Ntiva Live: Apple for Business

With Paul Bowden, Principal Program Manager of Office for Mac at Microsoft

Episode Overview

In this episode, we're joined by special guest Paul Bowden, the Principal Program Manager of Office for Mac at Microsoft.

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Episode Transcript

Ben Greiner:

Hi, everyone. Today is Tuesday, May 18th, 2021. Live streaming from Chicago, I'm Ben Greiner, director of Apple Technology at Ntiva. As always, with me, my co-host Chad Calease, our cyber resilience lead. And with us today is our special guest Paul, rhymes with wow, Bowden, the principal program manager of Office for Mac at Microsoft.

Chad Calease:

Thanks for making time for us.

Paul Bowden:

Thank you.

Ben Greiner:

Yeah. Paul, a big thank you for coming on, especially during a live stream, to talk about your products. And just to confirm, the products that your team is focused on, could you just list those off for us so we know exactly what we're talking about when we say program manager of office for Mac?

Paul Bowden:

Sure. And thanks, first of all, for having me on here, it's great. Again, I listened to you guys the last couple of weeks and it's been really informative. So I deal mainly on kind of the enterprise side of the house at Microsoft with our Mac apps. Specifically, I concentrate on Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote. Those are kind of the five core staple apps that I hold near and dear to my heart. Of course, we have other apps that we have native on the Mac as well, including Edge and Teams. We have To Do, Defender. And so what I try and do, is we take some of that kind of core knowledge and expertise that we've had of developing those five core apps over the past, almost 40 years, and really kind of expand in the expertise to all the other sub teams at Microsoft that work on Mac.

Ben Greiner:

Yeah. And just to confirm, you're not just working at Microsoft, you are carrying an Apple Mac with you at work, right? Your team, really, they kind of live and breathe Apple within Microsoft. Is that right?

Paul Bowden:

Yeah. And you have to. I've been at the company 24 years. The first 14 years was in the Exchange Server team, so I was very much on the perf scale Win32 server. I started what is kind of now known as Office 365, so kind of big data center back ends. And I kind of had this realization one day that I wanted to see what it was like to develop a client user interface. What goes on at the front end? So, 10 years ago, I switched from backend to frontend. I switched from Win32 to Mac. And of course it's weird, it's strange. You don't come to Microsoft to be an Apple developer.

 

Paul Bowden:

Right.

Ben Greiner:

So you and I met years ago at a conference in Minneapolis, at one of the Jamf conferences, JNUCs. And I remember, you're standing in front of a Mac admin crowd, probably during the period of time where they had some questions they wanted answers from you. And I was very impressed with the fact that you were willing to come out and just like today, and kind of speak publicly, because in the Apple world, I must say Microsoft doesn't always get the love they deserve, because of the history that we've kind of seen. And I remember back in the Ballmer days, Steve Ballmer days, when it was rumored that Microsoft was never going to build an app for the iPad, or maybe even the iPhone. I don't remember all the details. But that's really shifted with Satya, right, the CEO of Microsoft who came on in 2014. I mean, he really changed the perception of Microsoft, and you were there for that. Is that just an outsider's naive view of things or did that really happen?

Paul Bowden:

No, not at all. So Microsoft are fierce partners, fierce competitors. You see the commercials all the time. There's a little fun poking at each other, but we partner so heavily as well. You would have seen the Apple Silicon announce at WWDC last year, and one of the applications at the announcement that they showed was Microsoft Word running natively on Apple Silicon. And that's not just a happy coincidence. There's months and months of dedicated engineering that goes on and partnering between both sides there. But very kind of specifically, the Apple team at Microsoft has been around for several decades. But before Satya joined, it was awkward. I used to get some strange looks walking around campus with my Mac. I almost kind of got kicked off of one of our connector buses that shuttles us between buildings. They thought I wasn't an employee because surely, I wouldn't be carrying an Apple machine.

Paul Bowden:

But Satya kind of came in and the team didn't change, the culture didn't change, but it was accepted. It was a more of Microsoft has to deliver applications on the platform that the customer chooses. And if that choice is a Mac, then we need to be there with full performing applications on the Mac.

