New collaboration tool TABLE is Slack, LinkedIn, & Upwork all-in-one

Communicating with people is hard. Or at least, it can be. Particularly when everyone isn’t in the same room, timezone, or (same) page. I can hear your cries now, bellowing, “That’s why there’s email!” and I would be inclined to agree with you, but email sucks. A lot. That’s why we have Slack and HipChat, which is great for those working primarily at a single organization, but not necessarily for those primarily doing freelance.

Now meet TABLE, a new web-based collaboration tool/platform launching this week in private beta that aims to be an all-in-one for distributed teams, freelancers, and occasional collaborators. Basically if you spend your days doing contract work for many different businesses, this service is worth keeping an eye on.

Table diverges from the recognizable structure of popular enterprise chat systems like Slack and Hipchat by splitting up into three basic portions: tables, people, and discover. The service is essentially divided into these three categories, with each breaking down into several key modules or “micro services” that can be customized to make sense for each project.

“Our approach, even towards the architecture of our web application, is micro services,” says Table CEO and cofounder Cristian Petschen. “We’re not really about the communication tool itself. We’re about connecting people, and being able to build your trusted collaborator network.”

Table lets you connect to people who have individual profiles on the platform, regardless of where they work. You can message them privately, invite them to a Table (which, functions similarly to Slack Channels and HipChat rooms), add them to your Inner Circle, or bring them into a Room. (Rooms function similarly to Teams in Slack and HipChat in that they allow you to bring people and Tables together, but you’re not tethered to a room for collaboration.)

Table isn’t just chat, though. Instead, its purpose is to give you options for communication as it makes sense to a particular project or task via the aforementioned micro services and modules. Some of these will be rolling out as Table moves out of the private beta and into the launch phase, but eventually users will be able to rate each other on performance, make voice calls, and even send and pay invoices directly through Table’s platform.

This brings us to Table’s other two primary categories: People and Discover, which allow you to manage current contacts or find new collaborators based on your professional network.

While LinkedIn has something of a stranglehold on the professional networking game, it’s not exactly a great place for getting things done or finding qualified collaborators for specific projects. Table wants to give users some of the functionality of LinkedIn with a network, but make it possible for people who don’t know one another to connect much like they do through sites like Upwork (formally Elance-oDesk).

“It’s going to be LinkedIn and more in that sense, because you can also put your projects up and people can look at your projects and the work that you’ve done,”Petschen says. “Since you’re collaborating on the platform, it’s not only what you say about yourself, but also what you’re doing. [Table] knows what subjects you’re working on, who you’re coming together with, and it has a much better idea of who you are.”

While Table is still in private beta, you can sign up to get on the waiting list.

Dropbox beta tests Paper, a collaborative writing tool

Dropbox has revealed a new collaborative writing tool. It’s called Paper — not to be confused with Facebook’s news reader app, FiftyThree’s drawing app, and likely a dozen other less prominent software products — and right now Dropbox is inviting select consumers to beta test it.
Paper is the next iteration of the Notes service Dropbox previewed earlier this year. It works a lot like a trumped-up version of Google Docs: People can use the service to write together, communicate, and assign each other individual tasks.
Here’s what Engadget, which got a preview of the service, had to say about it:

When asked what differentiated it from the rest of the field, [Dropbox product manager Matteus] Pan pointed to Paper’s focus on building documents that let users work and share multiple content types regardless of what’s used to create them.
He cited Paper as a way to collaborate that keeps things from getting overly ‘messy’ in terms of both clean design and organization. The last differentiator is organization and helping teams find their work quicker. ‘Creation and collaboration are only half the problem,’ he said. ‘The other half is how information is organized and retrieved across an entire company.’

Dropbox picked a funny day to reveal Paper to the public. Another company, Quip, announced just this morning that it has raised $30 million from a number of investors to keep working on its own collaborative office tool. Given the inevitable competition between these services, it wouldn’t be hard to believe Dropbox revealed Paper to try and steal some attention away from its new rival.
Not that Quip is the only service Paper will have to compete against. There’s also Google Docs, Microsoft Office, and who-knows-how-many other tools out there. The service will have to fight an uphill battle to become something more than another interesting service Dropbox introduced only to let it become stagnant. (Say hello to Carousel and Mailbox!) To state the obvious: Odds are against it.
Dropbox users can ask to be added to Paper’s waitlist through the service’s site. The company hasn’t said how many people it plans to allow on the beta service, nor when the service will exit beta and become available to the general public.

Microsoft’s big task: Replicating Windows-Office success in cloud

Microsoft turned in pretty good second quarter results on Monday, but its stock still took a hit after hours and into Tuesday. At time of posting, Microsoft shares were off 8.6 percent to $42.97 from Monday’s close of $47.01.

Why? After the earnings call, [company]Microsoft[/company] watchers seemed to remember that the company cash cows remain good old-fashioned Office and Windows, sales of which aren’t setting the world on fire. Sales in the company’s Commercial Division, which includes those products, missed expectations, logging “just” $10.68 billion for the quarter compared to the $10.94 billion that FactSet analysts had expected, according to Marketwatch.

Another data point: Revenue for Windows OEM versions of the operating system — which get pre-loaded on new PCs  — fell 13 percent year over year. And Windows Volume licensing revenue grew just 3 percent, as CRN pointed out.

