Microsoft wants to help businesses and small teams collaborate and track work with a new app called Planner. Released today for free as part of the Office 365 suite, Planner is a project management service similar to products like Asana and Trello. Microsoft isn't doing anything particularly groundbreaking here. It uses the established concept of a digital whiteboard plastered with note cards, which you can use to track projects, communicate progress, and attach files. It also integrates with other Microsoft products like OneNote and Outlook.
Planner does, however, have the benefit of appealing to customers who may not be familiar or comfortable with apps from startups they've never heard of. In fact, Microsoft says it's convinced the local government of Cascais, Portugal to move its entire workflow over to Planner. It's likely the company can appeal to similar and more traditional customers who are familiar with Office products and tend to shy away from software made by and for Silicon Valley.
While it may not sound super exciting, project management apps are integral to any business that collaborates online. Pretty much every workplace operation these days, from local governments to mammoth corporations, relies on these types of tools to get work done. Many teams still manage projects using Excel spreadsheets. So Microsoft is better positioned than most to get those groups using its software over products from even well-established competitors.
Planner does appear to deviate from Microsoft's seasoned strategy of acquiring its way into popular new mobile markets. The company no longer dominates workplace productivity as more and more free software, from Google and others, has arrived on the scene. So Microsoft has scooped up a number of promising app makers over the last few years to reclaim that dominance, including email app Acompli, calendar app Sunrise, and to-do list app Wunderlist. This time around, instead of buying company like Trello, Microsoft built its own version.