Ben Greiner:

Yeah. So you mentioned the M1, and I pulled this page up, maybe too early, because I should have let you talk a little longer, but your team has already delivered M1 optimized apps, right?

Paul Bowden:

Yeah. In fact, December of last year.

Ben Greiner:

December of last year. So how long was it that you kind of had the lead time on that? If you're allowed to say.

Paul Bowden:

Oh, sure. So we essentially got two months heads up going into WWDC. But that wasn't the whole team. There was one from one and a half people that were dedicated to that effort and huge shout out to them for getting an awesome work done. And it's much more than just checking a box or recompiling with Xcode Office. We have millions and millions and lines of code dating back a long time, and so all of that code has to be kind of modernized and recompiled and re-released.

Ben Greiner:

Well, I have a question about that, but before we leave this page, and I know this is not your department, but Microsoft Teams, is there any ETA on when we'll see that optimize for M1? Have they announced anything?

Paul Bowden:

I'm not sure about their formal announcements, but I know the team is working on it. And so hopefully later on this year, we should have some news there.

Ben Greiner:

Yeah. I must say, we live in Teams quite a bit these days and have for the past, even pre-pandemic, we had moved to Teams, and we're seeing a lot of uptick in Teams. And of course, Teams integrates with all the other apps. So I want to get back to just something, I was doing some research in preparation for today, and I came across this article, Outlook for MacOS Finally Gets a Makeover. And I don't know the date on this, and I don't know this guy, Jonathan Towles. Do you know him just before I [crosstalk 00:07:59]?

Paul Bowden:

The name rings a bell. Looking at the URL, it looks like maybe October of last year.

Ben Greiner:

Okay. And I just want to point out, first of all, he says, "It's no secret that Microsoft apps on MacOS are a bit of a poop show." And I feel like that's rather harsh, and this is why once again, I applaud you for going out there and defending and you're-

Chad Calease:

You're probably used to it.

Ben Greiner:

Yeah. You must have some pretty tough skin. I will say, when you get down to the bottom, he does end on a very good... Let's see. This is something special. They have continued to develop and enhance the experience, which may finally be strong. And so he does end on a positive note. The whole review is really positive. But I also run into these instances, and it was very recently, I was in a meeting, and introduced as kind of the Apple person in the room.

Ben Greiner:

And there's still this sort of misguided perception that if you carry an Apple product, you don't embrace Microsoft. And we've embraced Microsoft since at least 2015, when we needed to make a decision about where we were going to go with our own platform internally. And years and years ago, we hosted our own email. And then we eventually moved to the Rackspace cloud, which at the time, we didn't realize was a Microsoft backend. But there came a time where we all needed to make a decision. Were are we going to move to Google or were we going to go to Office 365? And I still think those are the two decisions almost every business has to face today, Google or Microsoft. We decided we wanted to align with our clients. What were our clients running?

Ben Greiner:

And so we looked and ask and questioned, and we knew what most of them are running from our data, but overwhelmingly, they were then and they are today running Microsoft Office. Yes, there are some outliers. Yes, there are people running Google as well. But we thought we needed to align with our clients, so we really embraced the platform. And I think you can really see your team's passion coming through in the apps. But it's still surprising to me that people think it's always Microsoft versus Apple, as opposed to Microsoft and Apple. And I just wondered if that's something... We now live in a Windows world. Ntiva is essentially historically a Windows company. And I see the misconceptions about Apple, and I'm sure you must see some of that within your own environment at Microsoft.

Paul Bowden:

Yeah, absolutely. So I think Apple kind of struggles with a perception as well. I hear people who say Apple really doesn't prioritize the enterprise, or Apple isn't enterprise ready. It's very rare to hear somebody speak of Microsoft that way. Microsoft tends to have kind of a really good reputation. And in fact, there are some cases where you'll hear people say, well, Microsoft doesn't really understand the consumer market. They understand how to make scalable products that work, but they're not particularly pretty, whereas, Apple really does kind of concentrate on the consumer. And I think kind of the competition aside, I think that's where that makes us really strong as partners, because we tend to bring kind of an enterprise mindset to the way that we develop products.

