Very Quick Office Reaction: Getting the Cloud Wrong
I’ve just spent about half an hour playing with the new Office 2013 preview, so obviously this is a very preliminary reaction. There will be a lot more to say in coming weeks and months. But I do think that in its understandable enthusiasm to bring Office applications to the cloud, Microsoft has made a fundamental mistake.
I very much like the idea of syncing copies of documents to the cloud. But I want first and foremost to retain a local copy, especially when working on a laptop rather than a tablet. Here’s how I do it now: My Office apps are set to save files by default to the Documents folder on both Windows and Mac. The Documents folders, along with its many subfolders, is set up to sync automatically with SugarSync and the non-tablet systems that I use regularly are set up for full two-way sync; when I upload a new or updated document from system A, that same document is silently, but quickly, downloaded to system B. This gives me up-to-date local and cloud copies. (You can do something similar with other sync services such as Dropbox, but I have been using SugarSync since it was in beta.)
The new Office apps save by default only to CloudDrive, meaning that no permanent local copy of the file is created (a temporary file is created to save any changes made while not connected to the network.) This makes sense on Windows tablets, though not as much sense as it does on a iPad, which lacks a real user-accessible file system. It makes no sense whatever on a laptop. You can easily override the default setting to store files locally, but then you have to manually create a cloud copy. Based on lots of experience, for reasons of both security and availability, I want that local copy.
What a really want from CloudDrive integration is something that works like SugarSync and automatically saves locally and syncs to the cloud. In fact, it could usefully go a step further and check before opening a local copy to see if there is a newer version on CloudDrive and give you the choice of which one you wanted to edit. This wouldn’t be hard to implement and would provide a much better experience.