Maybe you’ve heard the stories about swank city nightclubs where only celebrities and the pretty people (and anyone willing to slip the bouncer a C-note) made it past the velvet ropes. 

That’s what the tech world used to look like — an exclusive club, where only a few vendors could get their foot in the door.

And aside from it being kind of unfair, the big guys called the shots, leaving users no choice but to work the way the big vendors wanted them to. It was pretty much the opposite of user-centric IT.

That’s far cry from where we are now — which leads to this week's news.

On Wednesday, Box, Citrix ShareFile, Dropbox and Egnyte all made announcements that real-time co-authoring with Office Online is now available for all documents stored on their services. What this means for you — if you work in Office Online and store your files with one of these cloud storage providers — is that you can now collaborate with your co-workers or business partners without having to leave the services.  

Who Got Left Out of the Party?

The co-authoring feature was first made available behind the Microsoft wall, where customers only had the choice of SharePoint online or OneDrive to store their content. Last year Microsoft made it possible for Office users to save their files directly (from the Office menu) to Dropbox and later to Box. 

What’s different about this week’s co-authoring announcement is which vendors it includes and which it excludes.

While it's no surprise that Box, Citrix ShareFile and Dropbox, with their large customer bases, made the first-to-market list, it’s notable that Egnyte, a much smaller but scrappy vendor, got in on the action too. 

It’s also worth asking why some of the other top-rated vendors from Gartner’s Magic Quadrant and Forrester's Wave for EFSS (can you say Accellion, Syncplicity, VMWare AirWatch) aren’t here too. Didn't they get an early invite? Did they not have the resources to build the capability? Was it first come, first serve?

It’s curious.

Everyone Can Play

It’s worth noting that the core Microsoft-related capabilities that EFSS providers are building probably won’t be all that exclusive over the long haul. In fact, Microsoft is inviting everyone to its Cloud Storage Partner Program (CSPP) so that cloud storage providers can connect their services to Office Online and Office for iOS (other mobile vendors to come). It will be interesting to see if Google participates.

“We want Office to be the preferred way to work with documents no matter where they’re stored,” Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for the Office division wrote in a blog post last year.

The barrier, if there is one, is will vendors want to, or be able to, spend the time and money needed to build the integrations.

Microsoft also offered its CSSP partners the opportunity to tightly integrate with Office for iOS. According to Microsoft:

“This integration lets users designate these partner cloud services as 'places' in Office, just as they can with Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox. Users can now browse for PowerPoint, Word and Excel files on their favorite cloud service right from within an Office app. They can open, edit or create in these apps with confidence that their files will be updated right in the cloud. Users can also open Office files from their cloud storage app in Office, and then save any changes directly back to the cloud. We’ll follow with other mobile platforms later this year.”

Dropbox was the first to deliver on this capability, then came Box. Citrix ShareFile, Edmodo and Egnyte are expected to deliver soon.

Check Your Inbox

And finally, Box and Dropbox users are expected to be among the first who will be able to attach or link the files they want to send from their cloud storage service to Outlook.com.

We can’t say it enough: Microsoft wants to be wherever its users are and, in this case, that means making it seamless to access, collaborate and store their Office files from wherever they are being stored.

It’s a strategic move for Microsoft, for EFSS providers, and a win for their mutual customers.