Developing on Cloud Time

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One of the promises of cloud services is that you always have the latest stuff available. Unfortunately one of the realities of cloud services is that “the latest stuff” can change negatively from what you had when you first signed up, and likewise that “the latest stuff” still isn’t good enough to work with.

I have been thinking about this decision dynamic and the set of implications in respect to some of the recent changes with Office 365, such as:

  • The reversal of intent around “unlimited plans” for OneDrive and OneDrive for Business.
  • The long time it has taken Microsoft to get the next-generation sync client for OneDrive for Business for Windows to market, although it is still not fully ready for prime time (since it doesn’t yet work on Windows 8.1, and the sync’ing of SharePoint document libraries isn’t supported in the new client yet).
  • The long time it is taking Microsoft to get a reliable Mac client for OneDrive for Business to market. Apparently we’re almost there (counting down the days), but not quite.
  • The cancellation of the Enterprise E4 plan, to be replaced by E3 plus add-ons or a more expensive upgrade to the new E5 plan.

Clearly there is also a lot of good stuff happening with Office 365 (for which Microsoft is to be commended), but the backward steps, side steps, frozen steps, etc., are part of the negative commentary. In some ways it pushes the question of whether Office 365 is stable enough for an organization to embrace yet, both in terms of current capabilities, future roadmap promises, and potential future changes of intent. The agility of cloud time development is great, but then so is the stability of non-cloud time development cycles.

At a bigger level, the developmental agility enabled by cloud based services for the frequent release of small and iterative improvements (developing on cloud time), means that what used to be hidden as internal flip-flopping within a three-year development cycle is now public, highly visible, and has far-reaching implications. This is frequently valuable (faster access to new things), but sometimes deeply frustrating too. When Microsoft did longer release cycles, I’m sure all of these same decision cycles, product tests, re-thinking activities, team member holidays, etc., still took place but they were hidden inside the halls and labs of Microsoft, not proclaimed far and wide across the world.

What I’m taking from this is that Microsoft is still learning how to make the concept of Office 365 work. And as those outside Microsoft we’re still learning when it makes sense to embrace something completely and when it is more prudent to hold off and see how things go. The Office 365 Roadmap and the First Release programme are good steps to enable decision making in light of what Microsoft is currently planning on doing, but neither of these programs can shield an organization from Microsoft’s change of intent. And when an organization has built a strategy and adoption approach around a particular capability / feature that is subsequently deprecated, it is … teeth-grindingly annoying.

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