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How Microsoft is trying to make us more productive

Day-long event in Redmond addresses how the company develops Office software and--though there are no new product announcements--gives us a look into how Microsoft envisions productivity in the future.

Jason Parker Senior Editor / Reviews - Software
Jason Parker has been at CNET for nearly 15 years. He is the senior editor in charge of iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.
Jason Parker
3 min read

A Microsoft press event held last week in Redmond under the name "The Future of Productivity Council" wasn't about introducing new and exciting products. But the day-long event Friday did give us a closer look at how Microsoft develops productivity software and also allowed us to hear from several Microsoft executives about what they are trying to accomplish in the productivity sphere.

The first half of the day we watched presentations by various team leaders at Microsoft discussing how productivity products are made and about our slow evolution towards cloud computing.

Gary Heil, the founder of the Center for Innovative Leadership, kicked things off with a thought-provoking talk on how productivity within a company is not just about the software, but also about the mindset of the employees in the company. People who feel as though their work will have an impact are more likely to remain engaged.

PJ Hough, the corporate vice president of Office Program Management followed, showing the many different methods Microsoft uses to get user feedback to improve its Office products.

One of the major themes of the day was how Microsoft views the world's evolution to cloud computing and how that will affect productivity. Speakers talked about Office 365--Microsoft's online productivity suite currently in beta, but due out later this year--and how it will make collaboration easier and let you access your files anywhere.

Later in the day, we left the conference rooms and PowerPoint slides to take a short tour of Microsoft's research and development areas.

The company let us tour its Envision room where it keeps prototypes for future technologies. An impressive interactive wall, mouth controlled mice, creative uses of the Kinect technology, and interactive desktops were all on display. Many were thought-provoking ideas and productivity concepts, but much of the tech has already been talked about on the Internet for some time.

We also got to see Microsoft's Home, a complete house interior using much of its experimental tech and showing how it might be used around the home. Some highlights included the ability to quickly change wallpapers in a room using high-tech wallpaper and the use of multiple displays and devices that are all connected for a free-flowing exchange of information. At one point, our guide demonstrated how a plant could have a sensor that lets you know it needs water or more light via your smartphone, but only when you are in the vicinity of the plant.

The event closed out back in a conference room where we listened to Kurt Delbene, president, and Chris Capossela, senior vice president, talk about the evolution of the office division and its position with regard to the next wave of productivity products. They pointed out that Office 2010 was the fastest-selling version of Office in history and that Office 2011 for Mac had won several awards, but seemed even more excited about the possibilities with Office 365, coming out later this year.

The Future of Productivity Council event was informative and interesting, but there was not much new to report. It was interesting to see how Microsoft develops its productivity products, and how important user-feedback is to what goes into the Microsoft Office suites.