Last week I was invited to a press event in San Francisco, where Steve Ballmer was going to share some exciting news. I of course thought for sure it would be the release of the next wave of Office products and as I arrived at the event, my suspicions were confirmed as I was greeted with a sign that proclaimed “Welcome to your Modern Office.”

It wasn’t long before the attendees were registered and ushered through several set ups that included a living room, kitchen and classroom on our way to the theater.With music booming and internet connections dragging we all eagerly awaited to hear the details.

Intuitive Office: Focused on the Customer

Steve Ballmer arrived on the stage and began to talk to us about the next generation of Office.This isn’t just a release he proclaimed, but instead a whole new generation of Office with a whole new goal in mind -- making the user productive no matter where, when or on what device.As I sat listening to Steve I first thought to myself that this all seems like some great marketing hype, but then as I watched the demos, only one thought came to my mind and that was “That is so easy I could teach my mom!”

Now I know some of you may have mothers that are technical, but mine isn’t, she simply needs the computer to do what she needs it to do when she needs it to be done.The beauty of the demos presented was that the Office products were fine tuned to assist the user on the task at hand in a way that was natural and easy to understand.

Unlike other events that I have attended, this launch was focused on the consumer.Customer examples included a Student from Baylor, a Cub Scout Mom who also doubled as the President of the PTA and then Steve Ballmer.Each of the customers provided comments on how the new Office is changing how they work by providing them common tools that can be used to increase efficiency and productivity.Using OneNote to keep a grocery list or using a Bing News application to add references to a document created in Word.These are all common, everyday tasks for the consumer that are now made easier because of the enhancements made to this release of Office.

Cloud Storage Leading the Change

As we dug deeper into the demos, the glue that seemed to be holding all things together was the combination of the new Windows 8 platform and the use of SkyDrive.Users who were running Windows 8 and were storing their docs on SkyDrive were able to easily move from platform to platform with little thought or effort.

This is the part of the presentation that really got me thinking.The investments that have been made by Microsoft are great, but so will the investments required by users.To take full advantage of these changes, the users will have to embrace change.Things are different in this generation of Office and in order to fully utilize it we will need to accept the changes and adapt our current working mindsets and approaches.The added tools for efficiency are there, but we need to position ourselves to take full advantage of them.Microsoft has finally caught up on many of the things we have been asking for and now it is up to us to embrace the change.

At this time the demos were finished and we were released to grab lunch and pick up our copies of a Windows 8 tablet that would allow us to have some hands on time with the new generation of Office.This surprise was a very welcome one as every rushed to the pickup line.The tablet is a Samsung Series 7 tablet running Windows 8 and the new Office.Also for each attendee an Office 365 site had been pre-configured to allow for immediate access to the newest versions of Exchange and SharePoint.

Demands of the Enterprise

Following the rush to get the tablets a second session started that was focused on the changes within the enterprise.This time the presentation wasn’t broadcast live, but that didn’t impact the quality of the content.We began by discussing how important it was for the organization to retain control of the documents and records within the organization's content.

Enforcing Governance

Since this content can exist across multiple applications such as Documents and Lists in SharePoint as well as content stored in email messages, it is important that it can be managed and maintained across those multiple platforms. After all, governance is meaningless if it is nothing more than a policy declared on a website somewhere.In order for true Governance to happen, the IT organization must be able to train users on proper behavior as well as enforce that behavior.

The demos in this area did not disappoint.When a user typed in information such as a credit card number they were given a warning that what they typed was against policy and would need to be edited before being sent in an email.The user was notified of the policy breech in a way that allowed them to quickly fix the mistake before proceeding with their email.By doing this the user is educated and the policy was enforced.

Learning Opportunities

DIY Apps

The next major piece of the demo was around the applications and the extensibility of the platform.Developers can now build applications that can be consumed within the everyday applications that are used by their organization.Apps can be created and shared in the public app store or within a private app store that is for use within your internal organization.This approach allows developers to get the appropriate data to the users within the context that they need to work with the data.

The Social Side of SharePoint

Finally, to wrap it all up the demo went Social and highlighted the power of the updated SharePoint My Site.Social has a whole new meaning in this release of the product and I can’t wait to dig deeper!Finally, a solution that is all about me!How I work and what I need, exactly when I need it.Time will certainly tell if this approach is all it is claimed to be, but judging from the demos we are leaps and bounds beyond what is available in the current release.

Some of the demo highlights included the ability to follow entire sites on my personal feed as well as aggregate tasks from the various sites and sync them to Outlook.By having this ability I can get the content to the location that it makes the most sense for me to manage.And not only does social have the smarts to allow me to follow and track various items, it also has the ability to suggest new content for me based on my activity.This approach will allow me to develop over time a network of content and updates that are relevant to my everyday activities.

To sum up my experience with the launch today, I can say that I am optimistically hopeful.I am genuinely pleased with the approach of consumer first, because let’s face it; we all consume so much technology at home that it must be the same at work or we will consider it inferior and lacking.

I think this approach is going to have a huge impact on user adoption and is really going to drive the use of applications to a whole new level.Users will begin to experience a very customized and focused experience that will help them increase efficiency and productivity.The same way I manage my contacts and schedule at work will be how I manage my son’s little league baseball team.I will be able to work with the CEO of the company using the same tools that I use to collaborate with the PTA leaders.One set of tools that impact multiple areas of my life through enhanced technology.

This is an exciting time for Office and I am so looking forward to jumping in to the next generation of products.Maybe I will even do a few follow up posts to let you know how my mom is doing with the enhanced features available today in the next generation of Office!

Editor's Note: To read more by Jennifer Mason:
-- SharePoint 2010 Composites: Do-It-Yourself Business Solutions