Paul Bowden:

But we don't just throw the icons and throw the command bars on the screen and say, well, it's functional, so let's ship it, because the apps have to feel at home on the devices. Taking an app from a platform such as Windows, and whether you kind of port it or whether you kind of rewrite it, getting that app look, making the UI look like it's at home, is table stakes. Within the first couple of minutes, the user is going to understand whether the developer of the application really uses a Mac or not. It's the subtle gestures, the kind of the way that notifications integrate, it's kind of the placement of certain icons where you would expect to find them.

Paul Bowden:

And my job, working more on kind of the enterprise side is that beauty is not just skin deep. It's not just about the great look and feel of the app. It's kind of go and talk to a Mac admin and prove to them, this app is enterprise ready. That it's ready to [inaudible 00:13:08]. We use native installers. We use proper MDM and preference management. That has to go all the way down the stack, so that anyone from a user to an admin can say, "Yeah, this is a bonafide Apple application."

Ben Greiner:

And I would imagine the challenge... Oh, sorry. Well, the challenge is you have to make it look and feel like an Apple product, but you're working within the confines of a much larger ecosystem of Microsoft. Outlook has to kind of look like Outlook, right? So how do you balance that Windows look and feel, and the Mac look and feel?

Paul Bowden:

Right. And it gets even more complex because a couple of years ago, we solidified our code base, completely rationalized down to a single code base, for our core applications. So whether it's Windows, whether it's Mac, iOS, Android, all of those apps are built out of a common code base. And you have to work really hard not to just make them generic. It would be so easy to just say, "We'll just make them all look the same. We're Office, so we'll have just an Office brand and leave it as that." But that just doesn't work for users. They need it to look and feel at home. And especially on the Android, where you have a back button on the Android. You have three buttons at the bottom [inaudible 00:14:45]. How do you decide what gestures to hook those to when you have different hardware capabilities as well?

Ben Greiner:

Yeah. I've never heard of Android. I don't know what that is. Chad, did you have one question before I ask another or a comment, if I interrupted?

Chad Calease:

You kind of touched on it. I was just thinking, I'm trying to imagine the legion of QA testers that put eyes and ears and every other senses into these builds, and that must just be a very, it's certainly time and expensive process, but it shows. It definitely shows.

Paul Bowden:

Yeah, I definitely appreciate that. The folks that work at Microsoft on Apple products, we're kind of Apple fan boys. We really are. And we have to be. If we weren't passionate about the platform, you would know in an instant, because it would shine through in the quality of the product.

Chad Calease:

Well said. That's very well said.

Ben Greiner:

So I was surprised today, when I was kind of looking at this, to see that you announced the new Outlook for Mac in late 2019. Is that right? I mean, that's what the article that dated.

Paul Bowden:

Yeah. In fact, it was the Ignite event back in 2019, we gave its first showing.

Ben Greiner:

And I know today, anyone who's running Outlook on the Mac can open it up and switch to the new Outlook, or they can switch back. And in fact, I've talked to Chad about this. So some days I think, you know what? I just want to run really lean, really clean. I want to get rid of my desktop apps and just use the web, which, sorry, Paul, that's not your department, right? You're not the web. You're the desktop. But I always-

Paul Bowden:

I have to be all departments.

Ben Greiner:

Yeah. But I always end up falling back to the desktop. There's something I can't overcome to live in the web. If I'm traveling, maybe. But even when I'm traveling now, I typically take my iPad and I use the native apps on the iPad. But I have tried to use the web and I always fall back to the desktop. Well, then I tried the new Microsoft, or the new Outlook experience, and it was early, and all the features weren't there, so I went back to the original Outlook. But I think you guys, I've heard you're close to getting the new Outlook finished, like feature parody. Is that right? Are we almost there?

