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Jim Burton leads a conversation among the UCStrategies experts about Microsoft's announcements of July 16, 2012. The discussion includes Blair Pleasant, Dave Michels, Phil Edholm, Kevin Kieller, Michael Finneran, Don Van Doren, and Art Rosenberg.
Jim Burton: Welcome to UCStrategies Industry Buzz. This is Jim Burton and I am joined as usual by a group of the UCStrategies experts. Today we are going to be talking about the announcement Microsoft made about Office, which of course includes Lync. Not a lot of discussion about Lync at the announcement. However, in follow-up conversations they are officially releasing or announcing Wave 15. There are a lot of components to Wave 15, and pretty exciting stuff in that, even though they didn’t make a lot of those announcements.
I’m going to do something unusual today. I’m going to talk a little longer than I usually do because I was at the announcement yesterday. After me, I will have Blair Pleasant, who was also at the event, talk about her observations. But I kind of want to start off in some general terms.
When Vista came out I started moving all of my family to the Mac platform. And I eventually moved myself to the Mac platform. I just felt that Vista wasn’t an experience I wanted to deal with, and I have been very pleased and very excited about working with a Mac and really never saw any reason to move back. Another point I’d like to make is that when the iPad first came out I bought one as fast as I could because I thought this would be great to take this as a device I carry with me when I travel. Unfortunately, it did not do a very good job of dealing with the things that I use all the time, which are PowerPoint and Excel spreadsheets. Yesterday, Microsoft was kind enough to give all of us a new tablet that was loaded with Windows 8 and with the new Office version. I got a chance to play with it last night. It also came with a keyboard and a mouse, which I thought was pretty interesting. I’ve got to tell you, I could use this as my only device to travel with. It has great flexibility, even with not using the external mouse or keyboard, it really has a lot of capabilities, so I could do a spreadsheet; I could do a PowerPoint presentation as I’m traveling.
It really got me to thinking this is something that I am actually going to evaluate whether I switch back from the Apple platform to the Microsoft platform, because I think there is an opportunity for them to win some of that business back.
There are so many things that went on in the announcement, and I could try to grab all of those, but I am going to turn it over to Blair and then to my fellow colleagues to talk about their observations. So Blair, let me turn it over to you.
Blair Pleasant (2:35): Thanks, Jim. I agree. As a long-time Mac user it will be interesting to see how the tablet works for business applications and like you said, it will be interesting to see if it is a better solution for creating documents than the iPad.
One of the things I liked about the announcements that Microsoft made is that they are finally going social. For a long time I have been saying that SharePoint isn’t really a social tool. It’s okay for collaboration, but I don’t really see it as being a social tool. But now, based on the Yammer acquisition, and some of the changes that they are making in the upcoming product releases, I do see Microsoft really making some headway. SharePoint is going to have this nice user interface that looks a lot like Facebook, and it is going to be very familiar to a lot of us. And you can do things like “Like” and make comments, and a lot of the things that you can do on Facebook. There are activity streams and connections; you can see where people are in an organization. So it is very much very social and it has that nice user interface we are all used to now. I think Microsoft has done a very nice job with it and I’m happy to see that they have made some headway with becoming more social.
As far as unified communications, they are definitely making some headway with Lync and really presence-enabling a lot of things so we are going to see presence capabilities in Word documents and Excel and all the Office applications. Just like Outlook was able to show the presence status of people, now it will be able to do that in all of the Office applications. It’s also easier to share documents. They did a nice demo of SkyDrive, which lets you invite people to view or co-author documents. I wasn’t quite sure about how SkyDrive is going to work in all cases, but it does look like a nice alternative for some things.
Basically, I liked what I saw. The demos were all pretty good. There were a lot of things that weren’t answered. Is the new Office version going to work on the iPad and on the Mac and if so, when? There are a lot of questions that weren’t answered. I do like the demos that I saw. I like the user interface. I like the fact that Microsoft is enhancing Sharepoint to be more social and they are also UC-enabling a lot more of the applications and capabilities. So that’s it for me and back to you.
Jim Burton: Thanks, Blair. That was great. Appreciate your insight. Dave, I know you have been following what Microsoft has been doing. What are your thoughts?
