Office and OneNote: Productivity and Beyond

Occasionally I start writing a post and in the early sketches it runs into a whole other topic. When this happens I get whatever is the opposite of writer’s block is. So if I run long apologies.

When Steve Ballmer declared Microsoft a, “Devices and Services”, company it set in motion a shift in focus. It is a shift that has moved applications like Office and Azure to the forefront and Windows into flux. One of the interesting aspects in this change isn’t so much about Office for the iPad or Android, but on possible future services.

Looking at the immediate future I can help but think the next milestone for Microsoft’s services is a mixture of cross platform support and what it does on Windows. Its evident that Redmond wants its services on the platforms people use. They also want these experiences to be compelling. I expect the Android version of Office to be as well done as the one for the iPad. The big question in the near term is about the Office Gemini.

Gemini is the codename for the tablet versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook for Windows tablets and phones. It is an awaited suite by both users and Microsoft watchers. Gemini has to not only be pretty, not only compelling, but full featured enough to satisfy fickle users. The apps also have to work in the mobile context (so featured, but not TOO featured). The importance of these modern programs can’t be underestimated; they show commitment to the idea of Windows as a tablet system. Its also a test for Universal Apps. Its hard not to end this by saying Gemini will make or break Windows (and especially Windows on ARM), but I think I did. (So, no pressure).

Beyond Office there is OneNote which in many ways has always been an app waiting on devices to catch up. I remember college student volunteers giving out OneNote when you got it on a disk (I am old). It was always one of those hidden gems that Microsoft occasionally creates; the kind that develops cult status like the Amiga. I personally think OneNote is one of those applications that fits in the new productivity being espoused by new CEO Satya Nadella. It sits in that spot between work and home. I don’t want to dwell too long on the app, so lets move on to the future.

In my opinion, Office’s future will be one where it goes beyond the big four (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook) and into other areas. The same is true for OneNote; its has a future where its core is used in other applications. If you run with the idea of Productivity that crosses work/home; Office needs to think about how what it does is processed. Some of this will be done by Gemini which will simplify complex apps like Excel (mastering Excel is like mastering Dim Mak).

But it also means putting parts of them into other services. For me the big thing is education or at least reading. Imagine you’re a college student. Part of your life will involve diving into large amounts of data. This could be actual numbers, equations, or articles in periodicals. Given the variety of information you may need it may not all be online. This means by semester’s end, you have amassed two volumes of research that is in folders, a laptop, and maybe a tablet. Now imagine you’re the type of student for which all of this will be turn into a paper in 24 hours before its due (Houston we have a problem). Imagine a book service that makes it easier to move information between not just a tablet or a PC, but between itself and Word or PowerPoint. Imagine a bookstore that could interact with OneNote or even Evernote to better save notes or even citations.

With OneNote I see it going into something similar to Evernote; taking its note taking abilities and applying them in different fields. On the desktop users can use OneNote to record lectures. Now imagine a OneNote recording application, let’s call it Record That, which lets people record lectures, interviews, whatever a user wants. Record That allows a user to have an automatic transcript of the proceedings as well as edit it on the fly. 

Thinking about the future of Office services makes me think they should seriously consider creating a set of apps aimed at kids. In my mind I would call it Encarta, but its goal is to create programs that use Office as a platform for learning art, history, and math. Imagine an Office Math app that helps children visualize equations and problems; create graphs by writing the numbers without worksheets or boxes.

But all this is just a suggestion.

PS: If Microsoft is planning a book store might I suggest using Bill Gates book list as part of the store. Its from Bill so at one or two of these books will be used in a class somewhere.


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