Chad Calease:

Yeah, I guess in the last month or so we completed all of our shared calendar mailbox delegation scenarios in new Outlook. And that was a significant milestone for us, especially in the commercial business space where you do need kind of that multi mailbox access. I think the couple of things that the people enjoy about the new Outlook, kind of the foundation has been rewritten. Search has been a big pain point with Outlook, going back several years. And this is where we've said, okay, we have a lot of data that we're trying to integrate here with search. Let's kind of take the power of the backend, let's use our fast technology at the backend rather than spotlight on the client. Let's shave off of the protocol overheads of Exchange Web Services and move to a more modern protocol, which is what we call here.

Chad Calease:

So if you kind of do a side-by-side comparison of performance and we don't sync the entire mailbox now, we just sync kind of the most recent messages you've got. Just a much faster experience. I will say that people that do switch to new Outlook, I see them kind of sit back in their chair initially, because they have this shock of the UI and the UI is radically different. But when you kind of look at the UI, you can kind of see that it feels kind of right at home with Big Sur and Apple changes its design language every couple of years. And it's important for the apps to kind of have that same familiar design language as well. So when we were putting the new Outlook together, kind of the layout and the way that we look was really important to match the OS.

Ben Greiner:

Yeah. Well, I think it does look great and I did enjoy using it until I ran into some of those features that were missing. And then I, for the sake of convenience, went back. But is there an official time- oh, sorry, Chad.

Chad Calease:

Oh, sorry. I was just going to say that one of my favorite things about the Office, the whole suite now, I mean, it used to just be Outlook, right? You had this backup plan we called OWA, right, which was really cool. That's unique, even still, right, to have that kind of two channels to access these tools and this data in this way. And that's something I've always valued, is really having that, whether if I'm on a device that's maybe not work-related, right, and I want to just check, maybe I'm traveling or something. I want to check. I can use OWA in a way that's safe and minimizes risks to the business. I mean, there's a lot of that built into it that I've always found very valuable.

Paul Bowden:

Yeah, absolutely. And you get into this conversation of should everything be a web app? And that conversation has been going on for many years. And I've certainly worked on web applications, pure web applications, in the past. And I've kind of reached a conclusion that maybe one day, we will be living in kind of a browser world, where everything is through a browser. But it is so hard to get that native feel using the browser. The technology is not there. If you have a perfect network and you have no network latencies, you can kind of get there. But in the real world, you have to have that proper kind of handling for performance and glitches on the network. And that's still where native apps shine.

Ben Greiner:

Yeah.

Ben Greiner:

Is there an official release date for when sort of the current or old Outlook will be gone and it'll just all be the new Outlook?

Paul Bowden:

Nothing official, because we're still working on bringing that new feature set up. Probably the biggest outstanding item is the new Outlook experience for on-premise Exchange servers. Because right now, that new Outlook, only a few have Exchange online. So it's several more months worth of hard work to kind of bring that on premise [crosstalk 00:22:01].

Ben Greiner:

Well, I love and appreciate, from a support standpoint, that you guys built in this button to say, show me the new Outlook, or bring me back, because there are so many developers that don't do it that way. They're separate apps. Maybe they coexist, maybe they don't. It causes a lot of confusion. It causes a lot of calls to our support desk to either uninstall or re-install. And as far as I can tell, you guys made it pretty seamless. Was that something that you had to fight for, or how did that come about? I don't think I've seen that anywhere else.

Paul Bowden:

Well, when you kind of go into a brainstorming meeting and you're thinking, wow, we could do so much with this new Outlook. We'll make it so much better than what we have today. There is a tendency to fall into the trap of thinking, well, let's just rewrite it. Let's start from a blank canvas. Let's write it at all in SwiftUI and latest technology, and reality comes crashing down two minutes later when you realize that there is so much functionality that you would have to kind of rewrite that it doesn't make sense to have a brand new app. Although, for engineering reasons, that would be very cost-effective, it really doesn't work for the user base.

