This week, Microsoft is launching the latest version of its Office suite. These 3 year release cycles seem alien to us given that our apps are typically updated at least once a month. In case you are considering upgrading to Office 2010, you might want to give online alternatives a try. Our friends at Google listed several reasons not to upgrade to Office 2010.
As Microsoft evolves its Office suite and moves online (finally), we see a new phase in the evolution of Office suites - Componentization. For the past five years, we have seen Office suites evolve from desktop application suites to online application suites, and Zoho has been at the forefront of this transformation. Now, we are leading the way again in taking the office suites to the next phase of its evolution.
Desktop to Portable Music Players
An analogy best makes this point. Not so long ago, we saw the evolution of music players from desktop models to portable models. We see these music players now becoming components of our mobile phones and several other devices. I'd compare MS Office to that old desktop music player. Web Apps like Zoho and Google add portability plus a lot more which can be compared to portable music players. The next step: Office apps becoming components within other apps.
Office suites traditionally have been standalone applications that are independent from other business applications. While there is clearly value in this, we think their usage and their impact on users' productivity will be significantly higher when they are contextually integrated within other business applications and workflow.
Avoiding Context Switch
For example, if you are working on a project and want to create/edit documents related to the project, you currently have to quit the 'Project Context' and move to the 'Office Context' to create/edit documents. This context switching is expensive. When an Office suite is contextually integrated into a project management application, you'll be able to work on your documents within your project management system without leaving the 'Project Context'. This significantly improves productivity, especially when you consider numerous times we context switch every day. For something like this to happen, Office Apps can no longer be standalone as they are today. They have to be componentized and have to be part of user's workflow.
We previously talked about contextual integration and avoiding context switch. This componentization of Office apps enables such contextual integration. In fact, a report from Forrester (subscription required) lists 'tools not integrated into processes' as the biggest challenge for MS Office - pointing to the lack of contextual integration in MS Office.
Interesting thing is, most of the challenges mentioned above are addressed by online apps. Even the componentization I have been talking about is an inherent benefit of online apps.
Contextual Integration of Office Apps
We not only preach this concept, but we are integrating our Office apps into our own business apps (check out Projects integration,CRM integration, Recruit integration, etc). We opened the same APIs we use internally to our partners, allowing them to integrate our powerful Office applications within their apps, and many partners did take advantage of these APIs.
Let me illustrate this concept of componentization and contextual integration of Office apps with the work of one of our partners - CentralDesktop. Our friends at CentralDesktop did a tight integration of our spreadsheet application into their collaboration app, contextually providing a spreadsheet app, offering a seamless experience to the user.
In the CentralDesktop screenshot above, the spreadsheet section is served by Zoho, but the data is coming from CentralDesktop's servers. Multiple users can collaborate on a spreadsheet within CentralDesktop's collaboration application, and when they save the spreadsheet, it is saved back to CentralDesktop's servers (and not Zoho's servers). In fact, users need not even have a Zoho account to do all of this. This is a great example of how a partner can contextually integrate our productivity apps, making them part of the workflow. We have several other partners integrate our apps in interesting ways.
At Zoho, we believe this approach will deliver productivity gains and the path Office apps will follow. Our team has been at work for months now componentizing our Office apps and making them easy to integrate. As Microsoft begins its journey into the online office space, we pave the way to the next phase of Office apps evolution.