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Meet GigJam: a post-Office productivity tool from Microsoft

Key Speakers At The Microsoft Build Developer 2015 ConferenceKey Speakers At The Microsoft Build Developer 2015 Conference
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.Photograph by David Paul Morris — Bloomberg/Getty Images

Microsoft (MSFT) made a lot of noise Monday about Project GigJam, a proposed service designed to help workgroups collaborate quickly and efficiently across devices and applications. As demonstrated at the company’s partner event in Orlando, GigJam exemplifies one of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s top priorities for the company, namely to “redefine productivity.”

GigJam looks like a screen-sharing application but requires the integration of the underlying applications and data stores so that the right data can be called up at the right time by the right user. So, if a sales team is looking into product orders, a manager can assign various orders to different people on staff for follow up, and each staffer only sees what is relevant to her and then roll all those changes back into the overall project. What’s more, people can control and manage at least some of this process with Cortana voice commands.

According to the blog post outlining some basics about the project:

What’s truly needed is a way for people to spontaneously divvy up the information and actions needed to get work done, to keep track of each part, and bring it all to closure with others.

The underlying service and associated apps will be available for preview sometime in the next few months.

All this is tied to a big shift in technology use. The advent of very simple-to-use mobile consumer apps, which summon a car service, share photos, or book a hotel room with a few button clicks, has forced big changes in enterprise applications where Microsoft has made its name.

People who rely on easy mobile apps in their personal lives, expect similar technology at work. And that is why Microsoft, which was late to the mobile party, is under the gun. Products like the Microsoft Office powerhouse, which dominated the desktop computing era, face a critical test now that more people use their smartphones more, even as their primary device at work.

Office is jam-packed with features and functions, and is therefore quite bulky. Some, in fact, see its feature richness as one of its biggest problems. Most people use a tiny fraction of Word or Excel features and when they do need to do something new, finding the right feature can devolve into a scavenger hunt across several menus.

So with Project GigJam, Microsoft, is tacitly acknowledging that it must provide easy, mobile collaboration in a business setting. Face it, that is not an arena in which its current Office-SharePoint product roster has done particularly well. But at least the company sees the challenge for what it is.

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