Paul Bowden:

And so it made complete sense for us that we wanted to have essentially both apps under a switch. And it really is two apps, because the foundation and the UI is just completely between the two. But you kind of don't want to get into this situation where you have two versions of Outlook on your machine, right? You really should just have one Outlook. And then we kind of went that extra mile as well and built in proper preferences, so the IT admins had control over whether the new Outlook toggle was exposed or not, because the last thing you want is to roll out an update for Outlook and suddenly, users are presented with, "Hey, do you want to try this new experience?" And they think, yeah, sure. That sounds great. And if it's really not feature complete, then you've got some very dissatisfied users and then you've got calls into the help desk. So we wanted to make sure the IT admins had also that power over what the user sees so that they can kind of keep their costs low and switch when they're ready.

Ben Greiner:

Well, I also appreciate that we have not had to rebuild an Outlook database in I don't know how many years. That used to be, unfortunately, a common troubleshooting tool. Speaking of troubleshooting tools, you have a website, which I had up here, but I lost it. Here we go. Macadmins.software. And you created this site, right?

Paul Bowden:

Yeah. In fact, this site dates back to, I guess, late 2015. And just like most things, I could never remember all of the links to the various applications that we had. And so I created this web page for myself and I referenced it multiple times a day so I could find out how to get the latest app. And then somebody said to me that would be really useful for everybody else as well. So I got a GoDaddy account and stuck the webpage on there. And it's not the prettiest of websites. It kind of looks like it was compiled on a Commodore 64, but it's very functional. And because I use it multiple times a day for myself, it means that I keep it up to date. And it's important to be passionate about what you output.

Ben Greiner:

Yeah. Our team uses this website a lot, because there's a lot of great tools. And like you said, just links you forget how to get to or how to find. And so, yeah, this is fabulous. It almost feels like Microsoft, at least from my point of view, should embrace this a little more and give you some true branding love here, but this is all done on your own, right?

Chad Calease:

That's great. That's why it's awesome.

Paul Bowden:

Yeah, it's a pretty fast website as well, because there is very little JavaScript in here.

Ben Greiner:

Well, yeah, that's the downside. If you get corporate involved, they may also ruin the whole project. So maybe I should not have mentioned this. All of our listeners out there, it's going to blow up. Yeah.

Paul Bowden:

The one thing I put at the topis, you can see near the header, all links on this page point to Microsoft's official download. So that trust is important and if you put a wire sniffer on this, you can see everything going to the Microsoft network. It's just a rapid page at the front end.

Ben Greiner:

Yeah. And I see you have lots of great links here at the top, including your team and your Slack username. So you guys are putting yourself out there and offering support to the community. And I really applaud you for that, because there's so few companies today that will do that. Many of them even hide behind the fact that they can't do something for corporate reasons, and it just frustrates people. So you guys, you and your team alone, have done Microsoft a huge service in just building bridges with the Apple people out there, and you've done a great job of it.

Paul Bowden:

Right. I appreciate it. And big shout out to all the Mac admins that I interact with. I am so much smarter because of them. I really am. And although it may feel like this is a good thing for Microsoft to show presence in the community, there are so many things that I didn't know before I joined the Mac admin community. So, thank you.

Chad Calease:

That's awesome. It represents a shift, maybe a larger, almost meteoric shift, in just Microsoft's approach to even open source software, right? It wasn't the case 10 years ago, where they were very open to this community engagement of free software. And now, to kind of go 180 on that, that has to have lots of positive side-effects internally, I would imagine.

Paul Bowden:

Yeah, absolutely. And the world has changed and I like to think that Microsoft keeps up with those changes and embraces them and is not stubborn.

Ben Greiner:

Yeah. I know this isn't your department, but does Microsoft still sell a box set of their software? I feel like if I Google it and you can still find it, but is that legit? Or is that just...?

Paul Bowden:

Yeah, every now and again, I walk into a kind of Best Buy or Target and I see the little card hanging up, Office 365, and it has a little activation code on the back. But I do know that if I walk into the company store in on Redmond campus, you can actually still purchase the box set. It's in a real cardboard box, and we sell those online as well. So they still exist somewhere.