Dave Michels (5:02): Thanks, Jim. I was actually really excited and very interested in what they had to say. My perspective has changed a little bit over the past week just because I recently got the Google Nexus 7 tablet. It opened my eyes to something: the iPad is clearly a superior device to the Nexus 7. It’s got better display, better battery, better app library, etcetera, but I find that I use email heavily, both my personal email and my work-based email, which are both based on Google. And the Google mail experience on the Nexus 7 is far superior on the Nexus 7 than it is on the iPad. It made me realize, as you were pointing out, that it’s not the ecosystem and the device that matters as much as the apps that you use in particular. When it comes to Microsoft Office, certainly most people I know in the entire galaxy are using Microsoft Office. And so I think that there is a lot of potential there for Microsoft to take on the success of the iPad if they use Office correctly.
Now, what I can’t figure out from what they’ve announced and what I’ve seen is exactly how they are going to do that. I’m assuming that the Office experience on the Surface or the tablets that are running Windows 8, will be a superior experience than say, the iPad. But they haven’t really talked about the iPad at all. And they haven’t really talked about what is resident in the app if there even is an app, versus what is in Office 365 and if that just works with a standard web browser. I am trying to figure out how exactly they are going to make the Office experience better on the Windows 8 platform or tablets than on the iPad. I’m sure that is the card yet to be played.
If there is an app, the idea of having a for-sale app of Microsoft Office in the Apple app store, where Apple gets 30 percent of all of that revenue; that might be a bit of a problem for Microsoft. Maybe the app will be severely limited or read only or something along those lines where they can make it free in the app store. But there is just very little information available right now on exactly what is in the app and what is in the cloud, and how they are going to deal with offline access if you don’t have an internet connection at the time, and things like that.
I also got a little confused in their announcement about – they talked a little bit about Skype, and they talked a little bit about OneNote. OneNote isn’t an app that I use very often. I have always considered it more or less a consumer app. I know students use it very heavily; I know there are some professional users of it. I’ve always associated it more with consumer. Even in their demo they kind of showed it being used for shopping lists and stuff like that. I thought it was interesting that they honed in on that and they’ve rewritten that for Windows 8 specifically. I know that Evernote, for example, has been very popular in the business environment and I am wondering if they are going to be repositioning OneNote more into a business app.
And then they made several references to Skype, which really confused me. And I am looking forward to learning how they are going to integrate both into Lync and into Office. For example, they mentioned you can see presence within an Office app, via either Word or Excel through Skype. But they didn’t demonstrate that, or if they did I didn’t understand it. I’m not quite sure if that is a one-way relationship – if you are in Office you can leave somebody on Skype, or if it is a two-way relationship where if you are on Skype you can leave somebody in Office 365 and then how that relates to other Skype services such as video.
So there are a lot of questions that I still have and I’m anxious to learn exactly what Microsoft’s plans are.
Jim Burton: Thanks, Dave. Actually they answered a lot of those questions yesterday during the demos and you ask quite a number of questions that I think are appropriate that we get answers to so that the people who are listening to this podcast can understand where Microsoft came from after that. Rather than me spending the time there may be others who observed the announcement and have some feedback on some of the questions that you raised. If we don’t get those questions answered we will somehow get something out on our website that will in fact answer those questions. Because they did answer every one of the questions that you asked.
Phil, I know that you have some thoughts on the announcement and the positioning of the industry. What are your thoughts?
Phil Edholm (9:40): I think this was obviously a very interesting announcement as Microsoft is prone to do. About every 18 months they come out with an announcement of not just product, but what I would call for a lack of better word, their “direction” as a company and how they see positioning. And there were a few I think within this announcement really key points that I believe over time will be demonstrated to represent not necessarily changes in direction, but call them specific vectoring or directions for Microsoft.
At the top, obviously they are very much looking at how do they integrate between the Office applications and their strength in Office into other parts. Obviously for those of us in the UC space, that really means Lync. One of the things that I think was really clear out of this to me was that Microsoft is beginning an acceptance of the fact that their ecomone in operating systems, while not necessarily coming to an end, is not going to be the same in five years that it was five years ago. The advent obviously of the whole Android environment has really changed that. They are really, I think, looking at Office, which is really for most users the value proposition now, as being the point that they are securing, and how things integrate into Office being the strength of an overall Microsoft solution. I think to my mind that was the really the first point that was significant.
