Microsoft just declared war on G Suite - with AIs the foot soldiers

Online multi-user tools like Google Docs may have changed the way we collaborate, but Microsoft's new Fluid Framework aims to tear up the common interpretation of a shared document. Announced at Build 2019 today, the new framework is web-based, and pulls apart traditional documents so as to recombine them in more modular ways.

It's no small boast. "Fluid will break down the barriers of the traditional document as we know it and usher in the beginning of the free-flowing canvas," Microsoft promises of its new technology.

Details are in short supply right now – you might say that the situation is, ahem, fluid – but what we do know sounds fairly appealing. It's built around multi-person coauthoring on web and document content, blurring the lines between different types of file. In the process, Microsoft says, you'll be able to break down content into different building blocks.

Those blocks will be collaborative, supporting multiple people working with them at any one time. They'll also be reusable across applications, so that they can be combined into new, more flexible documents. Exactly how that will work hasn't been explained, but Microsoft has said that it expects to integrate Fluid into apps like Word, Teams, and Outlook.

A rolodex of AI agents to help

Sometimes working effectively isn't so much about knowing the answer, but knowing the right person to ask for that answer. The Fluid Framework will embrace that concept with intelligent agents, effectively working as a research and assistant team alongside human participants. They'll be able to pick up some of the more mundane tasks.

For example, there'll be agents which can translate data, or fetch content based on what's being collaborated on. Microsoft will have agents to make photo suggestions, too, as well as to identify potential experts. They'll act as editors, suggesting potential changes as well as performing compliance checks.

If it works as well as Microsoft says it will, it could be a real time-saver. Sometimes the most laborious part of a project isn't the creative aspect, but the more pedestrian – yet time-consuming – tasks that are nonetheless important for the end result. Being able to offload those onto an uncomplaining AI sounds like it can only be a good thing.

Microsoft Fluid Framework is coming this year

The Fluid Framework will start showing up in Microsoft experiences later in 2019. However Microsoft isn't keeping all its toys to itself. The Fluid Framework SDK (software developer kit) will also be released this year, allowing third-party coders to build their own componentized documents and more.