New Thoughts, New Links, New Microsoft


It wasn’t the biggest news of the week. But anyone who paid attention to the recent announcement by Microsoft, a deal that will integrate Dropbox into Office, sees a new way the company is run by Satya Nadella.

For the decades it was run by Bill Gates and Steven Ballmer, Microsoft saw little reason to support non-Windows gear, a spirit generally shared by its rivals. As Microsoft and its competitors, Apple and Google, have tried to create clouds for consumers and small businesses, they have kept the opportunities narrow. Google wants its applications to use Google Drive. Apple favors Apple iCloud. And Microsoft supports OneFile.

For PCs and Macs, this is not much of a problem for Microsoft applications. Cloud systems, such as Google Drive or Dropbox, are easy for Office apps to treat in Windows 7 as though they were drives that then are listed as available for applications. You can do it in Windows 8.1 too, though you have to contend a bit with its integrated favor to OneDrive.

Apple and Google are actually less cooperative with other storage efforts. It’s possible to get Pages and other Apple software to work on files with cloud tools other than Apple iCloud though it is a bit tricky to learn. Google Docs, though, is downright hostile to anything other than Google Drive; you can make it work, but it’s a lot of fuss.

The problem of Windows and Macs, however, is very simple compared to phones and tablets. Because straightforward access to file storage is impossible with iOS and discouraged on Android, offering links between applications and cloud storage other than that presented directly by the operating system is difficult. This can create all sorts of problems when trying to share information among the users of disparate devices, say Android phones, iPads, Windows 8 PCs (including tablets), and Macs.

And the world is changing. Microsoft knows better than to expect Windows users to be committed solely to Windows phones and Windows tablets rather than Android and Apple products. That’s why the actions of Microsoft and Dropbox–the favorite independent provider of cloud storage–is important. “In our mobile-first and cloud-first world, people need easier ways to create, share and collaborate regardless of their device or platform,” said Nadella. “Together, Microsoft and Dropbox will provide our shared customers with flexible tools that put them at the center for the way they live and work today.”

Microsoft would prefer its customers use OneDrive as a cloud service to connect Windows PCs and iPads, but it is a service considerably more clumsy than Dropbox. And OneDrive is really only satisfactory for combining Microsoft apps, while Dropbox is happy to provide storage and  delivery for any application. Personally, I find I rarely use either OneDrive or Google Drive (the latter for anything other than Google Docs apps that give you no choice) rather than Dropbox.

Microsoft says Office 365 versions for both iOS and Android will be available in the “next several weeks”. A version to support Office Online, the web-based version, expects to have Dropbox service in the first half of next year.

Published by

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

16 thoughts on “New Thoughts, New Links, New Microsoft”

  1. I’m not sure File browsing is discouraged on Android. Each and every Android gizmo I’ve ever owned and handled had a file browser, usually LAN- and Cloud-aware too, ie with direct access to files on your servers and dropbox/gdrive/… Most users shun them though, instead launching the right app for the right content, and avoiding that wonderful Linux directory structure, which makes Windows’ feel grokable in comparison.

    1. That’s why I described the situation as “impossible” on iOS and “discouraged” on Android. File access is not part of Android’s standard ability and you would be amazed by how few Android owners install a file-management app to deal with it.

      1. Just because ‘most’ users shun the file system does not mean that it’s not integral to either iOS or Android. Both are *nix based systems where ‘everything is a file’. At least Android makes theirs accessible.

        1. You say that like it’s a clear improvement. But, the vast majority (99.9%) of users have no need to see the file system. For most users access to the file system is just something that will confuse them or another point of failure. This is not a missing feature, Both Google and Apple made the conscious decision to actively work to keep users out of it.

          1. You know…’most people’ aren’t surgeons either. Should we impede surgery?

            Computer’s can be classified as ‘general purpose’ or ‘appliances’. I submit to you that ‘general purpose’ is more ‘personal’ precisely because it doesn’t matter what ‘most people’ do.

