As I discussed in an “Exchange Unwashed” post about Office 365 change management, Microsoft has adopted new methods to keep customers informed about new developments in the rapidly-changing world of Office 365. This is a necessary step not only because the cadence of change is much faster in cloud systems than it is for on-premises software but also because customers have no real control over what a cloud provider delivers. Once you sign the contract, you accept what you get, including all the changes.
Last week, Microsoft posted the Office 365 roadmap to describe features that are “launched” (generally available to all customers), “rolling out” (being phased in but not yet available to all – MAPI over HTTP is a good example), “in development” (in software engineering but not yet available even in beta), and “cancelled” (nothing so far).
It’s an interesting list. I took a good look at the 35 features in development with an aim of identifying my top ten. Here’s my list:
|Clutter (OWA)||I like the idea of machine learning being deployed to help do a better job of filtering out the important messages from the stream of informative but perhaps unessential email that tends to clog up corporate mailboxes. This feature is one that will help people who receive several hundred messages daily. It won’t if all you get is a couple of new messages. The Clutter feature is for Office 365 only at this point and is not scheduled to be in the next on-premises Exchange release.|
|Public folder scalability improvements||It’s good that Microsoft has listened to the flood of customer complaints that ensued after it was revealed that the modern public folder implementation was crippled by totally inadequate limits. There’s still more to do though. This fix will be provided to Exchange 2013 on-premises customers too.|
|“Oslo” and Office Graph||Due to the demands of integration and the complexity involved in gathering the information presented in the Office Graph, this is another feature that will only appear in Office 365 for now. It’s also a feature that will be of most use in large companies where it’s hard to know who does what and who is the expert in what topic. I rate it highly in the list because I think it’s an interesting technical advance. Quite how users will take to the Graph is quite another thing.|
|Groups for Office 365||There’s no doubt that Office 365 offers a variety of ways to communicate from email (Exchange) to IM (Lync) to document collaboration (SharePoint) to “jamming” (Yammer). Groups is an attempt to make it easier to communicate across the various products. Microsoft says that “Creating a Group anywhere in Office 365 will automatically provision a Yammer conversation feed, inbox, calendar and document library where members can collaborate and work as a team.” But what happens when you don’t use Yammer?|
|Data Loss Prevention (DLP) in SharePoint Online||I like the DLP features available in Exchange Online and Exchange 2013 but it is obviously better when sensitive data types can be protected both in email and in document libraries. Stretching DLP to protect SharePoint Online libraries is a logical step. No word yet whether this feature will appear in SharePoint on-premises, but I expect that it will.|
|Document Collaboration (OWA)||This feature allows documents circulated in email to be edited by recipients using Office Web Apps and an updated copy automatically attached to a reply. No word yet on whether this will also be an Office 365 exclusive. I expect that it will be for now because not every customer has deployed (or wants to deploy) Office Web Apps because it’s an extra server, etc.|
|Increasing Recoverable Items Quota||Compliance is of ever-increasing interest as society becomes more and more litigious. And when mailboxes are put on hold, they might remain in that status for many months, which means that the Recoverable Items folder rapidly fills up with retained items. Increasing the quota to 100GB makes a lot of sense. It’s an easy change too that you can make by running the Set-Mailbox cmdlet on an on-premises server.|
|Search Suggestions (OWA)||At one of the “Support Unleashed” sessions at MEC, several people complained about the search capabilities of Exchange and remarked that different clients deliver different search results. OWA depends on the Search Foundation to provide it with search but this UI change seems like a good idea to help users find what they really want, without having to tear their hair out several times as unwanted results pop up.|
|Propose New Meeting Time (OWA)||A feature in the “should have been in the product first time around” category, but nice that it’s finally going to happen. If a meeting request contains a bad suggested time, you can reply offering a better time. Sensible.|
|Preserving DL membership and BCC for in-place holds||There’s not much information available about this feature, which is described as “This update that will make DL membership & BCC searchable for users placed on In-place Hold.” But I think anything that helps eDiscovery searches do a better job is a good thing and I prefer it more than competing features such as “OneNote for Mac support for OneDrive for Business” or “Office Online in Yammer”, so I included it here.|
You might well have a different list because your priorities and interest are obviously different to mine. For example, those who care about OneDrive for Business will like the fact that its storage limit is increasing to 1TB while companies who have invested in Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) will like that the Office 2013 applications will soon be able to use third-party identity providers.
Of course, the devil is very much in the detail when it comes to implementation and we do not have full information about how these features really work and what, if any, requirements they place on end users. However, the sheer fact that we have an indication of what’s coming in Office 365 allows for better planning and preparation, and that can’t be a bad thing.
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