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.