          2. When cars first became fuel injected people complained that they could not change the fuel air mixture. But, all they actually needed to do was optimize it and the fuel injector did the job. Access the file system is similar, no one needs to do it, all they need is access to their files.

            Access to the file system is a feature. The engineer mindset says, users want features, but as a trainer I can tell you that features are evil. More features = more complexity. This both limits the potential audience and slows usage (even for power users). If you add a button or a settings page, you’re making the application or OS more challenging and adding another point of failure. Good design involves making decisions for users, great design is when you don’t have to teach someone.

          3. But all cars are allowed to run on all public roads…

            Still, we are correctly debating access to the file system, it is no less integral to either iOS or Android, as my comment above pointed out.

            Features and access, and ease of use, are not mutually exclusive. You can have default settings that hide system files, for instance. Even Windows does that. Good design is how suited something is for it’s purpose, not the complexity. If you take the trouble to learn, it can be quite rewarding. Locking things down like this not only impedes power users, but impedes people from becoming power users.

            I understand your point of ‘not having to teach’. It’s not without merit. That requires the designer to exercise their right to build what they want. This is by necessity a form of self-censorship (not a negative). When a designer leaves out things the device can otherwise do, this censorship becomes more of an issue. Among other things it diminishes some benefits of ‘ownership’ over the device.

            But I digress… There is nothing wrong with an ‘appliance computer’. Our cars, televisions, and toasters are appliance computers. Mobile phones and tablets that are more general purpose, are inherently more ‘personal’ and more like a PC, thus more versatile, than those that aren’t. Want to keep your music library on an SD card, and move it between appliances? You can. Want to buy the least expensive memory configuration and repurpose that card? You can. To those that don’t, they can just continue to use the devices as supplied.

          4. Could we please drop this silly notion of ‘power users’? What you really mean is people who want to tinker with their device. The people I know that dig their Apple gear and have Masters and PhDs in Computer Science are the real power users. Or the person in a recording studio integrating the iPad into his or her workflow. Or the person making a short film on an iPhone. And so on. These are the real power users getting real work done.

            You use terms like ‘power users’ and ‘appliance computers’ in a desperate attempt to paint Apple products as ‘less than’ and Apple users as ‘less than’. But the reality is that Apple products are used by many ‘power users’ to do many very complex jobs.

          5. The OP said power users and I was answering to that.
            IMO Apple mobile devices ARE less than they are capable of being.
            Tinkering is but one aspect. But don’t worry, I have it on very good grounds that PhD’s also use toasters and choose not to tinker with them. 🙂

          6. Actually not all cars are allowed to drive on public roads, only the cars each state allows. My point was it is NOT an integral feature. Being able to access files is. The same can be said about Removable storage. Being able to easily transfer files is what users are really trying to do. Users can still get the same jobs done only the unsafe ways of doing things are gone, that’s a win.

  2. I too agree that Dropbox integration seems like a very good move by Microsoft.

    Although many suggest that this is a *new* Microsoft, I prefer to see it as getting back to its roots. Microsoft supported Macs from the very beginning, even when they had a very successful MS-DOS platform. They continued to support Macs even after they released Windows 95.

    After Windows became a wild success, I think Microsoft may have forgotten what is important. To quote Steve Jobs on the Microsoft deal, 1997;

    If we want to move forward and see Apple healthy and prospering again, we have to let go of a few things here. We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose. We have to embrace a notion that for Apple to win, Apple has to do a really good job. And if others are going to help us that’s great, because we need all the help we can get, and if we screw up and we don’t do a good job, it’s not somebody else’s fault, it’s our fault. So I think that is a very important perspective. If we want Microsoft Office on the Mac, we better treat the company that puts it out with a little bit of gratitude; we like their software.

    I’m hoping that Microsoft focuses on doing a really good job, and does a lot of similar partnering to get there.

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