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While Microsoft Office has been the de facto productivity suite for many years, being the jack of all trades can also make you the master of none. In a competitive business environment, you want the best tool for each particular job.

An annual survey released by Okta this week indicates that the corporate world is increasingly looking beyond Microsoft's walls as it seeks the "best in class" apps to serve its needs. Okta polled businesses that have Office 365 accounts with Microsoft, and it asked them to report on what non-Microsoft apps they were using.

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Since Okta has been gathering this particular info for five years running, some clear trends are emerging, and the upshot is that the surveyed businesses appear to be collectively pulling away from the idea of Office 365 as a one-stop shop. (For its latest survey, the data was collected from November 1, 2017, to October 31, 2018.)

Slack (download for iOS or Android) is perhaps the best example. When Okta began collecting this data in 2015, survey respondents with Office 365 accounts said that they were using the workplace chat app about 12 percent of the time. Since then, it's more than doubled, to 28 percent.

Also in 2015, the Zoom video conferencing platform (download for iOS or Android) was being used by about 4 percent of this survey group, and now nearly one-quarter of them are employing it.

Google's G Suite has seen less movement, from 20 to 28 percent in this time frame, but that's still a respectable improvement when you consider that it competes with almost everything that Office 365 does, rather than targeting a specific kind of task, like presentation slides or word processing.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has been unable to dislodge Salesforce in any meaningful way, with usage of the customer relationship management platform hovering around 45 percent for the last five years, at least within this survey group. That's about as close as Microsoft normally gets to being on the outside looking in.

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Last but not least, Microsoft Office's vast array of features, menus and buttons may finally be working against it. Over the years, major releases of Office have added a laundry list of features to entice an upgrade, but the survey results from Okta in regard to what users prioritize in their productivity apps shows that smooth operation is by far their largest concern.

About one third of the respondents said that the most important element is "consistently running with few glitches." The next most important element -- being able to communicate easily with teammates -- came in at a distant 16 percent. No one cited a variety of features as a priority; the remaining callouts were individually about cybersecurity, compatibility, intuitive interfaces, access on a mobile phone and storage capabilities.

If Microsoft wants to maintain its lead, the answer may be in perfecting what they have, instead of adding more tools. We'll see what 2019 brings.

Takeaways

  • An annual survey from Okta indicates that office workers are increasingly shifting away from using Microsoft Office as a one-stop shop for their productivity needs.
  • Slack and Zoom in particular have seen substantial gains since Okta began gathering this survey data in 2015.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.