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Microsoft ups rivalry with Google, Box with new sharing software

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Microsoft Corp is boosting its rivalry with Google Inc, Box Inc and Dropbox Inc with new software to help employees work together and share files, looking to expand a US$3 billion annual business and update a program now viewed as passe.

[SEATTLE] Microsoft Corp is boosting its rivalry with Google Inc, Box Inc and Dropbox Inc with new software to help employees work together and share files, looking to expand a US$3 billion annual business and update a program now viewed as passe.

Microsoft is releasing a new SharePoint, introducing phone apps designed to fix the product's lack of mobile integration, and updating the OneDrive file-sharing apps.

The software maker also is offering free migrations for customers of its Office cloud software who want to switch to OneDrive from Box or Google Drive.

It has been three years since Microsoft released a new version of the traditional, non-cloud SharePoint, which lets companies create internal sites for teams and projects, and the software has fallen behind cloud rivals.

The product's lack of mobile features also has pushed some customers to Box and Dropbox. While the update gets Microsoft back into the game, products from some cloud competitors remain easier to use and better designed, said Cheryl McKinnon, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc who was briefed on the Microsoft products.

"SharePoint will still be a bit behind, but this should inject some fresh life into the existing user base," she said.

The biggest impact may be to help Microsoft persuade more customers to switch to the cloud version of SharePoint, Ms McKinnon said. Currently about 40 per cent of customers have moved to the cloud option, the company said.

Microsoft is navigating a transition to cloud and subscription-based products, seeking to lessen its reliance on traditional, one-time software purchases.

Microsoft will use its Office graph technology - its corporate equivalent of Facebook's social graph - to suggest content that is relevant to individual workers in the new SharePoint.

The feature will also let you look at colleagues' profiles and see what they are working on. In OneDrive, new Office graph features will suggest files that are important for users. It's a feature that "has a lot of potential," Ms McKinnon said.

While Microsoft's cloud-based Office, Office 365, can operate with Dropbox and Box, the SharePoint and OneDrive businesses are trying to take customers from both.

"We've played a bit of catch up with the niche file-sharing solutions," said Jeff Teper, a Microsoft vice president who founded the SharePoint business and was asked by Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella to return last summer to lead it.

"This week we're going to leapfrog them." Any business with 150 or more users on Office 365 qualifies for the free support to switch from Box and Google Drive. Microsoft isn't currently making the offer to Dropbox switchers.

Mr Teper said there weren't enough enterprises using Dropbox at a companywide level among the customers Microsoft spoke to in order to gauge demand. If that changes, Microsoft will add the free offer for them as well, he said.

SharePoint 2016 is available today. The mobile apps will follow - iOS first, coming this quarter, while Android and Windows arrive later this year. The Office graph features in SharePoint will be added this quarter, while those features get rolled into the OneDrive Android app this quarter. Windows and iOS follow later this year.

Microsoft is well aware of where it has fallen behind and is working rapidly to modernize SharePoint, Ms McKinnon said. That can boost growth in the business - once touted as Microsoft's fastest growing program ever when it topped US$800 million in sales in 2007.

"I'd put my money on them being successful sooner rather than later," said Ms McKinnon.

BLOOMBERG