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Microsoft to open Loop to third-party developers

Microsoft's latest collaboration tool will consolidate content across Outlook, Teams and third-party products, such as the Zoho project management application.

Microsoft will let third-party developers create snippets of live text, spreadsheets and forms in Teams and Outlook so users can perform more tasks without clicking away from the software. The company calls the content blocks Loop components.

Developers would use tools supporting the JSON programming language to embed blocks of content from their applications in Teams chat messages and Outlook email. People on either end of the communication could edit the content or watch the changes in real time.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella showed off the latest collaboration capabilities during his keynote at the company's Build developer conference this week. A Microsoft worker changed the deadline for a task listed in a form from Zoho's project management application, Projects. The alteration appeared immediately on content blocks in Outlook and Teams.

The Loop blocks automatically change appearance to fit the application, Microsoft said. For example, a block viewed in Teams would conform to its design.

Microsoft plans to release a preview of Loop for developers in June. The company did not release a date for general availability.

The Microsoft Loop app
Microsoft Loop allows real-time collaboration on documents and spreadsheets in Teams and Outlook.

Microsoft appears to use Loop's content blocks to consolidate searchable, collaborative content across Outlook, Teams and third-party products, Metrigy analyst Irwin Lazar said. "Loop can be that unifying layer that pulls workflows or activities into a commonplace."

Loop could also bolster worker productivity, said Tom Arbuthnot, the founder of Teams training firm Empowering.Cloud.

"I'm a big Notion user," he said. "If some of that power to collaborate in real time can be brought together across Outlook users and Teams users ... I think it will add a lot of value."

Third-party content integration is only part of Microsoft's Loop plans. The company introduced the product in November, adding elements of Loop to Teams last year and Outlook this month. This year, Microsoft plans to launch an entire Loop app that can create documents from individual content blocks and workspaces that tie the documents together with files from other apps.

Other collaboration firms have technology like Loop. Google's Smart Canvas uses interactive templates to quickly create lists, spreadsheets and forms that teams can co-edit in Google Docs. Digital whiteboards like Mural and Miro also function as persistent spaces where workers can pull in various types of content, like documents and spreadsheets and work on them together. Project management software like Asana, Notion and Wrike also centralize and sync information.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily News, Walpole Times, Sharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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