After the upbeat Muzak dimmed and before the gourmet sandwiches were released, Microsoft made the case for what CEO Steve Ballmer persistently referred to as "the modern office," as he introduced Office 2013 and Office 365.
What is in the modern Office? Default cloud storage, touchscreen capabilities, social features (courtesy of their recent acquisitions, Yammer and Skype), video conferencing with collaborative note-taking, effortless portability across devices and more intuitive Excel analytic options.
"This is the first Office designed from the get-go to be a service," said Ballmer, roaming around the small stage like a caged animal, "This is the most ambitious release of Microsoft Office that we've ever done." Ballmer said that his life has now migrated completely to these cloud-based products: "I have no phone, no paper, no whiteboard."
Thing is, it's not as clear anymore that the modern office needs Office: A Wall Street Journal story today noted Google was snagging "one third to one half of new corporate users that are paying for Web-based software." Office is Microsoft's most profitable division, so this is a problem.
In response, Microsoft aims to realize many long-held dreams of a computer-driven work environment: no paper being a big one. There was a murmur amongst those who had been testing the new Office that the new functions "changed my life," as one attendee told another over the sandwich table.
But changing interfaces and adding cloud-y features and social networking is a lot easier than changing behavior. After all, we've had the option of not printing things out for a long time, as well as the ability to bring laptops or tablets, not pen and paper, to meetings. And yet, these things persist in the modern office. It's perhaps telling that Ballmer emphasized one group of Office users in particular early in his presentation: students. They make up around one-third of all Office users, he said, a point that he never really returned to. Perhaps Microsoft is hoping that the children are the future. But even with all the modernizing it's done to Office — adding touch (though perhaps poorly), cloud storage and social networking — it's not any more clear today than yesterday that future includes working in Office.