possibilities for inter-connection, with people and other online services. Roadmap becomes Flight Plan. Where to now?