The false promise of Microsoft Office’s synchronized settings

Office 365 is supposed to synchronize a user’s settings between devices to make them more productive. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case. The promise and an aggressively promoted selling point of Microsoft Office 365 are that users’ settings are uploaded to Microsoft’s servers and kept in sync between their logged-in computers and devices. However, is anything useful being synchronized?

“Your settings and documents roam with you. Switch between devices and pick up right where you left off.”

The settings listed below are the only settings that are synchronized, according to the Office 2013 privacy policy:

  • “List of most recently used documents
  • Custom dictionary
  • Visual themes”

This limited set of data is astonishingly useless. Nothing that would affect your workday or productivity is being synchronized. In its current iteration, the feature is nothing but a glorified online product activation system.

Settings that should be synchronized

Customization made to the ribbon toolbars and keyboard shortcuts: the primary workbench of any Office application doesn’t roam between devices. This is the most visible omission and would be useful to many. The main look and feel of how they’ve set up their Office applications would roam with them. Keyboard shortcuts are especially useful in some regions, because Office uses localized shortcuts.

I usually enable many of the proofing, writing style, and AutoCorrect (including auto replacements) settings. These settings can be complicated and it’s hard to remember exactly how you want them configured. Highly desirable for roaming.

Choices made in annoying pop-up questions aren’ being synchronized. Questions like the one about the user’s preferred document format (obviously OpenDocument Format.) Instead, the pop-ups ask about the default format once on every device. Seeing that this could affect the user’s ability to edit their own documents and compatibility issues, it seems like something that should be synchronized.