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Software Review (Windows Phone 7): Office Hub

Microsoft is one of the most diverse technology companies in the world. Search, Gaming, enterprise class Mail and Storage solutions, and of course Mobile; Microsoft is among the world leaders in all of these areas.

Microsoft Office is one of the most popular software suites ever. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint have been used by millions of people throughout the world. As such a popular set of tools, the Office products are also the de facto standard for document portability. Because of the sheer popularity of Office, even competing products are forced to offer as much support for Office documents as possible.

Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft’s attempt to put their best foot forward in the mobile market. But how does the Office Hub live up to the high standards that Microsoft has set for itself? Read the review for my opinion.

Features

The Office Hub in Windows Phone 7 offers access to Word and OneNote documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. Chances are that of those four file types, the one that most people are the least familiar with is OneNote. Not coincidentally, OneNote is the document type that Microsoft has put at the forefront of the Office Hub, taking up the entire first page of the panoramic application. By comparison, page two is split between the three other document types. The primary purpose of OneNote is, as the name suggests, note taking. Microsoft has made the (logical) assumption that the primary reason that someone would want to use Office on their smart-phone would be to create short lists or notes. Incidentally, OneNote documents are the only Office document type that you can “pin to start”. OneNote documents support embedded images and sound, as well as basic text formatting such as numbered and bulleted lists.

I could spend a lot of time talking about what Office does or does not do, and the chances are that nobody would read or care. The bottom line is this: Microsoft’s goal with the Office Hub (and Windows Phone 7 in general) was to target the most common things that people do with their phones, and make it a more streamlined process. The intent isn’t to do major re-writes in Word and Excel on your phone, but to give you the ability to quickly and easily view documents, and to make minor edits or comments. Features like Find and Outline View allow you to easily find what you’re looking for in all of the document types. Excel also allows you to sort and filter your columns; these features are core to the way that people use Excel on a daily basis. Editing functionality like adding comments to a document are also uses that Microsoft recognizes as being key functionality, as well as simple text formatting, re-ordering PowerPoint slides and changing the formula on a cell in Excel.

One key concept that fits a mobile platform like Windows Phone 7 perfectly is Microsoft’s vision of three screens and a cloud. Microsoft’s web based services like SkyDrive and SharePoint both fit different niches in the Office Hub. SkyDrive, which is part of Microsoft’s Live services, allows you to synchronize your OneNote documents to the cloud; giving you quick and easy access from your smart-phone or your desktop with the OneNote application or in your web browser at office.live.com. SharePoint, which is one of Microsoft’s business offerings, goes a bit further. Not only can you view or edit documents stored on your company’s SharePoint server; but if the document that you are using is modified by another user, SharePoint can notify you that there is a newer version of your document, preventing loss of data by the file becoming overwritten.

Usability

Microsoft has said numerous times that their primary goal for Windows Phone 7 was to make the user experience the priority. If they felt like they couldn’t deliver a feature without sacrificing usability, it didn’t make it into the product. Cut & Paste is Exhibit A for this argument. Does Microsoft want to include every feature possible in the Office Hub? Of course they do, but the user experience is their priority.

How does this affect you? That depends on your needs. If you primarily need to be able to view and comment on Office documents from your smart-phone, then features like pinch to zoom and swiping through PowerPoint slides will probably be perfect for you. If you’re expecting the full desktop Office experience, you need to lower your standards.

Conclusion

Here’s the deal. Windows Phone 7 is still a VERY early product. Microsoft’s mantra to this point has been usability over features. As of right now the Office Hub is fairly crippled for a lot of people simply because there is no capability to Cut & Paste; but we know this functionality is already coming in January.

In my opinion, Microsoft’s focus on getting the usability right has made the Office Hub (and Windows Phone 7 in general) very successful. Empowering people to be more efficient in the most common tasks is a remarkably sensible approach for the software giant, and it makes the Office Hub a winner.

Pros: 
Very Usable, Syncs with SkyDrive and SharePoint
Cons: 
Not yet a full featured product, lack of Cut & Paste hurts
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Comments

There are 3 comments. Sign in to comment

mattdreed says:

What I'd love to see before cut and paste is the ability to sync word and excel files to SkyDrive.
I keep a detailed mileage log (more than just fill ups like most of the apps track) and have several lists that I work on both on my phone and desktop. OneNote wouldn't suffice for them. The ability to keep them in sync is crucial to avoid errors, particularly with my mileage log.
Sure, it's not that much of a hassle to email myself back and forth, but it's a nuisance and is can be easily overlooked.

Tim Ferrill says:

I agree. The differentiation between SkyDrive and SharePoint is great, but there's a lot of value to open up access to both with all doc types.

mharr says:

Item on this that I just discovered: If you password-protect a section in OneNote on the desktop, it will not sync to Windows Phone.