Microsoft Office Mix [RIP]: Why Was It Offered At All?

Microsoft Office Mix [RIP]: Why Was It Offered At All?
Summary: This post-mortem analysis article raises many questions regarding: (1) Microsoft’s termination of its 2D content development/production solution Office Mix, and (2) Microsoft’s replacement of Office Mix with a widely criticized ‘transition’ solution.

A Review Of Microsoft Office Mix's Closure

The logical expectation that I suspect most of the users of Office Mix had had (before it was shut down, that is), was that Office Mix Preview or Beta version software would at some point move to stable release. Nevertheless, in a most bizarre software-release life cycle [ever?], Microsoft moved to a completely different solution; this ‘solution’, Microsoft termed a ‘transition’ in a section on its announcement page about Office Mix Preview’s end of service.

1. Office Mix Preview And Its ‘Transition’

However, some analysis of Microsoft Tech Community forum discussion called ‘Microsoft Stream is no replacement for Office Mix’, indicates Microsoft terminated Office Mix knowing the transition it was providing was inadequate (section 3 provides more discussion on this issue). For example, a Microsoft Program Manager with regard to the inadequacy of Microsoft’s transition from Office Mix stated on this forum discussion that ‘we are looking now very seriously on how we can bridge that gap with PowerPoint and Stream’.

So why did Microsoft knowingly offer an inadequate solution? Or rather, and more pertinently, why did they offer Office Mix at all?

2. What Was The ‘Transition’ Microsoft Offered Its Office Mix Users?

The sleek, all-in-one, HTML5-production, cloud-based, Office Mix Preview, which was freely available [as a PowerPoint extension], freely shareable [anywhere, but also had access control options], interactive, and full of features [eg quizzes, analytics] was shut down.  And, its ‘fans’ were ‘thanked’ for their ‘positive feedback’, and told that Microsoft would be ‘bringing the best of Office Mix directly into PowerPoint, Microsoft Stream, and Microsoft Forms for Office 365 subscribers on Windows PCs’.

In the ‘meanwhile’, Office Mix users were given approximately seven months to migrate their Mixes as videos to Microsoft Stream, download them as PowerPoint files or download them as MP4 videos; they were also advised to download any analytics data as Excel files.

3. Did They Actually Bring The Best Of Office Mix To The ‘Transition’?

No [in my opinion and many other disgruntled users]

Key failings to date: no real Mix-like interactivity on Stream and the inability to share content freely outside the organisation on Stream.

However, MP4s downloaded from Office Mix, or exported videos from PowerPoint, can be shared freely with anyone anywhere using a production server or video platform. Sharing videos outside the organisation, however, adds another layer of work that was not required in Office Mix.

3.1 Other Evidence That Microsoft’s ‘Transition’ Was Inadequate

Microsoft announced clearly on its Office Mix discontinuation of service page that:

‘We are working to bring interactivity to the Microsoft Stream video player so you can build, upload, play back, and share more Mix-like content on Microsoft Stream (that includes quizzes, ability to jump to different parts of the presentation, and more). Over time, we'll enhance the analytics capabilities for videos on Microsoft Stream’. [NB this sadly appears on the whole to still be ‘work-in-progress’].

Additionally, in the detailed 174-page user guide document on Stream, there is still very little mention of how to add any useful Mix-level interactivity. Only on page 23 of this document is adding interactivity mentioned, e.g. one can ‘build an interactive table of contents for the video by typing in the time codes of interesting points in the video’; though, note, doing this is an ‘additional’ time-consuming task, and is certainly not comparable to Office Mix interactivity.

Furthermore, on a Microsoft tech community discussion, all the participants were very critical of Stream vis-à-vis Office Mix. Some of the problem issues included:

  • much longer upload speeds to Stream in comparison to uploading to Office Mix;
  • not having embedded interactivity with Microsoft Stream;
  • questions regarding why axe Office Mix when there was no replacement for it;
  • a belief that the decommissioning of Office Mix was premature and there was no real replacement for it [e.g. no analytics or no built-in quizzes];
  • assertions it was very inconvenient for users or organisations that had relied on the service or had large numbers of Mixes created;
  • difficulties transferring Mix privacy settings into Stream [i.e. it was held that this needed to be done video by video manually];
  • the inability to freely share streams outside the organisation in Stream.

