In an apparent effort to win over more users for its online-storage service, Microsoft said that OneDrive for Business customers would now get a full terabyte of storage for their documents, up from 25 gigabytes.
But it’s the way Microsoft announced the news that is turning into the real story. John Case, the Microsoft executive whose byline is on the post, used the headline “Thinking outside the box.”
Subtle, Microsoft. Real subtle. The point wasn’t lost on Box CEO Aaron Levie, who responded in kind, calling on Microsoft to open up Office to other online-storage options besides OneDrive.
Boxing Office Users In
Case alluded to both Box and Dropbox in the blog post. He described Box as a “point solution”—a typical dig in the old enterprise-software world, but one that ignores the ease of integration now possible through application programming interfaces. The reality is that Microsoft has always been protective of its lucrative Windows and Office products, and its recent moves back this up. It launched Office for the iPad without the ability to use documents from any other cloud service besides OneDrive.
Box’s Levie wrote that he looked forward to working with Microsoft in the cloud, and called on Microsoft to allow online Office users to store documents in other services, including Box. (Users of the desktop version of Office can store documents anywhere, including Box and Dropbox.)
The odd background to this very public tiff is that Microsoft and Box have collaborated in other areas. Levie appeared last year on stage at Microsoft’s Build developer conference, which highlighted the software giant’s collaboration with smaller companies.
Old Microsoft, New Microsoft
The strategy of OneDrive lock-in feels like classic Microsoft—but not like the open, partner-embracing company that new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is trying to build.
Case ended his post by mentioning how the cloud is about lowering barriers between people and information, and not creating islands. As Levie pointed out, the lack of other cloud services included in Office for the iPad is exactly the kind of barrier Microsoft is sort of claiming it would like to see less of.
Furthermore, the kind of island Case describes is also evident in OneDrive. As with Office for the iPad, OneDrive users are locked into Microsoft’s cloud, and aren’t able to import documents from other cloud systems directly on mobile devices.
That’s the tension in today’s Microsoft. On the one hand, it wants to cater to all the tools and services developers prefer, and it’s made a big effort to communicate its support for non-Microsoft services and platforms. But it also wants to build a big, successful cloud-software business, which means signing up businesses and consumers as subscribers to Office and OneDrive.
We asked Microsoft for comment on whether it planned to allow other cloud providers to join in the Office for iPad fun, but a spokesperson did not immediately respond.
Levie has a point. The loser here seems to be Office users, who have to download documents from OneDrive and share them by email to work around MIcrosoft’s limitations. That’s not the kind of workflow that makes things easier for customers, Levie pointed out in his post.
For example, Microsoft took a month to add a feature that let users print Office 365 documents from its iPad app. Google has had cloud printing for a while, and Box has a couple of apps that allow printing of documents from the cloud.
Printing is just one example of a missing feature. In a cloud-first, mobile-first world—the world Microsoft’s Nadella says the company now lives in—the days when software companies had to build all their features themselves are long gone. If Microsoft had launched Office for iPad with Box integration, it could have offered customers a convenient option while it worked on its own native printing feature. Until it sheds old, bad habits, Microsoft is going to remain stuck on its own software island.
Photo of Satya Nadella by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite