Microsoft Unveils Office App With Search, Social Features

Microsoft Corp. is unveiling a new Web-based Office application that uses search and social data to display a user’s most important files and projects, seeking to boost sales and fend off competition.

The app, code-named Oslo, has versions for Windows 8, the Internet and mobile devices, including those based on Apple Inc.’s and Google Inc.’s software for smartphones and tablets, Jeff Teper, a Microsoft vice president, said in an interview. The first Oslo programs, probably for Windows 8 and the Web, will be available in the second half of 2014, he said.

Microsoft wants to move more customers to cloud-based versions of its Office productivity software, which are delivered via the Internet, in order to boost growth and fend off similar applications. Cloud programs are sold as subscriptions, providing more regular sales compared with the cycle of customers buying a version of Office every few years, said Mark Moerdler, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

“On the corporate side, they have a belief they can significantly differentiate the Microsoft offering from others with search and social features,” Moerdler said. “They want to make Office massively more interactive.”

The product incorporates features from two Microsoft acquisitions: The 2012 purchase of Yammer Inc., which provides social-networking tools for companies, and the acquisition in 2008 of Norway’s Fast Search & Transfer ASA, a search technology developer. The Oslo code name is a nod to the Norwegian unit’s team.

Office Graph

Instead of opening Outlook, Word or Excel, users of the new app will have a dashboard of projects and files they’re working on, as well as topics they should know about and those popular among co-workers. Oslo will also let users search by categories, such as “modified by me,” “shared with me” and “trending around me.” Clicking on a colleague brings up not just that person’s manager, peers and direct reports, but others working on projects across an entire company.

Underlying Oslo is what Microsoft is calling the Office Graph, an idea similar to the social graph, a term popularized by Facebook Inc. for the depiction of personal relationships, said Adam Pisoni, the Yammer co-founder who is now a Microsoft vice president. The Office graph would act as a repository of data culled from a user’s social relationships and actions. Microsoft will also open up the data so other business-software developers can create apps that can exchange such information between Office and their programs.

With the Office unit now part of the same business as Microsoft’s Bing search, future versions of Oslo will integrate Web-search data from Bing, said Teper. Microsoft is still working on pricing and will begin testing the software with a few chosen customers in the next month or so, Teper said.

“Don’t think of this as the version of Word you’ve got on your machine,” Teper said. “It’s a really new experience for how the office should work.”

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