Microsoft Promises Realtime, Cross-app Collaboration with Fluid Framework
Collaboration is the key to any successful business.
Whether they’re co-authoring documents with colleagues or collaborating with third parties, it’s crucial your staff have the tools they need to collaborate effectively.
Today, collaboration is often tied to specific applications: perhaps you send a SharePoint link to your colleagues, or drop a Word document into Microsoft Teams, so your collaborators can view this document in their own versions of Word.
With their all-new Fluid framework, Microsoft are aiming "break down the barriers of the traditional document as we know it” by completely re-imagining how we collaborate online.
Microsoft plan to rollout the Fluid framework "over the next couple of months," and will incorporate it into some of their most popular products, including Teams, Outlook, OneNote and SharePoint.
Do you want to get ahead of the crowd and learn more about Microsoft’s completely new approach to collaboration?
In this post, we’ll be taking a closer look at what the Fluid framework is and what it has to offer your business, before showing how you can start using Fluid today, by enrolling in Microsoft’s early access preview.
Fluid: The Future of collaborative working?
The Fluid framework aims to make it easier for users to collaborate across applications, by providing a componentized document model. Using this model, you’ll be able to deconstruct Office 365 documents into building blocks that you can then move between applications, while keeping all collaborators involved in the workflow.
For example, you might use Fluid to create an Excel chart, and then share this chart with your colleagues be dropping it into a Microsoft Teams chat window. Your colleagues will then be able to edit the chart within their Teams mobile application, and the “original” Excel document will update to reflect these changes in real time. Similarly, any changes you make to your Excel chart will be automatically pulled into the Teams application.
Rather than treating the chart in Teams and the chart in Excel as separate entities, the chart is a single component that’s surfaced within different applications.
“The document has been the primary frame about how people think about content creation,” said head of Microsoft 365 Jared Spataro, in an interview with The Verge. “Fluid just takes a step back and says let’s not just have a document that’s dominated by any one type of content or another. Let’s not make it restricted to be Excel for numbers, or Word is for words, and PowerPoint is for visualizations, instead let’s give you the freedom to say: what if there was no more document?”
This componentized approach to documents is reminiscent of Object Linking and Embedding (OLE), Office Binder and Apple’s OpenDoc, but updated for the Internet era.
The Fluid framework is also designed to be used alongside powerful artificial intelligence services, for example you might use AI to automatically translate a document’s text into multiple languages, suggest edits and perform automatic compliance checks.
Fluid is designed with scalability and low latency in mind, so these AI services can help you in real time, providing suggestions and translations even as you’re making changes to your document. You could even potentially edit a document in one language, while AI services automatically translate your changes into multiple different languages, enabling your international colleagues to provide feedback in real time.
This all sounds exciting, but the best way to get a feel for a new product is to actually use it, so let’s take a look at how you can test drive an early version of the Fluid framework, today.
How do I get access to Microsoft’s early preview?
At the time of writing, you can gain access to the Fluid framework by opting into receiving “targeted” Office 365 updates.
If you’re not already enrolled in Microsoft’s targeted updates, then your Office 365 admin can opt your entire organization into the targeted release experience:
● Log into the Office 365 admin center.
● In the left-hand menu, select “Settings > Settings.”
● Select the “Organization profile” tab.
● Choose “Release preferences.”
● In the subsequent panel, select “Targeted release for everyone.”
● Give the “Save changes” button a click.
Congratulations, you now have access to the Fluid framework!
How to create your first Fluid workspace
Let’s look at how you can get started with the Fluid framework:
● Head over to the Fluid preview.
● Select “Get started.”
● Select “Start collaborating.”
● Give this file a name.
● Open the dropdown, and then choose where you want to save this file; I’m using OneDrive.
● Click “Create.”
This creates a collaborative, canvas-like workspace that can support virtually any kind of content.
Although this is an early release of Fluid, there’s already a few tasks that you can complete:
1. Create cross-application content
Fluid is based around the concept of a componentized document model that allows you to deconstruct content into separate blocks. You can then combine these standalone content blocks to create a flexible document that you can use across multiple applications.
To start adding components to your document, click the little “+” icon and then choose from the following:
● Person. This allows you to tag one or more people in a specific area of your document, which can be useful if you need their input on a particular content block.
● Action items. This creates a table where you can track tasks, assignees and due dates.
● Table. This inserts a blank table into the Fluid workspace.
● Date. Select a date from a calendar popup and then insert it into your Fluid document. The “Date” feature can be particularly useful for setting deadlines.
● Check list. This formats your text as a checklist, so you can tick off items as they’re completed - perfect for creating “To Do” lists!
● Bullet list and Numbered list. These two options allow you to format your plain text as bullet points or as a numbered list.
Once you’ve added a content block, you can format that block by Control-clicking it, which launches a context menu complete with all the formatting options that are available for this particular content block.
2. Start collaborating with others
You can share this document at any point, by clicking the little “Share” icon in the upper-right corner and then entering the email address of the person you want to collaborate with. Alternatively, you can grant people access to your document by clicking the little “+” icon, selecting “mentions,” typing the name of the person you want to work with, and then selecting “Share and notify” when prompted.
When you’re working inside the Fluid user interface, you can view your mentions by clicking the little “@” icon in the upper-left corner, which opens a panel detailing each time you’ve been tagged inside a Fluid workspace.
3. Recover earlier revisions
Although you’ll generally work on your Fluid documents online, you can also download a copy to your local machine, which can be useful if you need to share a document with someone who isn’t familiar with Microsoft products in general, or Fluid in particular. Sending someone a copy of a document can also be useful if you want them to provide feedback, without running the risk of them editing your document.
You can jump to a Fluid document’s location, by clicking the little folder icon in the upper-right corner. Since I chose to store my file in OneDrive, clicking the folder icon launches my OneDrive account, where I can download a copy of my Fluid document, or perform tasks such as moving the file to a new location.
This is also where you can view a detailed version history of your Fluid document, and recover earlier versions:
● Select the file in question.
● Click the little three-dotted icon, followed by “Version history.”
● In the subsequent panel, you can view a list of every revision that’s available for this particular document. To revert to a previous version, hover over that version, then select the three-dotted menu item when it appears and select “Restore.”
Office 365 will now revert to the previous version of this document.
Is Fluid the future of workplace collaboration?
Now you’ve tried this early release of the Fluid framework for yourself, do you think it has the potential to shake up the way we collaborate in the workplace?
We’d love to know what you think, so why not share your thoughts on this up-and-coming Microsoft product, by connecting with us on Twitter or Facebook?
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