With regard to PowerPoint, Microsoft announced there would be a recording tab, and presentations would then be able to be published in Stream and shared across the organisation; thus far, please note this is not available for Mac. Moreover, it is also stated that 'Microsoft Forms will be coming to PowerPoint over the next few months to replace quiz interactivity' [though this appears to still be under development].

However, upon testing the PowerPoint-Stream options in more detail, it was found that the exporting to video option in PowerPoint for uploading in Stream, depending on the quality option [i.e. 480p, 720p or 1080p], can take a lot of time and produce large file sizes. Moreover, uploading such video files to Stream can also take a lot of time. Therefore, this process is more complex and time-consuming than uploading to Office Mix was [e.g. see the video of the Office Mix process here].

3.2 About Stream, And A Further Comparison With Office Mix

Microsoft Stream, which is an Enterprise Video service, allows only people in an organization to upload, view, organize and share [e.g. using other O365 apps] videos securely; videos are organised in channels or groups. It is also possible to share comments on a video, tag timecodes in comments and descriptions to refer to specific points in a video and discuss with colleagues. Stream has some powerful features e.g. generation of automatic captions, transcript mode, deep search, face timeline, advanced accessibility.  Microsoft Stream supports Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer 11, and the current versions of Chrome and Safari.

However, Office Mix, in contrast to Stream, had a stronger educational focus and had many education-related sites e.g. [however, this particular site has been closed down].

4. What Inconvenience Did The ‘Transition’ Cause?

Judging from community feedback comments, the transition was extremely disruptive; moreover, some institutions had had very large numbers of Office Mixes [e.g. my one had over a thousand Mixes :( ].

In addition:

  • the downloaded Office Mix MP4 videos were low quality at 480p [and possibly compressed];
  • Trying to convert a downloaded PowerPoint from Office Mix into Articulate Studio 360 [a well-known content development software solution] is possible but time-consuming and requires Multimedia know-how;
  • Using the downloaded PowerPoint files from Office Mix to export to a video at higher quality [e.g. 720p, internet quality], is time-consuming and needs multimedia expertise;

Designed by Vladislav Kolev

Designed by Vladislav Kolev

5. So Why Did They (Really) Shut Down Office Mix?

On a tech-community forum, a Microsoft Program Manager stated that ‘The issue is that Office Mix service was a beta/preview service. As such it didn't have all the compliance, standards, and governance of a full-fledged O365 service’.

However, this response at best, seems ‘disappointing’ [i.e. why couldn't this have been sorted out?], and at worst, a tad ‘unconvincing’.

If I were to ‘stick my neck out’, so to speak, I would assert that it was never the intention of Microsoft to end up with such an inadequate hotpot transition. Office Mix, by way of comparison, was such a promising, ‘too-good-to-be-true’, user-friendly content development and production solution.

So maybe, Microsoft just 'bit off more than it could chew’ with Office Mix?

Video is timeless and much less problematic than trying to maintain and improve interactive 2D content development software [and its production environment] that works reliably across all major devices, browsers. Also, judging from e.g. Articulate Studio 360 version history page, there is a lot of updating going on to make sure the software performs reliably, (NB especially with HTML5-related features). In addition, simply, Googling ‘Office Mix problems’, indicates that there had been teething issues.

So What Really Was The Upside Of Office Mix For Microsoft?

  • Was it generating tangible income?
  • Were its maintenance and developmental costs large and growing?
  • Was there a lot of competition out there too [see authoring tool market]?

6. So Why Did Microsoft Offer Office Mix At All?

Well, the wider implication is that there is strong evidence of poor decision-making, unprofessionalism and lack of coherent strategy here. And this has most likely led to a feeling of ‘once bitten, twice shy’, especially when one considers the way some of the Office 365 services are currently being consolidated (e.g. ‘Video’ to ‘Stream’, ‘Teams to likely replace ‘Skype for Business’). What next? Sway? OneNote Class Notebooks? Yammer [moved to Teams]?

I just wonder now how many people would give Microsoft ‘three strikes’ for its handling of the retirement of Office Mix?

Well, I would, for one.