Monday’s call was characterized as the end of the honeymoon for Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who took the reins in February, 2014. I don’t know about that, but there does seem to be a growing realization that replicating the wild success Microsoft had selling tons of copies of Office and Windows — either through volume licenses to big companies or at retail — will be a tough task in the cloud era where Microsoft was not first out of the gate.

On Monday’s earnings call,  Nadella acknowledged that Windows suffered a tough year-to-year comparison noting that: “As expected, the one-time benefit of Windows XP end-of-life PC refresh cycle has tailed off.” He was referring to the fact that Microsoft stopped supporting the popular XP operating system in  April 2014, and that publicized deadline probably pulled many PC purchases forward from this year.

Microsoft CFO Amy Hood cited that “comparability issue” as a headwind that will “show itself most directly as weakness in commercial licensing and most specifically as weakness in Office transactional licensing.” Transactional business refers to sales of full-licensed software to run on a PC or server, as opposed to the more incremental subscription Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model.

Fading glory?

So Office and Windows sales took a hit because they did well last year, but there’s more to this concern than the lingering impact of Windows XP’s demise.

At the heart of Microsoft’s problem is that, for many companies, it is just not the brand it once was. Whereas people of my era grew up relying on Microsoft Office applications, startups and young employees are less likely to use them. Google Apps is more likely their productivity suite. So [company]Google[/company] is strong in small companies, but it has also been aggressive courting enterprise accounts.

That means that, in this SaaS era, Microsoft faces a formidable name-brand competitor that can compete with it on price. The days of Microsoft being able to demand a premium price are over.

The company is doing lots of smart things to try to remedy the attention deficit among young companies. Its decision to go “freemium ” with PowerBI is smart, but then again the prospect of free software won’t endear it to Wall Street analysts, a constituency that was thrilled to see Nadella replace Steve Ballmer at CEO.

Sure, Microsoft can claim progress in cloud with Azure infrastructure as a service — but that comes from a small base of users compared to the [company]Amazon[/company] Web Services juggernaut. So when it says its cloud business hit a $5 billion run rate in the second quarter it’s worth noting, but with a grain of salt. Cloud numbers from legacy vendors are fluffy at best as they typically include a lot of legacy stuff and services thrown in. Last week, [company]IBM[/company] claimed its cloud business hit its $7 billion target, a claim that met much skepticism.

Microsoft will have to keep investing in key new technologies if it’s going to build relevance for modern companies. The goal is to make sure that PowerBI or some other Microsoft product becomes as essential to a big class of users as Excel and Word did 20 to 30 years ago. And Nadella has opened up the check book — Microsoft has almost $89 billion in cash after all. Last week, Microsoft acquired Revolution Analytics, the company that backs the R language used by many data scientists.

Big data and machine learning will be key areas — which you can hear more about from Joseph Sirosh, corporate VP for machine learning who will speak at Structure Data in New York City in March.

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Live blog: Microsoft previews Windows 10 in Redmond

Microsoft’s consumer-focused Windows 10 reveal kicks off at company headquarters in Redmond, Washington today and we’re live from the event to see what the next version of Windows has in store.

We’re expecting Microsoft to share new details about how the desktop version of Windows 10 works, but the bigger questions facing Microsoft surround its mobile strategy and the next version of Windows for tablets and smartphones. Will Microsoft merge its Windows Stores for mobile and the desktop into a single cross-platform app store? Microsoft is also to announce new improvements and features for Cortana, its voice-activated assistant, as well as possibly a new browser codenamed “Spartan.”

Windows 10 also marks Microsoft’s first major Windows release since CEO Satya Nadella took over last year. He’ll be speaking today, so make sure to tune in starting at 9:00am PT.

Here’s what’s been announced so far:

Google wants your Windows apps on its cloud

Despite what you may hear from the Linux-and-Mac crowds, a good chunk of today’s enterprise workloads run on Windows Server, which is why Google really wants them to also run on the Google Cloud Platform.

And now they can. Because [company]Google[/company] is now party to the Microsoft License Mobility program, existing SQL Server databases, SharePoint document repositories and Exchange Server mail can run on the Google Cloud Platform without having to cough up additional licensing fees to do so. At least that’s the case if they now run on Windows Server 2008 R2, support for which Google announced in March. But Google is also working on analogous support for the newer Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2 releases, about which it will talk “soon,” according to this Google Cloud Platform blog post.

As for why a Windows shop would opt for Google’s cloud as opposed to, say, [company]Microsoft[/company] Azure, Google director of product management Greg DeMichillie didn’t hesitate to play the anti-lock-in card.

“Almost every enterprise intentionally wants to be multi-cloud,” DeMichillie noted. “Let’s face it, some of them got locked into on-prem licenses fees from vendors that were much bigger than they expected. Most companies will qualify two or three different cloud vendors.”

Plus, he noted, when customers look at Google Compute Engine’s local SSD storage and data center peering, they’ll see it “as a great place for enterprises to bring their apps” along with other perks like Google Firebase for mobile development and Big Query analytics.

Greg DeMichillie, director of product management, Google.

Greg DeMichillie, director of product management, Google.

Google has indeed been working overtime to portray its cloud as a good home for enterprise data and workloads. It sort of has to since [company]Amazon[/company] Web Services has an 8-year head start and Azure can parlay Microsoft’s branding and existing relationships with enterprise accounts. Google has made some inroads, especially among younger companies with Google Apps et al, but it’s still playing catch-up in big companies.

But I would agree that most large companies do not want to lock into one cloud vendor, and that may play to Google’s advantage.