The future of Office may lie in 'decomposable' documents

Julie Larson-Green expects we'll be able to find content based on its component parts

Microsoft wants you to spend less time thinking about Office and more time getting things done.

An executive who helped design one of Office's most iconic features outlined a plan for its future on Tuesday, one that calls for smarter software assisted by AI and "decomposable" documents that are easier to find.

"No one wants to necessarily learn about the ins and outs of the tool; they have something that they're trying to get done," said Julie Larson-Green, chief experience officer for Microsoft Office, when asked about the future of the software at a Bloomberg conference.

Microsoft has already added AI-powered features to the latest versions of Office that help people find functions they're looking for, and more AI is coming.

In future, components that make up documents will be broken apart and searchable, Larson-Green said. That would allow a user to find a particular chart or table embedded in an email, for instance, and do it without manually digging through their files.

“I think documents will decompose into their parts," she said. "So you can ask, 'What’s the last chart I sent to Emily? I don’t remember where that’s at' -- and I can get that back.”

Larson-Green has been at Microsoft for more than two decades, and she led the team that built the familiar ribbon menu across the top of Word and other applications.

She recently reorganized the Office team into new divisions based on different tasks, rather than siloing teams based on which applications they work on. The idea was to get the folks working on Sway, PowerPoint and Word to work together on how their applications function, rather than each app being an island.

Her views line up with new products that Microsoft has been introducing with Office, including GigJam, a service that's supposed to help people collaborate in short bursts, while also pulling in information from a variety of sources, including some now owned by Microsoft. GigJam lets people do things like collaborate on the text of an email while looking at a product record from Salesforce, and then move on.

It'll be interesting to see how Microsoft's acquisition of LinkedIn will affect how Office evolves. Larson-Green said she didn't learn of the deal ahead of time, and that it's still early to be thinking about how the firms will integrate.

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