Microsoft this week unveiled a new productivity application, Loop, that combines elements of documents, spreadsheets, and presentation apps in a single collaborative space.
“The technology is effectively Microsoft's vision for the future of Office, breaking down the rigid barriers between different types of file format, allowing content to be deconstructed into modular components that can easily be shared between applications, making it easier to create content collaboratively,” said Angela Ashenden, principal analyst at CCS Insight.
Although the app itself is new, Microsoft has been paving the way for Loop for some time with its Fluid Framework. Announced two years ago, the Fluid Framework removes barriers between Microsoft 365 applications, allowing app components such as tables, charts, and lists to be embedded into different apps and updated in real-time by multiple users.
For instance, changes made to an inventory list table or updates to meeting notes in OneNote will instantly be viewable if the component is also embedded in Outlook or Teams.
These Fluid components -- now called “Loop components” or “Loops” -- are one of the three key elements in the new app. These Loop component building blocks can be embedded into a Loop “page” that serves as a shared canvas, containing a variety of information sources that relate to a particular team project, for example. Loop pages are then organised into Loop “workspaces,” which provide an overview of multiple documents.
Microsoft said Loop components will be accessible in Microsoft Teams, Outlook, and OneNote later this month. The company promised more details about the availability of the standalone Loop app “in the coming months.”
A ‘massive mind-shift’ for the market
“The launch of Loop is a bold move by Microsoft,” said Raúl Castañón, senior analyst at 451 Research, a division of SP Global Market Intelligence. "Word processors are long overdue for a new approach.”
Castañón sees the Loop app as complementary to, rather than a replacement for, traditional document-editing applications. “Rather, it is a tool that is intended for use cases that word processors were not designed for, with capabilities for real-time and asynchronous collaboration, integration to systems of record, and workflow automation,” he said.
The all-in-one document is a concept that has already seen success with startups such as Coda, Airtable, and Notion; Quip, acquired by Salesforce in 2016, has also sought to modernise office documents. And Google earlier this year introduced its smart canvas “building blocks”; the concept is similar in that it links information between Workspace apps such Docs and Sheets with simple polls and checklists updated simultaneously across applications.
Google Wave, which was released in 2009 and shut down the following year, could be seen as a precursor to some of these tools, though it was considered ahead of its time.
While it makes sense for Microsoft to embrace new document types, Loop represents a significant shift that could take time for Office app users to adapt to, said Ashenden.
“It's still early days for the technology, and it's not going to supplant the Office apps in most people's workflows any time soon. But it shows that Microsoft recognises the need to lay the groundwork for a post-Office world,” she said.
“Promoting Loop as a discrete app will help to expand its audience, to get input from early adopters and understand the appetite and best direction to take," she said. "But it is a massive mind shift for the market.”
Dynamics 365 Loop component on its way
In related news, also touted a new Loop component that connects Dynamics 365 records to apps in the company's Office 365 suite.
Connecting its business apps with productivity tools, such as the ability to embed Teams chat into the Dynamics 365 Sales app (announced earlier this year and currently in preview) has been a growing focus for Microsoft.
The new Loop component, also announced at Ignite Microsoft this week, builds on the idea, enabling users to pull up a customer record directly in Teams, for example, and edit information such as changing a sales opportunity status to “in progress,” while highlighting which user is making changes.
The Loop component is slated to be available in public preview by the end of 2022.