Google has been making a lot of ground in recent months with the addition of lots of new functionality to Google Apps, now called Google Apps for Work.
And Microsoft hasn’t been slouching either. However, Microsoft upgrades have been a little more subtle — and it’s often hard to track what has been added or even what tools you have at your disposable.
But now we have something concrete: Microsoft just announced that it has upgraded the portal page for Office 365, which is being rolled out to current SharePoint and Exchange customers as of today.
The new page will be a welcome addition to users of Office 365 who, depending on their payment plan, have access to a whole list of applications that they have to move between to get work done.
With all suites for all kinds of tasks, be it collaboration, customer engagement, enterprise content management or communications, the ideal has always been to access all the applications from a single place. In fact, some companies have made it a specialty, with the likes of Harmon.ie's Connect product.
It’s all about ease-of-use. But for Office 365 users, the experience has typically been a little too disparate for workers who want to focus on work more than technology.
The new entry page will help solve that problem. The Office 365 team, in a blog post published last night, note what is going to be rolled out now and point to some future changes as well.
Microsoft describes the new entry point as a place where you can access all of your services, downloads and settings and where you can create new and efficient experiences that conform to the realities of your workplace.
Users can access the home page once they sign into the Office 365 portal and click on the logo. If that looks like one click too many for what is to be a home page, be patient. Microsoft plans to change that at some point in the future.
The new home page is not just a place where you can easily access all the services available to you. Customers who are licensed for Office 365 ProPlus can also access the downloads to install the Office applications from this page … Once you have installed the Office applications, the home page displays all your Office 365 online services, providing you with quick access to launch documents and start creating right away," the post explained.
It will also detect automatically the device you are using and will display the appropriate install prompt, whether you are working on a PC or mobile device. It will also even detect, for example, if you are working off of a Mac.
While Microsoft doesn’t say that you have to use this as your home page, it will probably make things a lot easier going forward. Microsoft intends to introduce new services through the home page, as well as use it to offer recent updates and additions. However, for those that don’t want to do this:
You may prefer to use a different start page. Instead of landing on the new home page, you might want to start in Outlook, OneDrive, SharePoint or Yammer. In order to accommodate a variety of start preferences, we’re also providing the ability for you to determine your own default landing page when you sign in to Office 365 via portal.office.com."
It’s a relatively small, but obvious improvement that will make the entire user experience easier for those working across several different applications.
It also falls in with the ‘One’ Microsoft strategy that Steve Ballmer outlined not long before he stepped down as CEO. While Ballmer wasn’t talking specifically about Office 365, he was referring to the disparate way Microsoft has developed over the years and the way its different business and even departments were splintered.
He talked then about streamlining Microsoft, about pulling the different element together and making them operate and work together, about making the business model a lot more efficient.
Current CEO Satya Nadella took up this task when he took over, pulling it into his Mobile First, Cloud First strategy. The new home page is a fit for the whole ‘One’ thing but there is still more to be done.