Why Microsoft Office 2013's cloud-based strategy falls short...and how to fix it

Microsoft has been promoting Office 2013's cloud prowess, but the truth is, Office falls short when it comes to working with the cloud. Here's why, along with a free, easy way you can fix it yourself.

Update: Microsoft says that the final Office 2013 will ship with the SkyDrive client app. Get the details on my latest blog post.

In Microsoft's Office blog today, John Jendrezak, Microsoft Partner Group Program Manager points out all the ways in which the new Office was built for the cloud. He cites the ability to save to Microsoft's cloud-based SkyDrive storage service, that Office remembers your settings no matter which device you use, and that Office remembers where you last in a document, no matter where you read it, among other features.

All that is true. But it's still not good enough. In fact, one of Office's cloud-based capabilities can do more harm than good. The problem is that Office doesn't include syncing among multiple local devices that access the cloud. When you work on files in Office, you can choose to save them to the cloud, or save them to your local computer. But your local files won't sync with your cloud-based files, and that's where the problems come in.

Given the vagaries of connectivity, using SkyDrive as your primary storage medium simply doesn't make sense. Constant, high-speed connectivity simply isn't reliable enough for that. So your best bet is saving it to a local computer most of the time. When you want to work on the document somewhere else after working on it to your local PC, you'll save it to SkyDrive.

Let's take one example. You're working on a file, save it locally, and decide that you want to work on it at some later point using another device. So you save it locally and then save it to SkyDrive.

A day or two later you work on the file on SkyDrive using on a different computer, so the file is save back to SkyDrive. Then two days after that, you work on it again at your original computer, forgetting that you last worked on it on SkyDrive. You now have two separate versions of the same file, one on your local PC, and one in SkyDrive. Or worse yet, you overwrite a newer file with an older one, which will be quite easy to do when you're using multiple devices, and sometimes saving locally, and sometimes to the cloud.

What Office needs is an auto-sync service, so that whenever a change is made in a document, that change is automatically synced everywhere -- to SkyDrive and to every device on which you use Office. That way, you're always working with the latest version of every file, no matter where you are.

As I point out in my review of Office 2013, Microsoft already has an app that takes care of that -- a SkyDrive client app that works for Windows devices, Windows Phone, Macs, the iPhone, and Android devices. All Microsoft needs to do is include the app in Office. Problem solved.

I'm not sure why Microsoft hasn't done it, but my guess is that it has to do with internal red tape, and an inability to get separate teams working on the same project. Whatever the reason, though, Microsoft could have a killer cloud app built right into Office. My suggestion: Don't wait for Microsoft to do it. Install the SkyDrive app and do it yourself.

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