The second was obviously with Office 365, the ability of organizations to seamlessly have users on a premise-based system and in the cloud, and really not have a distinction between those. I think Microsoft definitely directionally and I think in some of those things they announced and showed, are really moving so that there is no user-perceptible difference in how you are being supported. I talked to clients and folks in the industry – the idea of cloud not as a 100% play, but rather as an augmentation to a premise solution to deal with variations in requirements and capacity, is something I think that really is important and they definitely have gotten that.
The third area, I think, is federation. We all talked on a couple of these calls about how Microsoft has been not so necessarily secretly, but quietly, building a federation presence in the industry. Not federation at the IM federation level where you can do some basic IM, but rich federation with rich transfer of information and presence. The Lync federation directory is almost up to 10,000 companies. There is a strong presence there in terms of that. What I saw here, though, was really the other side of the coin – a real drive to integrate the Skype users into that federation. So if you think about Microsoft from the perspective of business federation with Lync, but customer federation, outside federation, with Skype, again, really a focus there.
The final thing really is, I think, an observation of, coming back to the change, Jim, you talked about. Which to me, is the thing that has really changed in the last six months, three months in this industry. If you go back six months ago there was only one company in this industry that had a viable presence in the three compute platforms that people use. People could use a handheld platform that is pocketable i.e.; a smartphone or smart device; a tablet which is a carryable, small, lightweight device; and then a desktop which may in fact be a laptop. And really if you look at it, Apple with iPhones, iPad, and Macs was really the only company that covered those three bases. If you look at the Android world; Android was really good in the smartphone. They moved up into the tablet. Obviously, Microsoft was good at the desktop and had tried a number of times to move down but had not been successful. I think what you are seeing with Windows 8 is a very strong move by Microsoft to actually have all three of those bases covered and actually offer an integrated system.
What that actually does is it brings an interesting fact that they have not talked about just at the operating system level it is really about how they tie that to the productivity applications, the tools you want to use across those three platforms. I think the question that’s going to be really interesting is, does Microsoft decide to limit those tools to those three platforms, or do they follow some of those things they have done in the past and extend those tools also over to other platforms, i.e. the Apple world and the Android world. In any case the combination of those four things I believe gives all of us a real pause to really look at Microsoft and understand how they fit into an overall solution set for a customer, and something you really, I think, have to pay attention to. Thanks, Jim.
Jim Burton: Thank you, Phil. Kevin, I know you have been following Microsoft’s announcement. What are your thoughts?
Kevin Kieller (15:06): Well, thanks, Jim. In some respects it feels like my head is going to explode. I spent last week at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto, which of course was just a fire hose of information, and then certainly yesterday’s announcement. I’m going to suggest there was more information released yesterday than could possibly be digested, specifically with regard to Lync. They released a Lync 2013 server preview, the client preview, as well as a tremendous amount of technical documentation that the Lync community is sorting through as we speak.
From a UC and collaboration perspective, I wrote a NoJitter piece about how Microsoft really continued the federation model. I think what was most significant from a philosophy or direction perspective that Phil speaks about, is really what we have been waiting for is this announcement that Lync is now federated with Skype. That now means that probably there is almost up to a billion people that you can connect to via Skype. They’ve had longstanding federation with the Microsoft messenger, with Yahoo, AOL. Now to be able to share presence, instant messaging, voice and video from your Lync client out to anybody that is connected, the hundreds of millions of people that are connected on Skype, I think, is a fantastic offering. And I continue to believe that Microsoft is certainly working towards... and if they haven’t, they are very close to achieving a critical mass of people who are able to communicate all without incurring costs or really stepping out to the PSTN. As Phil points out, the Lync federation directory is just increasing by leaps and bounds in terms of organizations that support federation or sharing of these different communication modalities if they are running Skype.