Ben Greiner:

They still exist. Well, I think Microsoft should kill those off, because it just causes confusion. Just go Office 365 and forget about it. But I have one technical question for you, because it just happened to me right before. In fact, I made the mistake of not inviting Paul properly to this meeting. He needs to be a what? Not a participant. What's the term?

Paul Bowden:

A panelist.

Ben Greiner:

A panelist. Thank you.

Paul Bowden:

This is while you're here syndrome, isn't it? While you're here, can you also answer this technical question?

Ben Greiner:

And it's not really technical. It's just a frustration of mine, and I don't know if you have the answer to it. But I feel like the Mac experience is if I want to copy an email address, I want to copy just the email address. But Outlook always gives me the name and the email address, and then I have to delete the name, and the little carrots next to the email address, every single time. And I haven't figured out, is there some secret way to change this behavior or do you know what I'm talking about?

Paul Bowden:

I know what you're talking about and I feel there is, but I can't remember. I think there's a shortcut to just copy the email address.

Ben Greiner:

Okay. Well that will be a team for the Mac admins or I'll ask somebody on this team here. But that's the only thing that sometimes interrupts my Apple experience when using all of these products, is that little thing, that little copy and paste. And I find myself doing it way too often, and I always think there's got to be a way to not do this.

Paul Bowden:

This will be my challenge for today, to go off and get this working if it doesn't already.

Ben Greiner:

Yeah. And of course, I waited till the very end so you didn't just walk out on that question in the middle of the live stream. But I'm just kidding. I knew you wouldn't do that.

Chad Calease:

We've got some good comments about that. Maybe I could share some questions about can't print calendar invite under Big Sur running Office 365, that lots of interest in your shortcut, Paul. What else have we got here? Oh yeah, one [crosstalk 00:31:57].

Ben Greiner:

I just saw our chat window. Did I miss this?

Chad Calease:

He says he double click and then snips out the email only. That's what I do. Yeah. It's usually pretty easy to work around it. But yeah, this is good stuff.

Ben Greiner:

Well, I have confidence that Paul is going to fix this. It's a huge issue in the community. It's causing fights at home. Parents are taking it out on their kids, and we've got to get it fixed.

Paul Bowden:

All right, give me till the end of today.

Ben Greiner:

Okay. Excellent. If you need all week, I mean, this has been happening for a while. But Paul, thank you very much for being with us. And I want to mention next week, because I got to do a better job of promoting what we're doing ahead of time. Not next week, because we do this every two weeks, but was it June 1st? Yeah, June 1st, we have Tom Bridge, who's also a friend of mine and I've met at several conferences, most recently, one in Australia, which was pre-pandemic. Was that the last conference I went to? Maybe.

Paul Bowden:

Tom is awesome. I love Tom.

Ben Greiner:

Yeah. So Paul, you know him. Tom is now the principal product manager of Apple at JumpCloud. So we're going to hear from JumpCloud.

Paul Bowden:

Yeah, and big congrats to him.

Ben Greiner:

Yeah. So I'm looking forward to talking to Tom and learning more about not just JumpCloud, which we use, but also kind of the differences that... This type of product, I think, is challenging, and we'll get to this in two weeks, but it's challenging because there's a lot of confusion in the marketplace around what it does, doesn't do, and how it compares even to Azure. Azure has some overlap here with JumpCloud. Of course, Azure has a lot of overlap, I think. I think it could do anything if you say the word Azure, but anyway. Thanks, Paul. I really appreciate it.

Chad Calease:

Yeah. Thanks for making time, Paul.

Paul Bowden:

Yeah, thanks for inviting me on the show. It was a pleasure.

Ben Greiner:

Okay. Enjoy your day. Bye.

About the Ntiva Apple for Business Livestream

Ntiva’s Ben Greiner and Chad Calease host the Ntiva Apple for Business livestream every other Tuesday from 12:00 to 12:30pm CT. These live events, presented by the Ntiva team of Apple experts, are sharply focused, easily digestible, and cover topics including the latest Apple/macOS/iOS technology updates, cybersecurity, data privacy, MDM and BYOD policies, and more! We take questions from the audience and share what's working—and not working—for us and others in the industry.

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