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Using Office 365 and Office Web Apps for a Project – Reflections

Over the past couple of weeks I have been reviewing the findings from an internal SharePoint-based Proof of Concept run by one of my clients during 2013. These guys are really serious about getting it right, and have written up a substantial set of lessons learned. It is a privilege to be associated with such clients, and to have an opportunity to cast my eyes over their work and provide some feedback. Anyway, we have been “eating the dogfood” and using a team site on Office 365 for sharing documents, PowerPoint decks, and conversations.

A couple of comments:

1. Congratulations to Microsoft for the very good support of Safari on the Mac in Office 365. I have had no problem logging in, opening the team site, accessing and downloading documents, and submitting new documents into the document library. It’s all been very seamless, and almost invisible. In order words, it has just worked. I like that.

2. Having documents and presentations open by default in a Web browser using Office Web Apps has been pretty cool. I haven’t had to download them to review what my client has shared. And since my client is updating the documents and presentations while I’m reviewing them, being able to have the latest version always available in the document library is very helpful. We are not getting out of sync because of poor practices around versioning. When I needed to edit one of the presentations, a quick click in Safari turned the presentation from read mode to edit mode, all without downloading the file to my computer. It was seamless.

3. Using the SharePoint Newsfeed – which allows @Mentions of people in the project – is a great way of bringing together the documents we are sharing and the status updates as we work through the project. I have used the Newsfeed to ask questions of the other members of the team, and they have used the Newsfeed to reply and signal when they have uploaded new items for my review. I know Microsoft has the option of replacing the Newsfeed with a Yammer feed for a SharePoint team site, but for our current needs, the SharePoint-based Newsfeed is working a treat. I like seeing a site that is “self-documented” – meaning that you can see the documents and files at rest plus the conversation that shows life is happening.

4. One member of the team shared a Microsoft Project file. Since there is no Office Web App for Project, the Project file downloaded to my Mac. A quick search of the Mac App Store found the Seavus Project Viewer, which opened the Project file with almost 100% fidelity (it didn’t show some of the task coloring). I would have preferred there to be an Office Web App actually … and hope that does eventually make its way into the Office 365 and SharePoint worlds. I know Microsoft has emphasized the Word / Excel / PowerPoint trio, plus OneNote, but this individual would like to see a wider net being cast.

Good job Microsoft. I’m proud of how far you have come with SharePoint. Keep it up.

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