Posey's Tips & Tricks

A First Look at Microsoft Loop

Brien breaks down his initial thoughts and ideas on how Microsoft Loop can be used in productivity.

I've shown you how you can get started testing Microsoft Loops, now it's time to share my thoughts on it.

As someone who writes about technology, I tend to make a lot of predictions. Admittedly, I have made plenty of predictions that just never materialized, but it seems that one of my predictions from earlier this year was right on track.

In one of my Posey’s Tips and Tricks columns, I made several predictions for Microsoft’s Fluid Framework. One such prediction was that contrary to the way that things appeared at the time, Microsoft was not abandoning Fluid Framework, and that Fluid Framework would eventually prove to be very useful. Earlier this month at Ignite, Microsoft announced Loop for Microsoft 365, a new technology based on Fluid Framework.

Early on, demos of Fluid Framework made it seem as though Microsoft might be working toward building a universal document format for Office and a canvas like application that would allow for freeform editing and the inclusion of nearly any data type. As time went on though, it became apparent that the canvas was just a simple application meant to demonstrate some of Fluid Framework’s capabilities. The real magic behind fluid framework was that it was designed to act as a framework that would make Web applications fully collaborative. Herein lies my second prediction.

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced that it was making Fluid Framework open source. After having some time to digest that announcement, I began to realize that Microsoft had big plans for Fluid Framework. Although I didn’t know exactly what those plans were, I assumed that Fluid Framework would likely become modular. I also envisioned “a collaborative environment in which users were not only able to add Office document content to a Microsoft 365 whiteboard application, but also content from their other line-of-business applications.” I went on to say that, “If you want to take things a step further, just imagine if this third-party content could be tied to back-end data sources so that any data shown is always current.”

My speculations from nearly a year ago ended up being the very essence of what Microsoft Loop is all about. Loop, which is based on the Fluid Framework, allows modular components to be added to documents in a way that allows the data to remain current.

Based on what Microsoft has shown thus far, there seems to be three main parts to Loop. The first of these are Loop components. The easiest way to think of a loop component is that it is like an object that you can insert into a document. This might be a table, a list, or some other document element. You can see some early examples of these types of components in my Fluid Framework Preview blog post from earlier this year.

Obviously the idea of being able to insert a table or a list into a document isn’t a big deal. Applications like Microsoft Word and OneNote have let you do that for decades. The thing that makes Loop components so special is that unlike the lists, tables, and other objects that we have all been using in Microsoft Office documents for what seems like forever, Loop components are Web based. That means that when you insert a loop component into a document, what you are really doing is inserting a link to a Web component. The document then renders that component as though it were local. You see the actual component (the list, table, etc.), not just a link. The reason why this is so important is because the link points to live data. This means that if someone were to update that data, your document will be updated automatically to reflect the change. Think of it as having a single source of the truth. As data changes, documents that reference that data also change.

Even though I have been talking about Loop components being inserted into documents, I am using the word documents in the loosest sense. Right now, it kind of remains to be seen exactly what Loop integration will look like. Microsoft has announced that Loop functionality will be integrated into Teams. Loop components can also be used with those other two parts of Loop that I mentioned earlier. These additional Loop parts are workspaces and pages.

A page seems to be a free form, Web based canvas where you can insert Loop components and other data. Think of it as a much more polished version of the Fluid Framework demo application that I mentioned earlier.

Loop Workspaces have a lot of similarities to Loop pages, but seem to be more structured. My guess is that what Microsoft is referring to as Loop Pages today will eventually become the next version of SharePoint Online. You can see a sample of what Loop components, pages, and workspaces look like here.  

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 20-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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