Microsoft preps Office 365 document management tool for lawyers

It's called Matter Center and is available in limited preview to participants of a beta testing program

Microsoft has developed a document management add-on for Office 365 intended for lawyers, signaling a possible interest by the company in creating vertical-industry tools for the suite.

Microsoft announced the product, called Matter Center for Office 365, Monday, saying it's in limited preview and available via a beta program to which customers can apply.

The company provided few details about how the product works and what features it has, focusing instead on the fact that it is closely integrated with Office 365. Customers will be able to use Matter Center from within the suite's interface and components, like the Word and Excel apps, the SharePoint Online collaboration server and the OneDrive for Business cloud storage service.

Matter Center has been designed to let lawyers and other legal professionals "easily find, organize and collaborate on files" within Office 365, instead of having to use a separate document management product. It remains unclear whether Matter Center will have all the security, compliance, retention and search functionality of full-featured document management products already used in legal settings.

The product apparently has a special search engine that can be accessed from within Outlook and Word, and it offers functionality to "track or pin" frequently used documents and "matters," those issues related to managing a law practice. Emails can be dropped into the appropriate context from Outlook, and documents retain their metadata, permissions and version control as they're stored and shared.

Although it is described as a cloud-hosted product, Microsoft also said it can be deployed on hybrid scenarios and on-premises with SharePoint.

Microsoft provided no pricing information or any details about how Matter Center will be licensed.

Microsoft didn't respond immediately to a request for comment.

The Matter Center announcement raises the possibility that Microsoft might be developing similar tools aimed at other vertical industries, which would indicate a new strategy of tailoring the business edition of Office 365 for more specific use cases, thus deepening the functionality of what has so far been a horizontal suite for businesses of all sizes and types.

Microsoft already has Office 365 editions for government customers, educational institutions and non-profit organizations.

Google recently released a specific tool for its Apps for Education suite, which competes against Office 365 for Education. Called Classroom, the tool is designed to help teachers with various tasks, such as creating and organizing assignments, and communicating with students. It taps Apps for Education components such as Docs, Drive and Gmail.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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