Microsoft Fluid Framework: Get Ready for the Future of Collaboration

Microsoft is on a roll—over
the past few months, it has fulfilled many promises it made at November’s
Ignite conference, from small but useful tweaks to Teams and Excel, to entirely
new apps and technologies such as Productivity Score and the Edge Chromium
Browser.

In previous posts, we have examined
many of these changes and how they will impact businesses. In today’s post, we look
at another technology that was previewed at Ignite, Fluid Framework, and its
potential to change the way people work.

Fluid Framework, which has
been rolling out to some commercial Office 365 customers since January, is a Web-based
platform and componentized document model that is designed to create shared,
interactive experiences.

In his Ignite keynote
address, Microsoft
CEO Satya Nadella explained
how the componentized document model works:
“Fluid works by breaking down documents into component parts that can be
collaborated on in real time across different applications.”

“Fluid works by breaking down documents into component parts that can be collaborated on in real time across different applications.” — Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in his Ignite 2019 keynote speech

For example, multiple people
are working on a PowerPoint chart that is based on a table of data. One person
is working on it using Teams on a mobile device, and another is working on it
in Outlook. The person using Teams on a mobile device modifies the data and the
chart instantly updates for all collaborators.

None of the collaborators are using PowerPoint to update the data—they are working with the table component in a different application (Teams and Outlook, in this example).

“The document has been the
primary frame about how people think about content creation,” said Jared
Spataro, Microsoft 365 corporate vice president, in an interview with The
Verge. “Fluid just takes a step back and says let’s not just have a document
that’s dominated by any one type of content or another. Let’s not make it
restricted to be Excel for numbers, or Word is for words, and PowerPoint is for
visualizations. Instead let’s give you the freedom to say: ‘what if there was
no more document?’…”

To that end, Fluid Framework has
three main capabilities:

  1. It
    supports multi-person coauthoring on web and document content at speed and
    scale
    . For example, if multiple people are working on web or document
    content with Fluid Framework, the text typed by one person will appear
    instantly on other screens without a delay. The Fluid co-authoring experience
    is remarkably faster than the current co-authoring experience in Office
    documents.
  2. Its componentized
    document model
    enables authors to break apart content into collaborative
    building blocks, use those chunks across applications, and combine them in a
    new, more flexible kind of document. For example, one component could be a
    table created in Fluid, which is being edited by multiple people simultaneously
    in Excel and Teams. Everyone sees live updates as they are being
    made—regardless of which application they are using to edit the file.
  3. Fluid
    Framework utilizes artificial intelligence to work alongside humans to
    translate text in real-time, get content, suggest edits, perform compliance
    checks, and more. For example, if you are working with data in a table, an AI
    tool tip can suggest the best kind of chart to explain your data. (Similar to
    the Excel Ideas feature.)

Fluid Framework, along with
the many other recent feature additions and improvements Microsoft has made,
fits with the company’s renewed emphasis on productivity and collaboration. It
will also come with a learning curve.

In a Microsoft blog post
about Fluid Framework, one commenter captured what many business leaders are
experiencing today: “The tools that Microsoft is bringing together are
impressive. Of course, there is a long list of feature requests which we all
are looking forward to, but at the same time, Microsoft innovation is outpacing
my organization's ability to adapt, integrate, and fully leverage many of these
opportunities.”

Microsoft’s momentum is
showing no signs of slowing either. During Ignite 2019, Microsoft issued nearly
180 announcements related to its software and services, including Microsoft
365, Power Platform, Azure, and other technologies.

The key for business leaders—including
the commenter noted above—is to figure out how to ensure their employees have
the training and support they need to keep up. That means paying close
attention to the Microsoft Roadmap and developing a comprehensive adoption and
change management strategy.

NOTE: Because Fluid Framework is still in preview, it has limited features. Microsoft says it will be adding capabilities to Fluid Framework and pushing them out across Microsoft 365 over time. Stay tuned. See Microsoft’s announcement for more information.

Image: Johannes Henseler / CC BY 2.0

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