While old-school productivity offerings like Word, Excel and PowerPoint are still very much core to the Office experience, Microsoft has really stretched the boundaries of what it means to be an Office app over the past year. And two of its most recent offerings—Office Mix and Office Sway—are interesting, forward-leaning examples of how authoring in Office is changing.
Office Mix is the more traditional of the two new Office solutions, since it’s really an add-in for PowerPoint. But it doesn’t take long to see how Mix represents a new way of thinking. With straight-up PowerPoint, you can create presentations which are essentially a one-way form of communication. Yes, you will (hopefully) interact with your audience while speaking to a PowerPoint presentation, but there is little interaction functionality in the actual product.
Mix changes that. It helps you change your unidirectional presentations into interactive online lessons that you can share with others. So while you use PowerPoint to create a presentation, you use Mix to create a … mix.
You can discover much of what Mix adds to PowerPoint by simply viewing the new Mix tab that appears in that app after the add-in is installed. Here, you’ll see options for recording your slides, adding quizzes and other interactive elements, recording the screen, taking a screenshot, inserting audio and video, and more.
Once you’re done mixing, you can also upload your mix to a My Mixes pages at Microsoft’s Office Mix site, so you can share it with others. This isn’t a video, as you might share on YouTube, though it does provide that one-sided output option as well. Instead, a mix is a new kind of interactive document that’s designed to be web-hosted so that viewers can access it from any web browser on any device. So while Mix does require a certain version of Office during creation—Office 2013 for Windows or newer—its output is very much universal by design.
This is perhaps a more important point than is immediately obvious. With traditional core Office applications—again, Word, Excel and PowerPoint—you are essentially working with a document, a file that you manually manage. But the output of Mix—your mix—is more nebulous. It’s an online thing. There is no way to create an “offline” version of a mix.
As you might expect, Mix has been very well received by teachers and educators, trainers, and other presenters. And you can find some impressive public mixes in the Office Mix Gallery. You can watch Bill Gates explain why there won’t be any more poor countries by 2035. Watch Bill McGowan explain how to communicate effectively. Or just learn a lot more about Office Mix. There is an amazing range of educational content in the gallery.
Because Mix works with an existing and well-understood Office application there is a bit of a comfort zone to using it, and those who are familiar with PowerPoint should immediately see the benefits of this add-on. Office Sway, however, is quite a bit different and indeed quite a bit more forward leaning. It is also quite a bit more confusing.
Like Mix, Office Sway exists in the cloud: there are no downloadable or offline files for viewers/readers to access. Unlike Mix, Sway is a completely new Office app, and it’s currently only available on the web—which is where you would access it from a PC or tablet—and via a single mobile app on iOS (iPhone and iPad). Microsoft tells me Android and Windows Phone apps are coming soon too.
You use Office Sway to create—wait for it—a sway, a new kind of interactive web app that frees you from the time consuming and difficult process of learning and mastering good layout and presentation so you can focus on your content. This is quite different from PowerPoint, and thus Mix. Microsoft describes Sway as a sort of “designer in a box” that lets you focus on intent—what you’re trying to communicate, of course, but also which bits should be specially emphasized—rather than what it looks like.
Indeed, a sway is a living entity of sorts in that you do not create a hard-coded document that needs to retain its structural and layout integrity when viewed on different devices. Instead, a sway will adapt automatically to the device you’re using, be a small-screen phone, a tablet, or a large-screen PC, and to the screen orientation. And it will do so without requiring the sway’s maker to understand let alone master how that works.
Sways are also multimedia, letting you incorporate text, photos and other graphics, videos, and other content. For those with some layout skill, Sway does let you choose from templates and other organizational elements. But you can also go full auto and even “remix” an entire sway, letting Sway pick layouts that make the most sense for the content you’ve chosen.
Like Mix, Sway is already a big hit with educators, but in this case it’s the students using the tool, not the teachers. That’s because Sway is such a natural and creative way to make projects that combine different types of content into a single web app. And as with Mix, your sways are available online, and can be shared with others.
I’ll be looking more closely at both of these solutions in the near future and will create a few mixes and sways of my own to see whether it makes sense to incorporate these new tools into my own work.