The Future for Microsoft Office

Gone are the days of using a single device to get our jobs done; the number of devices we use to get our work done daily is multiplying. As I write this, I am watching my CEO work at his standing desk from the next unit of computing (NUC) computer, with a touch-screen, and then head off to a meeting with both his laptop and his iPad mini pro. Each of these devices can do just about anything you can do on a standard PC. We can look at the iPad and the iOS 11 updates to further this point: Apple introduced the new macOS-style dock, the new multitasking capabilities, and brand-new system-wide drag-and-drop gestures for files and apps—these updates elevate the iPad out of the simple tablet class and into a touchscreen PC.

Microsoft appears to be envisioning the Office experience in the same way. Microsoft wants you and your content and your applications to be available wherever you are and on whatever device you are using in a way that is consistent and familiar to you. You should be center stage in the Office experience. How is Microsoft planning to achieve that?

By introducing a new cloud app model, Microsoft plans to embrace web standards and technologies to give users this flexibility and consistency across Office and across devices of their customers’ choosing. Classic extensibility models will still be fully supported in the new Office—this means VBA code, COM add-ins, and VSTO solutions will continue to work—but Microsoft is encouraging vendors to make the switch. Some of this encouragement came in the form of an announcement earlier this year:

“Starting October 13, 2020, Office 365 ProPlus or Office perpetual in mainstream support will be required to connect to Office 365 services.”

With this statement, Microsoft is saying that any organization that uses any Office 365 service will have to stay on the latest version of Office starting in 2020. That presents a challenge for companies like law firms with hundreds of add-ins. Law firms that have or are looking to migrate to Office 365 are potentially taking on additional risks with their vendors by moving to this platform. These vendors solutions are often necessary, so what do you do? For firms that have already moved, simplifying add-ins and buying from a consolidated source will be more important than ever. Some vendors in this market have been historically troubled with keeping up-to-date with the older Microsoft model. Finding vendors who are equipped to work at these new speeds and consolidating for better vendor management will be critical to successful desktops deployments.

Microsoft did pump the brakes a bit at their annual Office Ignite conference with the announcement of Office 2019:

“Cloud-powered innovation is a major theme at Ignite this week. But we recognize that moving to the cloud is a journey with many considerations along the way. Office 2019 will be a valuable upgrade for customers who feel that they need to keep some or all their apps and servers on-premises, and we look forward to sharing more details about the release in the coming months.”

In their announcement, it would appear Microsoft understands that not all of their customers are ready to make a move to the cloud. This new perpetual software release will likely have a full 10-year support cycle and give customers an opportunity to continue planning their move to cloud-based images and looking for true SaaS vendors with the benefit of some newly-added capabilities that have already hit the Office 365 model.

In the end, Office 365 and its agile development cycle that introduces new capabilities every six months is the future for Microsoft. Office 2019 buys us a little bit of time, but conversations with vendors about how they are addressing this shift should start happening now.

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