Software

Microsoft continues move to the cloud with new online-only Office features

Easing enterprise collaboration, Microsoft has added a chat feature to OneDrive and Office 365 but shunned the desktop version. There may be a good reason.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/ Rawpixel Ltd

Microsoft continues to push the benefits of a modern mobile collaborating workforce by adding new features to Office 365. One of the key principles of collaboration is the ability for individuals, groups, and teams to effectively communicate with each other. That is why, building upon technology developed for Skype for Business, Microsoft has released a feature that allows co-editors to chat with one another directly within a OneDrive for Business document when working in Office Online.

But perhaps the most telling thing about this announcement is the fact that the feature is limited to the online versions of the Office productivity suite.

Chat it up

The mechanism for accessing the chat feature from an online document is about as straightforward as it can get. Simply click the chat button located on the far right of the menu. That chat button will be there no matter which of the online applications you happen to be using for your collaboration.

Clicking the button will open a separate chat window on the right-hand side of the document. The chat app appears to be fairly standard and should not present much of a learning curve for the collaborators.

The chat will not be saved once the session is over, so if anything noteworthy is revealed during the online chat, someone should copy the text to the Windows clipboard and paste it somewhere it can be saved.

See:Microsoft Office 365: The smart person's guide

Online only

From a Microsoft strategy and marketing standpoint, the addition of built-in chat functionality for OneDrive for Business is not really all that remarkable. However, the fact that this feature is only available for online Office apps is very telling.

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Image: Microsoft Office blog

As Microsoft continues to add new features supporting its conviction in a mobile collaborating workforce, it also seems to be concentrating those features on the online apps of Office 365 rather than the standalone desktop apps. If you believe collaboration is the key to the modern enterprise, this strategy makes sense. Employees cannot communicate or collaborate unless they are all connected online.

But beyond the obvious reasons for concentrating new features in the online Office apps, Microsoft also seems to be trying to wean enterprise customers off the standalone Office desktop apps completely. Adding new features almost exclusively to the online apps may be just subtle and gradual enough to make the transition almost painless. Only time will tell.

Bottom line

Microsoft continues to add new features and enhancements to Office 365 on what appears to be a monthly schedule. Subscribers to Office 365 should be pleased and feeling satisfied that they are getting their money's worth.

However, those new features are increasingly designated for the online version of Office 365 only. This trend suggests that Microsoft is trying to move the enterprise market toward a day when all productivity software will reside online exclusively. While such a day could be beneficial to enterprises overall, it would also be a day when enterprises are dependent on service providers like Microsoft for just about all their productivity needs.

Before we reach that point in history, it is important for enterprises to start weighing the pros and the cons of a productivity software-as-a-service environment before it is too late to have any choice in the matter.

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About Mark Kaelin

Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

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