The other thing that has been mentioned that I think is incredibly strong and is a strength that I think Microsoft is leveraging, is this increased integration. We are seeing the integration certainly between the Office platform, which is the de facto container for information that is shared and collaborated on. And so now to have Lync and Skype and Office and Messenger and some Xbox integration, although they didn’t focus or show that off yesterday... Then Yammer and the increased focus on the ability to run across multiple devices? I certainly think Microsoft over the last couple of weeks is firing on all cylinders.
What I wanted to drill down on a little bit and I have a post on UCStrategies that will be forthcoming is really to talk about the opportunities that the new Office provides to system integrators and resellers. And really there are four key areas. Certainly Office 365, in combination with the on-premise Office in yesterday’s announcement the boundary between those two I think was almost intentionally blurred. So if you read analyses, people aren’t sure where the app on the desktop starts and stops and where the web app starts and stops. Dave, to your question about the Windows 8 tablet, there absolutely is an Office application that runs on both the Windows 8 arm devices as well as the Windows 8 pro devices that are powered by Intel. But certainly that ability to assist companies in migrating certain users to the cloud is a great opportunity for resellers and systems integrators. So certainly in the hospitality industry, in financial industries that have a lot of branch offices, in retail – anywhere where you have a head office that has perhaps expert knowledge workers and then distributed branch office workers that have the need for the fidelity of documents and that’s why you choose to use Office versus something like Google apps, but you don’t have the need for the full application? I think that resellers and systems integrators through Office 365 have a great opportunity to help their customers look at and plan for the migration to the cloud as appropriate.
Certainly, what we saw yesterday, Microsoft increasingly is showing off their new design language, which is Metro, which is the sleeker interface that was first introduced on the Windows phone, brought to the Xbox now being brought to Windows 8 and incorporated to Office. It is a great new interface, touch centric, but certainly the need for and the opportunity for some great training of existing users. There is certainly, as well, as we saw in the demonstration yesterday from moving from a tablet device up to the 82-inch PPI device, there are new use cases that are supported by Office running on these different devices. I think that is a great opportunity – a great vertical market opportunity for resellers and systems integrators to use those new devices and to package Office and the expertise and the training and perhaps application extensions and bring those vertical market applications.
And really from the developer or systems integrator opportunity, there were some – they didn’t spend a lot of time on it, but there certainly were some mentions of the Office 365 supporting the new Office applications and SharePoint applications that Office 365 users could purchase. Third parties could make available and that they could be integrated into the entire Office experience whether using Office 365 or the on-prem Office. Once again, another marketplace that developers should look at and evaluate the business opportunities there.
And last, I just wanted to make a prediction. Phil kind of was speculating on whether Office or some of the Microsoft applications would be brought to the iPad and Android. Certainly, my bet would be Microsoft will bring minor client applications, so by that I mean things like the Xbox controller application that they have made available on smartphones as well as the iPad. The Lync mobile client, I think we can see that being available as it is on Android, iPad and other platforms and being updated. But certainly for my bet I cannot foresee in the next certainly handful of years Office the full version being available on the iPad or Android. Of course we live in interesting times and we’ll see how that prediction works. Thanks and back to you, Jim.
Jim Burton: Thanks a lot, Kevin. We have a number of other UC experts on the line. Anybody have additional comments you would like to make?
Michael Finneran (22:28): Yeah, Jim, this is Michael Finneran. Just following up on something that Kevin pointed out. What I found most interesting about this is first it was an announcement about Office, which is the franchise for Microsoft, both in the cloud and on a local basis. But the key thing that struck me is the fact that the big focus that I heard them talking about was the user interface, building on Metro, which as Kevin pointed out, was originally introduced for Windows phone. It looks like Microsoft, with this iteration of Office, is trying to look more Apple like. It is key that the interface, the genesis that is coming from the mobile devices. Metro has gotten some decent reviews.
Microsoft seems going in a slightly different direction from Apple and essentially treading the line trying to come up with an interface that works both on the desk and mobile device. That is going to be pretty challenging. In the desktop, where you can have a similar appearance, you don’t have the touch capability. On tablets they are talking about using a stylus; touch on other devices. They seem to be trying to be more Apple-like than Apple. Apple has always had a common user-oriented design scheme but the Mac OSX that you have on desktops and laptops is a way different beast than the IOS experience you have on the tablets and smartphones. Microsoft seems to be taking this a step farther in making the desk and the mobile look even more alike. I think it will be real interesting to see if they can pull it off and really deliver a more integrated experience than what Apple has managed to do. That was my only observation, Jim. So back to you.
