Despite the coronavirus pandemic putting large gatherings on hold, Microsoft Build – the technology giant’s annual developer conference – went ahead this week, albeit virtually.
The company announced numerous new features for the future of its operating system, Windows 10, including a search-bar similar to Spotlight on Apple’s computers and “Fluid Office” – a competitor to Google’s suite of online office applications such as Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
Fluid Office is currently available as a preview, and works akin to a version of Microsoft Office content that exists on the web.
This contrasts from typical online services in a number of ways. Google Docs, and to a lesser extent Apple’s Pages, let users create a document or table that can be shared in its totality quickly and easily via a link or through downloading the file.
Fluid Framework, however, is focused on people creating components of documents – such as text, tables, lists, and graphs.
These components can be updated and editable at any time, no matter where they are created or how they are shared. These can then be incorporated into other Microsoft products, such as Teams (its collaboration platform and Slack competitor).
In order to attract someone’s attention to a component that has been created, Fluid workspaces have ‘recommended’ lists and the ability to tag someone through what Microsoft calls “@mentions”.
Microsoft is hoping that this infrastructure will become the future of workplace collaboration. The Fluid preview and, it can be assumed, future versions of the software is currently available on the latest version of all major browsers: Microsoft Edge, Apple’s Safari (but only on Apple computers), Google Chrome, and Mozilla’s Firefox.
Fluid Framework will also be open source – which means that it can be studied, changed, and distributed to anyone and for any purpose – so that “developers and creators to use key infrastructure from Fluid Framework in their own applications,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365 in the announcement. As such, third-party developers will soon be able to make applications that work with Fluid.
While the roll-out will take time, it will begin with the web versions of Office and Outlook before eventually coming to Teams later in the year. Eventually, Fluid will be compatible with all Office programmes including Excel, Word, and Powerpoint on the desktop.
As well as its new framework, Microsoft also announced developments for Teams including customisable templates, more manageable chatbots, and the ability to add custom applications to Teams with a dedicated button.
Outlook is also receiving new features including text predictions, which Google’s Gmail has had for two years, while Microsoft Edge is receiving sidebar searching (so you can search without opening a new window) and automatic profile switching. The latter will be a useful feature for those who use Edge for both work and personal browsing, as it will automatically switch to your work profile when it detects a link you’re trying to open needs specific credentials.
Finally, Microsoft is introducing new tools to PowerToys, its free system utilities, including “PowerToys Run”, a searchbar which allows users to quickly access system tools like the registry or the startup utility settings, while also letting you remap keys and search for files.
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