I’ve been trying out some of Microsoft’s newest tools this weekend: Microsoft Loop, Microsoft Designer, and Microsoft Whiteboard, although it isn’t as new as the others. In this article, I’ll present simple introductions on these three tools and share my viewpoints on how each would be best managed from their internal product or brand management.
Let’s start with the obvious fact that Microsoft Whiteboard isn’t new. In fact, at the time of writing, it’s between six and seven years old. If it were a child, it’d have already been through preschool and kindergarten and would now be at the end of first grade in the U.S. education system. It’d have lost several baby teeth and have a few full-adult chompers… you get the point, it’s not new. However, what began as a straightforward whiteboard app has evolved in more recent years to be an extremely light competitor to the leading multi-user canvas or whiteboard apps today: Miro, Mural, Lucidspark, ClickUp Whiteboard, and HuddleIQ. This slight upgrade has made the tool much newer than its actual age would suggest.
What’s missing in Microsoft Whiteboard is an extensive set of integrations with the rest of the Office suite, and templates. Having a massive push to diversify, deepen, and enrich the ploppable templates list would singlehandedly make Microsoft Whiteboard a more serious contender in the space and keep people engaged within the Office environment. Beyond that, integrations with Office would make obvious sense, or at least the ability to easily load Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, and other Office documents into the Whiteboard which currently doesn’t exist at all. An ideal solution would be to hybridize these two ideas and add a library for users to maintain a custom document or template library so they can deploy documents and templates on the whiteboard.
Microsoft Designer is a new-for-2023 tool that seeks to transform casual graphic design into an AI-powered turnkey solution. Instead of competing head-on with Canva, Adobe Express, VistaCreate, and others, Microsoft’s approach is to leverage their investment into OpenAI to have Dall-E create images for users. The benefit of doing so is that a complex library of pre-existing social media, advertisement, flyer, poster, and other design types doesn’t have to be created in advance for users to customize. The human middleman is extracted in favor of an AI middle-man who is trained to create such templates on the fly from human instruction.
My suggestion to Microsoft on this piece of software is somewhat unorthodox. However, with the recent spike in acquisition of content creation tools from Microsoft, I believe they should create a Microsoft Create subscription that pairs with Office. Combine the Microsoft-acquired Clipchamp Video Editor together with Microsoft Designer and they’d be partway there. From that point, create a more advanced AI copy writer based on Edge’s Compose tool in the Bing Discovery panel, and add in the other requisite creation tools: an audio editor, a transcoding tool, and something for basic animations. A Microsoft Create subscription might even give Microsoft reason to keep the next PDF editor they acquire instead of instantly selling it off like normal… for PDFs, ePub, and Mobi digital publication creation. Hell, it’d finally give a proper home to Microsoft Publisher, as well as cause to continue developing it, or maybe merge it with Designer itself.
This weekend, I’ve been most excited to get into Microsoft Loop for the first time. Admittedly, it was a bit disappointing to not find a Notion-killer, but Loop does directly go up against Notion, ClickUp, and other types of collaborative workspace apps. So far, however, it’s pages are very limited and its tables (the real power in many collaborative workspaces) are pretty basic.
Despite the early status of Microsoft Loop, Microsoft should 100% press forward with this one. While I agree with many who say that Microsoft’s offerings are becoming too cluttered, I also see that they’re creating a “pivot table” of interfaces, if you’ll excuse the Excel reference. Microsoft has worked hard to ensure that whatever your default UI for Office is, that it surfaces all the tools you’re likely to need while burying the rest. Whether your starting point is the Office app, Office.com, a desktop app’s home screen, or Microsoft Teams, the information you want most is made most readily available. Microsoft Loop looks to be yet another entry point on par with those just listed, but one that also helps integrate tools for the view-only among your team who are using the Office apps, viewing your Sharepoint sites, or collaborating in Teams.
Ultimately, yes, Microsoft’s product and brand managers need to get together in a room for a week and not leave until they have a much more user-friendly categorization system for Microsoft’s offerings. They need to answer the tough questions like, “Who competes with Canva… Designer or PowerPoint, or do they need to merge? Can they merge? Can they evolve?” The same is true for Excel and Airtable. What about Word, how will the new Bing’s generative AI capabilities fit in? I don’t envy their task, and I honestly doubt this proposed conference of brand managers will happen in the way I propose, but boy I’d love to be not just a fly on the wall, but also the one bringing Post-It Notes and Starbucks coffee to that meeting. Maybe I could even convince some of those Redmond folks that Dunkin’ Donuts really is better than Starbucks, but I probably shouldn’t push my luck too much.
For now, I’ll just leave it with my excitement that Microsoft is better organizing their tools with subdomains at the main Microsoft.com domain (eg. whiteboard.microsoft.com, designer.microsoft.com) and that helps those who want to directly dig into one tool instead of a whole suite an easy point of access.