Microsoft to Extend 'Productivity' Beyond Office

While Microsoft pursues a mobile- and cloud-first product strategy, executives are looking to cement its image as the business and personal productivity company.

Microsoft Nadella

"Productivity" no longer defines a software category for Microsoft, according to top executives at the company. It's the underlying principle that will inform practically every part of Microsoft's mobile- and cloud-enabled solutions portfolio going forward.

CEO Satya Nadella has been making the rounds of late, signaling that his company's productivity-enhancing efforts will extend beyond its business software ecosystem.

The New York Times reported Nov. 10 that during a recent meeting with journalists at Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters, Nadella said his company's definition of productivity "is for us to empower individuals and organizations to be able to make things happen and get stuff done. That to me is what we need to aspire to, and everything we do needs to add up to it."

Framing the company's portfolio as a driver of personal and businesses productivity—with the exception of products like the Xbox—is how Microsoft hopes to differentiate itself from major rivals like Apple and Google.

Nadella cited Tim Cook's recent assertion that Apple is a device company. As far as Google is concerned, "it's about data or it's about advertising, it is about serving you ads in a tasteful way, and they've done a great job of that business," he told The Times.

Echoing Nadella's remarks, Frank X. Shaw, corporate vice president of communications for Microsoft, wrote in a blog post today that "the word productivity has often been narrowly defined—usually referring to work that involves a document, spreadsheet, presentation or to-do list." Asserting that the term "always had a bigger meaning," it better describes how well people use their time.

"That's why we're not just in the 'productivity business.' We're in the business of helping people be more productive," Shaw wrote. Therefore, Microsoft is angling to become the productivity engine that helps power its users' business and personal lives, at least in part.

As examples, he pointed to the recent release of new Office mobile apps (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) for iOS that support file editing and saving. Previously, the apps required an Office 365 subscription to create and edit files. Android tablet versions are in the works, according to Microsoft.

Shaw spotlighted the company's partnership with UK Guide Dogs. Microsoft is contributing its 3D soundscape technology for a pilot program designed to help the visually impaired better navigate cities and their surroundings unaided.

Shaw hinted that Microsoft's offerings will look and act differently as a result of the company's new outlook. The four concepts governing its future development are natural user interfaces, built-in intelligence, social sharing and collaboration, and mobile experiences that span multiple device types and platforms.

"Taken together, these reflect a shift in centrality: from a world [where] devices, software, or clouds are central, to a world where people are in the center," said Shaw.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...