Microsoft’s new Loop is both confusing and an unashamed Notion clone—and it might change how we use our computers.
Loop—and Notion—do away with the concept of individual documents in favor of a “flexible canvas.” If you want to create a table to work out the cost of your vacation, or a sales project, you don’t need to fire up Excel. Instead, you drop in a portable “component” right on your canvas. These components, like informational Legos, stay in sync and can be reused in different contexts. And of course, you can share everything.
“Hybrid working tools like these need to become more mainstream amongst workplaces, especially with the continuation and increase in flexible and remote work in the future,” Bryan Philips, the head of marketing at an agency that uses Notion, told Lifewire via email. “I believe Loop will make a large mark in this space.”
For a company that made itself with the Office document suite, this is quite a departure. But collaborative spaces are hot right now and are the future of working on computers.
“Hybrid working tools like these need to become more mainstream… especially with the continuation and increase in flexible and remote work…”
Instead of folders full of Word docs and spreadsheets, which you have to trawl through to find the one you want, you can do it all in one space. And it’s pretty wild. Yes, I described a Microsoft app as “wild.” For instance, say you’re in a message thread. You can drop a table into the middle of that thread’s timeline, and all participants can edit it.
And when that table scrolls off the top of the timeline, like in Slack? No problem, because that table stays live and can be dropped into a more stable section of the “canvas.”
A GIF of a Microsoft Loop workspace.
A Microsoft Loop workspace. Microsoft
The idea is that your projects are live, open spaces, rather than a bunch of walled-off, individual objects.
Many of us are comfortable with the file-and-folder metaphor. It’s based on a real-world concept—a filing cabinet—and it’s been around for a while. Then Google Docs came along and put those individual documents in the cloud. Instead of emailing endless versions back and forth and losing track of the edits, Google Docs lets a team work on one single, canonical version.
But that’s still the old file-and-folder paradigm. The next stage was introduced by Notion. It’s confusing at first, but no more confusing than files and folders are to a younger generation that uses search for everything and has no concept of finding computer files in folders.
Notion lets you do things like adding your Google Docs, your Trello boards, and more to a page. It’s all just there and can be rearranged as easily as dragging blocks of text around a page. The metaphor is more like that of an actual desk, one where you’ve spread out the stuff you need to get something done. Only anything on that desk can appear on another desk or another person’s desk.
Multiple people collaborating on a document in real time in Microsoft Loop.
Multiple people collaborating on a document in real time in Microsoft Loop. Microsoft
“Creating documents that are not meant to be collaborated on and shared online has become the exception rather than the rule. By getting away from this framework entirely, Microsoft is keeping up with the times and also getting their foot in the door with non-PC devices where file management is less central to the experience,” Devon Fata, CEO of web-developer company Pixoul, told Lifewire via email.
We’re already used to using several apps to get anything done, whether it’s completing a project for work, organizing a party, or planning a trip. We hop from messages to notes to web pages and calendars. What Notion and Loop do is to bring these all into one space. Instead of forcing you to go to the tools you need and shuffle your data manually between them all, this new breed of apps puts your data at their center and lets you do anything with it right there.
They’re also interoperable with other apps. In Notion, for instance, you can embed Google Docs, Trello boards, and more. This lets you pick the tools you need while still having everything organized in one space.
It may seem like a slight difference, but once you’ve used one of these “suites,” it’s hard to go back. I prefer the Craft app, which works on iOS devices and the web, and which we have written about before. But this app category is red hot right now, and with Microsoft on board, it’s only going to get hotter.