Microsoft advances the future of Office: Project Cortex and Fluid Framework

The future of Office is collaborative, and maybe open-source.

fluid framework 2
Microsoft

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Microsoft is providing glimpses of the future of Office at its Build 2020 virtual conference, showcasing two interesting but little-known collaboration efforts: Project Cortex and Fluid Framework.

Project Cortex, which was announced last year, will go live this summer, Microsoft announced Tuesday. Fluid Framework, which appears to be the future of Microsoft’s online collaboration, is unexpectedly going to be released as an open-source project, Microsoft said. Microsoft also plans other announcements for Build, including making Microsoft Teams easier for developers to work with.

Microsoft said in advance of its now-virtual Build show that the conference would lean heavily toward developers, with many announcements surrounding Azure and its cloud efforts. But Microsoft 365, Teams, and its other business efforts are naturally still a significant part of the company.

Microsoft’s decision to make Fluid Framework an open-source project will probably grab headlines, though we haven’t seen much of it since the concept debuted a year ago. Essentially, Fluid creates “live” documents, described as “flexible, web-based distributed applications” that can be easily updated and shared. Documents could be translated in real time as workers entered data, for example. Microsoft saw Fluid as essentially the future of Microsoft 365, though the company never really explained how.

Microsoft is now explaining this a bit more. The first Fluid integrations will be landing on Outlook.com and Office.com—not surprising, as the web often seems to be the home for new Office features. “For example, tables, charts, and task lists can be inserted in Outlook for the web, so your sales numbers, project tasks, and research reports are always up to date,” Jared Spataro, the corporate vice president in charge of Microsoft 365, explained in a blog post. “Within Office.com, Fluid Framework workspaces can be created and managed, including within your document activity feed, Recommended list, @mentions, or search for them across Office.com.”

Microsoft is contributing the Fluid Framework to the open-source movement, including apparently the framework and data structures. Microsoft didn’t say when that would happen, but invited developers to “work alongside Microsoft as Fluid Framework is built and released.”

Likewise, Project Cortex is a bit difficult to define. Microsoft described it last year in conjunction with its Bing search efforts for enterprises. In this case, however, Cortex would be used to pull “unstructured” data from contracts and other corporate data, making them searchable.  Microsoft said it's introducing new developer
APIs for Project Cortex and Managed Metadata Services (MMS) in Microsoft Graph, along with new integration with a Language Understanding service in Azure.

Computerworld, our sister publication, has more on Project Cortex.

Microsoft also announced new additions to its collaboration services:

  • A new Microsoft Lists app, designed to make it easy to create and share information from within Teams, SharePoint, and more;
  • New Bookings capabilities in Teams, which will allow enterprises to schedule business-to-consumer meetings in Teams, alongside new Teams templates for common business scenarios like crisis response;
  • Network Device Interface (NDI) support and Skype TX interoperability for Microsoft Teams, two pieces necessary for what Microsoft says will be a platform to turn Teams into a platform for “high-scale” broadcasts. That sounds very much like what Microsoft is trying to do with Build itself. 
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