As the weekend draws thankfully nearer, some thoughts about recent developments that have come into my idle mind that need to be shared with the world.
First, a question arose about the way that Microsoft’s Outlook for iOS and Android clients still store user data on Amazon Web Services. People don’t like this with good reason because the data is not covered by the steps Microsoft takes to protect data on their own cloud platforms. This isn’t to say that Amazon does anything untoward with the data; it’s simply a matter that Microsoft can’t make guarantees about how Amazon protects user data.
The fact that this data resides on Amazon is a lingering artifact of the way that Acompli, the company who originally developed the clients, processed information. Microsoft is all too aware of the need to change and really wants to get the data moved over to Azure. When I spoke to Javier Soltero, the newly-installed GM for Outlook, in January, his take was that the switch would happen in “early 2016”. Clearly that hasn’t happened and data continues to be processed on Amazon to construct the “focused Inbox” loved by the 30-odd million users who have downloaded the Outlook apps (presumably they use the apps too). Essentially what happens here is that the data is fetched (using ActiveSync) from user mailboxes, processed in a data store on Amazon Web Services, and then provided to clients.
There’s no doubt that the data should be on Azure, if only to allow Microsoft to be able to provide an end-to-end guarantee that data is being protected from mailbox to client and back again. However, it does take time and care to make a fundamental switch like this and it’s likely that some technical hiccups have occurred along the way. I’d prefer that the job is done right than being rushed through to make some arbitrary date. Stay tuned, this change is coming. Soon.
Another question that came my way asked about the possibility of using the venerable IMAP4 protocol to access Office 365 Groups. I’m afraid that this query deserved a blunt “No” – and with good reason. IMAP4 is a mail access protocol, conceived at a time when email servers were rudimentary and email was barely functional. Although the protocol has been tweaked and enhanced over its 30-plus year history, it is now so archaic and obsolete that it really should be consigned to the dustbin. I know some people care very much about IMAP4 and like the clients that use it, but much better and more powerful protocols exist to allow people to access Exchange and Office 365. Exchange Web Services is one, ActiveSync is another. And the browser interface (Outlook Web App) is now so functional that it is more than sufficient for most situations. Enjoy yourself with IMAP4 if that’s your personal choice, but don’t expect to be able to do anything than just plain email.
Speaking of Office 365 Groups, it is good to see that Microsoft has eliminated the problem that caused documents in private groups to be invisible to the Search Foundation, which is the technology used to index information managed by both Exchange and SharePoint. These documents are now visible and can be included in content searches (essential for compliance) and show up in Delve (see below), all of which makes private Office 365 Groups much more valuable all round. It also removes a deployment blocker for some companies who were concerned that information was hidden in these libraries. To be clear, my tenant is configured for First Release and you might not see this functionality yet if your tenant uses Standard Release.
The sites used to host the document libraries for Office 365 Groups have had quite a history. Each site uses a hidden site collection. The reason why they are hidden is to stop people using regular SharePoint management tools against the sites as this might impact the special links that Office 365 Groups use to tie together components drawn from different workloads, specifically access to the SharePoint Online resources. Recently, Microsoft dropped the old (and restricted) UI for group document libraries and upgraded it by adopting the UI used for “regular” sites. The upside of the change is that a lot more functionality was made available for group document libraries. The downside is that some parts of SharePoint (like access control) are now revealed in a way that might tempt people to mess where they shouldn’t. The golden rule for these sites is to leave well alone. If you want to customize a site to meet some specific requirements, create a regular team site and have your way. Don’t complain to Microsoft if a customization you make to a group document library has some unforeseen consequences. Always practice safe SharePointing…
Another good thing that has come about through that recent change is that the sites used for Office 365 Groups are now treated like any other SharePoint Online site within a tenant.As shown below, two Office 365 Groups are listed alongside a team site. You really wouldn’t know the difference.
To close, the team writing the “Office 365 for IT Pros” ebook are closing in on the final text. We’re busily processing the results of some very insightful technical edits and reviews by some of our fellow MVPs, all of which are helping us to improve the quality of the information presented in the book. It’s always amazing how text that makes sense to an author can confuse others, so it’s great to have people read over what we have written so that we can clarify and expand where required. We’re also terrifically pleased with some of the advice and guidance we have received from some of the Office 365 engineering teams where developers have taken the time to explain in great detail just what they are trying to achieve with some of the newer functionality that is now appearing.
The new book is available for pre-order on Amazon. If all goes well, we should be able to release it to members of the ExchangeServerPro.com site on June 1 and have general availability a week thereafter. At least, that’s the plan.
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