I’ve been using Office Live Workspace for the past few weeks, and thought I’d write a little bit about it here. Partly because it’s nice to write about a positive software/service experience, and partly because I have a couple of people from the Microsoft product team following me on Twitter (Hi!), so I thought this might be a better way to provide them with a bit of product feedback.
What is it?
Office Live Workspace is one of those services which not everyone is going to have a need for. In a nutshell, it offers you an online repository for your Office documents, allowing you to access them from anywhere and/or share them with others – aka “Simplified online collaboration”.
As someone with multiple computers who works from multiple locations, as well as running small projects with geographically dispersed members, this service is incredibly useful.
Obviously sharing files online isn’t really much of a new thing – what sets Office Live Workspace apart is it’s integration with the Office Suite of Products. Sure, it has a web interface, and a pretty good one too, but with the integration plugin installed you never need to see that web interface if you so choose. The ability to load/save/create new documents directly to the service and the fact that your documents show up in your recent documents list is very handy, as well as being an incredible timesaver for working with commonly used files.
As well as basic file repository services, you can also create project specific workspaces. There are a series of pre-defined templates available for these (Project, Meeting, Event, Class, Travel, and many more), which create a set of default documents with default names to get you started. You can share workspaces with others (via their Windows Live ID) or simply use them yourself.
If you choose to share them with other users then you get some standard sharing options around the level of access you give to other people. Activity/changes are documented in a side tab called “Activity”, where users can also make simple comments if they wish.
That’s the sum total of the features I’ve used so far – there’s more there of course, but what I’ve mentioned here is all I need, and truth be told these days I’m pretty keen on software which gives me what I need. I’ve not played with the Todo or Contact lists, but these look interesting. Especially as they can sync with Outlook.
My wish list
I realise it’s a bit contradictory saying I’m happy with the service and then go on to write a wish list this long, but anyway, here’s my list of things which would make me even happier.
Mac support - Interoperability between mixed environments is a big deal, and Office Live could prove to be a big player in this space for small/medium sized businesses if it makes interoperability between Mac and Windows easier than it is right now. Also I have 2 Mac users who I’d like to share documents with, making this one a slightly selfish addition to the wish list!
Backups – I’d really like the ability to grab an offline backup (or snapshot) of my files now and then. Plug in the Windows Home Server file/directory download front end and I’d be happy. Grabbing a zip of my documents at a Workspace level once a month is all I’m after, and the WHS file download interface would work well (IMHO).
Document versioning / revision control – to be able to create quick time stamped copies/versions of documents would be incredibly useful. To do this right now, you’d need to manually create a new document via copy/paste, which seems a bit clumsy. It’d help reduce some peoples fears of cloud computing, as well as providing a useful change control / history control tool.
Workspace Activity – I really like the simplicity of the Workspace Activity summary down the side of a project (or whatever) workspace. The activity emails option is useful too. However a couple of useful additions in this space would be the ability to generate an HTML (or PDF) summary of your activity list. I’m thinking of a TRAC feature here, in that it lets you generate a release notes summary for a project phase – something similar from project activity could be useful. Potentially having the activity exposed as an RSS feed could have some value too.
Customised Url - at the moment, behind the scenes you get a [random].workspace.office.live.com Url generated for you when you sign up – you don’t see this much via the web interface, but it’s used by the office plugin for your recent file listings. It would be a nice touch to be able to customise this Url, especially to help appeal to the small businesses which might be interested in using this. companyname.workspace.office.live.com is a much nicer url than john121.workspace.etc.
Public Workspaces – while there’s obvious security concerns here, it would be incredibly useful for small business to be able to offer an Office Live Workspace driven public Wiki or Document repository. I guess if you were looking to share files publically right now you’d use your Skydrive, but I can’t help thinking there are some people/companies who might be very keen to have a cloud based repository to share some wiki or file data.
I’ve changed the way I work (for the better) after starting to use Office Live Workspace. It’s saving me time and hassle, and I really like that.
I should mention that the standard BETA logo is there, so use at your own risk etc – even though I’ll be a bit more comfortable once it’s out of beta, I’ve had no problems at all so far. Also, I’ve only used it with Office 2007 – it may or not not work well/at all with previous versions of Office.
Tags: Microsoft,Office Live Workspace