Looking into the Future With the Fluid Framework Preview
Brad already covered the existence of the Fluid Framework Preview. I’ve been looking at how the preview integrates into the Office 365 platform and what this might tell us about how the Fluid Framework might evolve to work inside future Office 365 applications.
Nothing More Than a Preview
The first thing is to emphasize that this is a preview of a new framework and not a complete working application. The preview contains some examples of working code to show people what Microsoft means when it describes how people can collaborate better and faster to create content. Microsoft’s Ignite 2019 blog spoke about a “componentized document model that allows authors to deconstruct content into collaborative building blocks, use them across applications, and combine them in a new, more flexible kind of document.” That’s some mouthful, so let’s see how the preview measures up.
To access the preview, sign in with your Office 365 credentials. You’ll then be able to work with a blank Fluid document where you can create some of the collaborative building blocks mentioned by Microsoft (Figure 1). These are:
- Action Items: A table where you enter details of things to do, who will do them, due dates, and notes. The assignments can be plain text or @mentions of other people in your Office 365 tenant. You can use @mentions in checklists or lists as well.
- Table: Create using your own columns and rows. The formatting is simple.
- Date: Insert dates and some text to show why these dates are needed.
- Check list: A simple check list of items and a completion status.
Figure 1: Working with A Fluid document (image credit: Tony Redmond)
There’s nothing very exciting about these elements, but the point is that as you change them, the changes are replicated to any other application that consumes them where changes appear as they are made elsewhere. For instance, Microsoft says that they foresee fluid elements showing up in “chat in Teams, mail in Outlook, portals in SharePoint, notes in OneNote, and documents in Office.” You could therefore imagine creating a message in OWA with a table of action items that you send to another person. When they receive the table, they can update the table and the update will show up anywhere else the table is used. The Windows old-timers might consider this OLE/DDE on steroids.
To demonstrate the speed of updates, you need to share the fluid document with someone else who can sign into Office 365. If you @mention someone in a document, Fluid prompts you to share the document to allow them to interact with it (Figure 2).
The preview stores Fluid documents in OneDrive for Business or SharePoint Online, so a standard sharing link is created and sent to tell someone that they can open the document. When they do, they’ll see the changes replicated into their copy in almost real time.
To make sure that the changes are captured permanently, Fluid generates frequent versions, much like the Autosave feature used by other Office files stored in OneDrive for Business or SharePoint. These updates are captured in the Office 365 audit log. Here’s an extract of an audit record for an update of a Fluid document stored in OneDrive for Business:
CreationTime : 2020-02-20T21:00:12
Operation : FileModified
Workload : OneDrive
ObjectId : https://office365itpros-my.sharepoint.com/personal/kim_akers_office365itpros_com/Documents/Fluid Preview Docs/Fluid Framework.fluid
UserId : email@example.com
EventSource : SharePoint
ItemType : File
SourceFileExtension : fluid
SiteUrl : https://office365itpros-my.sharepoint.com/personal/kim_akers_office365itpros_com/
SourceFileName : Fluid Framework.fluid
SourceRelativeUrl : Documents/Fluid Preview Docs
The preview is an interesting demonstration of what might be possible in future Office 365 applications. It also creates many questions, such as
- What happens with offline access (not much in the preview).
- What apps are likely to support preview. It’s clear from Microsoft’s comments that the online Office apps, Teams, and OWA are on their radar, but the possibility of inclusion in desktop apps is less certain. At least for now.
- Inclusion of Fluid content in email means that it will be shared with external recipients. Not everyone that you send email to is has a guest account in your tenant, so what happens then? The easy answer is that the app presents a static copy of Fluid content to external (unauthenticated) users.
- How will Fluid elements like action items link to other Office 365 components like the common Tasks object managed by To-Do (generally available since February 13). It doesn’t make sense to have yet another way of managing tasks.
- How will functionality like Data Loss Prevention policies (DLP) work against fast-changing data? It’s possible that someone could share sensitive data in a table or list before DLP agents detect a violation.
- Office 365 captures audit records for document or message updates today, but only at the level of a complete item. How will auditing work when individual elements of a document, message, or chat are changed?
- Can some Fluid content be protected (locked down) or protected with encryption using Office 365 sensitivity labels?
- The preview eagerly generates email notifications for every @mention in a document. Some control of those mentions will be necessary in production as otherwise users might be swamped with notifications.
Getting a Discussion Going
It’s totally expected that a preview should spark questions. In some respects, Microsoft makes previews available to see how customers and other interested parties react. Involving outside opinion in the discussion how intelligent components work to make collaboration easier and faster within Office 365 is a good thing, and it’s certainly something to track over the coming months.