Microsoft has a bit of a reputation for being self-preserving when it comes to their software and hardware platforms. However, it’s looking like Microsoft has decided to change their outlook and embrace partnerships with other companies to better empower users on their platforms. Today, Microsoft announced a change to the way that their Office Apps will work on iOS that hopefully symbolizes an overall change in the way Microsoft operates.
Starting today, the iOS Office Apps will enable access to third-party cloud storage applications from the “Locations” section within the apps. This new change will enable users the ability to collaborate and store documents in the third-party cloud storage of their choice. Microsoft also indicated that while currently limited to iOS devices, they are hard at work to bring this functionality to both Android and Windows versions of their software.
Some media outlets have stated that this new feature only allows you to open documents from third-party platforms, but not “save to” or “modify existing documents” in the cloud. However, Microsoft has stated that this simply isn’t the case. As stated by Microsoft, “This will enable users to open, edit and save documents from these providers right from within Office.” The confusion is likely due to Microsoft being relatively vague in explaining the process of accessing and modifying files that are stored within third-party clouds.
I spent about an hour fiddling with Word on the iPhone only to walk away with more questions. However, I have discovered a few answers. First, to access the third-party storage from within the Office Apps, the third-party cloud provider must have been integrated by the service provider with Storage Provider App Extensions, a new feature of iOS 8. Unfortunately, in our testing the only app that we found was compatible was Box. (Dropbox is available as an option as well, but it is accessed differently and not through this new feature) While Google Drive would pop up as an option when managing storage providers, it doesn’t appear that Google has made Drive compatible with iOS App Extensions which is why Google Drive isn’t accessible as a folder.
To access files within Office Apps on Box or iCloud, you can do the following:
- Ensure that you have downloaded and logged into the third-party cloud application
- Currently, it appears to be limited to Box
- From within the apps, navigate to the Open tab at the bottom of the screen
- Tap More
- Tap Locations in the top left-hand corner
- Tap More to view your third-party cloud services that are enabled on the device
- Enable your preferred third-party cloud
- Tap Done
- Tap More again
- Tap Locations again
- Tap the Cloud Service that you would like to access
- If it is not currently integrated with App Extensions it will not be available as an option.
Also, it doesn’t appear that you will be able to create new files and save them to third-party cloud service, solely edit existing documents. This doesn’t contradict Microsoft’s statement when they said that users would be able to open, save, and edit. Create and save was not mentioned as a option. When saving a new file, you are limited to saving to OneDrive, iPhone, DropBox, and Sharepoint. Sadly, the option to access third-party cloud services is not available.
Microsoft also announced that beyond opening up their application to third-party integrations, they are now allowing third parties the ability to integrate Office Online into other applications. Box, Salesforce, and Citrix are apparently already hard at work to integrate Office Online into their software offerings.
While these changes may not be mind-blowing, it definitely signifies a drastic change in Microsoft’s strategy and overall attitude towards an open platform. Historically, Microsoft has made efforts to keep you in their ecosystem. If you want to collaborate on documents or even do simple things like email an attachment of a document from within Office Applications, you were required to use Microsoft’s services such as Outlook and OneDrive. This move will hopefully be the first of many that signify Microsoft embracing the diversity of software options and empowering consumer choice.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you like this recent change? Have you found other cloud storage apps that are compatible with Office for iOS. Sound off in the comments below.