Jim Burton (24:00): Great. Well, thank you, Michael. It is a very interesting observation because at the event I was talking to a couple of members of the press and analysts who follow this a lot more closely on the Office side than any of us do. They had a very similar question and observation, wondering, can you have one size fits all and the answer quite frankly they were believing it would be very challenging to have one size fits all, so we we’ll just see how that turns out. Anybody else?
Don Van Doren (24:31): Jim, just one point that was sort of interesting to me. I was busily listening for more information about Lync and also for Skype and of course, what we heard on the call earlier today is that there is going to be some more deep dive briefings on those things coming up next week. One question I’ve got though, first of all, I’m delighted that it looks like they are moving Skype into the business suite of things. That is a great idea, I think. The challenge I think that might come up is whether or not the quality is going to be adequate. My experiences and the experiences of people I have talked to is that Skype is fabulous 95% of the time and then that other 5% where you don’t have quality of service capabilities of course, can cause some problems. I am wondering if that is going to be a gating factor for the adoption of this by businesses. I think it will be interesting to sort of watch how that plays out. Obviously, we have gone through some similar experiences with mobile communications in general and some of the quality issues there. I think it is going to be real interesting to see what is going to happen with Skype and maybe they have got some tricks yet up their sleeve to help address that last two to five percent of the time when it just doesn’t work so well. It will be interesting to see if anyone has any thoughts about that.
Jim Burton (26:02): It is an interesting question and one thing that was very clear yesterday in the briefing on Lync and as well as the announcement about Office when they talked about what was happening with Skype, is that there was never an indication that they were suggesting that enterprises use this for their primary mode of communications. It was a feature so that anybody who was using Lync would have an opportunity to be able to access that individual and have communications through an Office environment and through a Lync environment. But we will have to see, and I think to your point about have the realized how to solve some of the challenges with reliability that some of us face when we are dealing with Skype-type calls?
Kevin Kieller (26:48): I just wanted to chime in on that. I think, to me, and maybe I’m missing the boat, but it is very clear which is Lync supporting federation with Skype means if an organization adopts Lync and certainly as organizations do that, you can provide absolutely reliable voice within the organization’s network. Of course like any VOIP solution it requires that you implement QoS on your WAN and expedited forwarding on your LAN. But I think what it allows organizations to do is, for either for consumers who choose to contact the organization or for organizational employees who choose to communicate to end users that choose and elect to use Skype, it allows them to actually make that communication. And the important distinction there is, if you choose to make a Skype call, like I do, my daughter is spending some time at a summer camp and we choose to use Skype, we recognize that through that choice we may have good quality 95% of the time as Don said, and 5% we have to call back or we escalate and use another mode of communication. I absolutely don’t think Microsoft has any secret software codecs or magic that is going to make the Skype experience better. I think that what they are doing is they are saying, “organizations, if you use Skype, you have more opportunities to be able to communicate with a larger population of people than any other competing platform.”
Jim Burton (28:34): Very good point, Kevin. Thank you. Anyone else have any comments before we close out today’s podcast?
Art Rosenberg (28:41): Yes, Jim. This is Art. The emphasis obviously is on everything working together within an organization, the tools and so on. But I think it’s going to open the door to developing the mobile apps, the self-service applications, that consumers will be using more and more to get information and do transactions. So the combination of Skype being that open, along with the tools being mobile for the tablets and smartphones, is going to create this new generation of mobile apps that everybody is going to be using. There is a lot more of that is going to go on, which is not going to be controlled by the enterprise but it is just going to be more accessible that way.
Jim Burton (29:31): Good point, too, Art. Thank you all. As I mentioned earlier I know there is still a lot of questions out there about Office and how it fits in a number of ways questions that Dave raised. I know there are a lot of questions about how Lync will be evolving with this release. And we will have more of that information available on our website in the next coming days and weeks. Thank you all for a great podcast today.
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