Microsoft looks to youth for future of Office

Microsoft Corp. this week will host 15 university students from around the world at its Redmond, Wash., headquarters to pick their brains on what the Office productivity suite should look like 10 years from now.

The students, all between the ages of 19 and 24 and from 14 different countries, for one week will form the “Microsoft Office Information Worker Board of the Future.” The agenda includes group work and brainstorming sessions on the Microsoft campus, as well as a visit to a local elementary school.

At the end of the week, the students will present their findings to Microsoft executives, including Jeff Raikes, who as group vice-president of Productivity and Business Services is responsible for the Office products.

By asking the students about the workplace and the role technology plays in their countries today as well as in the future, Microsoft thinks it can better prepare for Office releases in 2010 and 2014, when these young people will be part of the workforce, said Dan Rasmus, director of Information Work Vision at Microsoft.

“We really want to understand how they think about information, about technology adoption and technology in general,” Rasmus said. “How they deal with information. In enterprises — for us old people — we talk about information fatigue. I don’t think we will see that in this new generation, it is ‘open the fire hose and let us have what you’ve got.'”

Microsoft calls today’s students the “Internet generation,” because they have never known a world without the Web, e-mail and computers. “My own computing experience coming out of high school and going in to college was sending a message to a mainframe using a teletype machine,” said Rasmus, who is 42.

In today’s world, businesses have to worry about justifying new technology and how to get workers to use it, Rasmus said. “I don’t think that is going to be an issue with the next generation. It will be a natural thing that they use new technology,” he said.

The Information Worker Board of the Future initiative is part of a larger research effort at Microsoft for the future of its Office products. The software maker has several ways it gathers data, including close relationships with universities and its Most Valuable Professional program.

The students visiting Microsoft this week come from Canada, Argentina, Australia, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S. The students were selected in partnership with Taking IT Global, a Toronto-based organization dedicated to connecting youth around the world.