Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Nov. 30, 2016, in Bellevue, Washington.
Stephen Brashear | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Microsoft said at its online-only Ignite conference on Tuesday that it will release a new Office application called Loop that people can use to collaborate on projects.
The effort shows Microsoft is attempting to provide more value to Office subscribers, which will start paying higher prices next year. That should boost financial results for the world’s most highly valued public company.
Microsoft’s Office subscription bundles already come with Word and Excel, where people can be co-authors on text documents and spreadsheets. And the SharePoint tool gives workers online hubs for accessing relevant files. Loop promises a modern alternative, which is important because Microsoft’s core productivity software increasingly faces pressure from well-funded start-ups such as Airtable, Coda and Notion, which aren’t weighed down by proprietary file formats.
Emerging productivity software from those companies can handle content creation, but they’re lacking in communication, said Jared Spataro, a Microsoft corporate vice president. Workers can share Loop elements in Teams text conversations. Users can quickly discuss Loop projects by kicking off voice or video calls in Teams, which has grown to more than 250 million monthly active users following the onset of Covid-19, he said.
“Essentially what we’re doing with Loop is we’re blowing up the document,” he said.
The combination of communication and creation is more well suited to hybrid work configurations, where not everyone is located in the same physical space, Spataro said. That’s important now that the pandemic has pushed many organizations to adopt remote work at a greater scale. Cisco’s Webex, Salesforce’s Slack and Zoom have all developed enhancements to better accommodate hybrid work.
Microsoft’s Loop shows where people’s cursors are located as they view and contribute to pages.
Loop contains three elements:
Components. Multiple people can simultaneously read and contribute to these miniature documents. Drawing on the Fluid Framework technology that Microsoft first talked about in 2019, Loop components can appear in multiple Microsoft applications. They’re coming first to OneNote, Outlook and Teams, starting this month. Components stay up to date across different applications, so people don’t have to worry about sharing the latest version of a file.
Microsoft has developed ready-to-use Loop components for voting on ideas and tracking the status of projects, and the company said a Loop component could also be as robust as a customer record drawn from the Dynamics 365 cloud service for tracking sales opportunities. Third-party developers will be able to build Loop components, too.
Pages. These are full-on documents in which people can type text, enter reactions and find related Loop components, links and documents. The user interface shows other users’ cursors to give a sense of what people are doing in the document right at a given moment, similar to the redesigned Whiteboard digital brainstorming app in Office.
Workspaces. These are areas where people can check progress on shared initiatives and enter reactions, as a casual hub for project management. People can reach multiple pages from a workspace.
Even though Loop promotes the presentation of information across various programs, Microsoft will provide a dedicated Loop application where people can quickly get to Loop content. The idea for the app came from Microsoft employees who were using Loop components internally and realized it was hard to locate and organize them, Spataro said.
Microsoft will begin a preview of Loop’s application, workspaces and documents in the first half of next year, Spataro said.