Posey's Tips & Tricks

Microsoft Fluid Framework: What It Means (And Doesn't) for Office 365

Is this the universal Office application that Brien has been waiting for? The Fluid Framework preview gives a few hints about Microsoft's plans for the new technology and for the Office suite as a whole.

Near the end of 2019, I wrote a column in which I posed the question of whether Microsoft might be about to reinvent Office. I have long wondered if Microsoft might eventually abandon file formats such as .DOCX and .XLSX in favor of a universal document format. Although this admittedly sounds like a strange idea, it is based on the fact that there is a lot of overlap between the Office applications. Word documents, for example, can include Excel-like charts and tables. Similarly, Publisher can be used to create lengthy text documents.

Since all of the Office applications can accommodate text, graphics, tables, charts and other design elements, it would be great if Microsoft gave us a single, all-powerful document-creation tool and a single document format.

My speculations in that late-2019 column were based on a new technology called Fluid Framework that Microsoft was beginning to test. At the time, there weren't many details available about this new technology, aside from the fact that it would be used to create a fully collaborative, canvas-like workspace that could accommodate virtually any type of content.

In the months since I wrote that column, I have finally gotten my hands on the Fluid Framework preview. At this point, the preview is available to all Office 365 Enterprise customers. I wanted to take the opportunity now to show you what the preview looks like, how it works and what you can do with it.

Before I get too far into my analysis, let me go ahead and answer the big question upfront: Is the Fluid Framework the universal Office application that I have been hoping for?

In all honesty, I don't know. Right now, the Fluid Framework preview isn't going to replace any of the Office applications that you use on a daily basis. The application currently feels very incomplete (but in all fairness, it is an early preview release so I wouldn't expect it to be highly polished or feature-rich). I do think that Fluid Framework has a lot of potential, but I seriously doubt that it will end up replacing Word, Excel or other Office applications.

There are at least a couple of reasons why I think that the traditional Office applications will stick around for the foreseeable future. First, there is the issue of brand-recognition. Office applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint have been around for decades. They are very well-known and their name-recognition alone has to be worth a fortune. Never mind the vast financial investments in Office that Microsoft has made over the years.

The other reasons why I think the core Office applications will be with us for a while have to do with what I think of as the Microsoft way of doing things. Microsoft has a very long history of creating multiple applications that do the same thing.

Take Word, for example. Over the years, Microsoft has offered competing solutions such as WordPad, Microsoft Works and the Office Web apps. This overlap in functionality isn't just related to Office; consider how many different tools Microsoft has for deploying software.

So if it's not an Office replacement, what is Fluid Framework? Right now, Fluid Framework is an online Office application that reminds me at least a little bit of OneNote. I'm not saying that the Fluid Framework lets you add pages to a notebook, but rather that it is a completely free-form environment where you can create a variety of content types.

This brings up an important point. Currently, the Fluid Framework preview consists of a single Web application. Like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other Office applications, the Fluid Framework application allows you to create documents. Eventually, though, Microsoft is going add Fluid Framework functionality to various Office 365 applications, including Teams, OneNote, SharePoint and, yes, the Office applications.

The fact that Microsoft plans to integrate Fluid Framework into the Office applications is another clear indicator that the Office applications are not going to be retired any time soon.

Now that I have spent some time talking about what the Fluid Framework is and where it fits in to the Office 365 ecosystem, I plan to show you around the actual Fluid Framework preview application in my next column here.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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