One of the key planks of Microsoft meeting the challenge presented by online services like Google Docs is their cloud based Office365.
The success of Office365 is important as Microsoft Office makes up a large chunk of the 24 billion dollars in sales, and $15 billion dollar profit, the company books from its Business Division.
Coupled to this threat is also the move from personal computers to smartphones and tablet devices which Microsoft hope to meet with their Window 8 operating system, Surface tablet computer and Windows Phone.
As part of the Australian TechEd 2012 Conference, Microsoft gave a hands on preview of the Office 365 running on a Windows 8 tablet which was a good opportunity to see how both software packages worked.
Office365 is very similar in layout and function to Office 2010 – if you’re using earlier versions of Office, particularly Office 2003, then you may find the ribbon bar and changed menus hard to navigate at first.
Integration with Microsoft’s Skydrive is good and seamless. A nice feature in this is how a user can setup multiple Skydrive accounts as separate drives. How well this works while on the road will have to be tested away from a controlled environment like the one at the TechEd meeting rooms.
The touch screen functions are fairly hard to get used to and they don’t work particularly well with fat fingers which Microsoft attempts to overcome with providing a stylus.
Another complexity is that the menus and touch screen functions aren’t consistent across applications. The handy ‘pinch’ gesture to zoom on Windows 8 doesn’t work on the Office applications on the tablet which is a shame and is also a bit irritating for power users.
Office365 adds a range of other features like web publishing, video editing and IT management tools but the hands on demo didn’t give enough time to properly evaluate these aspects.
The first thing that jumps out with Windows 8 is the basic interface isn’t intuitive. The tile based system is difficult to use if you’re used to a keyboard and mouse or mobile systems like Apple iOS and Android.
Another worry is the Windows 8 interface – or “Metro” as it was known – uses different applications to the desktop version. The problem with this was illustrated when trying to run a video on the device as the Internet Explorer in the Windows 8 interface was a different version to that on the desktop so videos would run in one mode, but not on the other.
This confusion between software versions is a recipe for user confusion, lost data and possibly even a security weakness. It’s surprising that having effectively two operating systems running on the device was considered to be a good idea.
Looking under the hood at the Control Panel, the Windows NT heritage of Window 8 becomes apparent. Anybody used to tinkering with the settings on Windows XP, Vista or 7 systems will have no trouble finding their way around the new version.
Overall the performance of Windows 8 was impressive. It’s quite fast and responsive and this is something that Microsoft’s demonstrators are proud of.
The surprising thing was the Windows 8 system was running on a Samsung tablet with still no ship date for the Windows hardware.
With Christmas approaching, Microsoft are running out of time to compete in the tablet market and it seriously raises questions on whether the Surface tablets were prematurely announced.
The experience with Office365 on the Windows Tablet was satisfactory although the demonstration showed there’s some barriers to adopting tablets as the main work computers.
Office 365 shows the strengths Microsoft have in the market, if Microsoft can get their tablet strategy right then they have a good product to compete with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.
Time will tell if they or their hardware partners can get products that customers want onto the market.
Paul travelled to TechEd and stayed at the Gold Coast as a guest of Microsoft Australia.