What’s New in Office 365 – July 2018
In another busy month, several new updates have been introduced across Office 365. Let’s dive straight in.
The OneDrive engineering team seem to be on the rapid release cycle as their SharePoint counterparts and July has been no exception, with updates introduced for the OneDrive across web, mobile and desktop.
OneDrive on the Web now remembers your preferred sorting order and your preferences are retained across browser sessions. This means that if you prefer to have your files in OneDrive sorted by modified date in descending order then this setting is applied by default next time you open OneDrive and even if you switch to a different browser. Additionally, the “Shared by me” screen now provides insights into activity on files that you have shared showing statistics such as the number of views per day and number of viewers per day.
OneDrive on Android received a number of updates this month. Firstly, the file upload user experience has been improved to making it easier to track what files are uploading and how fast the upload is going. The scan user experience has similarly been improved to allow images to be cropped, rotated and adjusted for colour balance prior to upload thus streaming the experience. Just like in the web, 3D files (e.g. CAD diagrams) can now be previewed directly within the app. Finally, performance improvements have been made when viewing large PowerPoint files directly in the app.
OneDrive on Windows has been improved in a couple of areas. Firstly, the OneDrive client now reacts when batter saver mode is turned on to conserve batter life by pausing file sync. When it does so a notification is shown to the user along with the option to override the pause. When the batter saver mode is switched off, OneDrive file sync automatically resumes. The OneDrive Activity Center has also been refreshed to provide more details of current and recent activity as well as shortcuts to access files, folders and settings.
The biggest change, however, was the introduction of Known Folder Move which is a feature that helps users migrate their personal document storage to OneDrive for Business by moving common Windows folders (i.e. Desktop, Documents and Pictures) to OneDrive but retaining the experience as before. Users can initiate the process themselves from the OneDrive client (Settings > Auto-save > Update folders) and a wizard guides them through the process of setting up the protection.
In order to assist a broader, more managed roll-out of Known Folder Move by IT departments, a set of tools have also been released. The tools allow administrators to apply group policies that apply or restrict Known Folder Move as required.
At their worldwide partner conference, Inspire, Microsoft announced an initiative to enable organisations to host live events using Microsoft 365. At the heart of this offering is Microsoft Stream, however, it is very much underpinned by Microsoft Teams and Yammer. The capabilities can support casual meetings as well as more formal events with additional support for third-party encoders that enable the use of high-end cameras and other inputs (i.e. mixing) to deliver a studio-quality broadcast. The following diagram illustrates the architecture of Live Events, showing how events can be scheduled in Microsoft Teams or Yammer, produced either in Teams or by external services, distributed via Stream and ultimately consumed by attendees across web, desktop and mobile clients.
Architectural overview of Live Events with Microsoft 365 (Source: Microsoft)
Live events in Microsoft 365 is expected to be rolled-out fully by the end of September and we expect we’ll hear more about this capability at the upcoming Ignite conference.
There was an interesting update to Exchange Online this month that will now ensure that mailbox auditing will be turned on by default for Office 365 commercial users and will include recording additional audit events. Microsoft is implementing this change in order to improve security and provide access to audit data when investigating security incidents as well as reducing the administrative overhead that requires administrators to enable mailbox auditing as a post-provision step on a per-mailbox basis.
Microsoft announced its intentions to remove Visio Web Access and the Visio web part starting in September 2019. The associated functionality is now possible via Visio Online and the new modern SharePoint file viewer web part. It should be noted that a Visio Online subscription is required for editing diagrams in a browser but not for viewing. Organisations using Visio Web Access or the legacy web part should start to plan for its removal and switch to the new solutions ahead of the date announced.
There have been several updates across the SharePoint Online product this month ranging from updates to the page authoring experience, self-service creation setting changes, improvements to the migration tool and release of a preview of the upcoming on-premises version.
Page authoring updates
There have been several major updates to the page authoring experience within SharePoint Online this month that significantly move the platform closer to full parity with the existing Publishing Infrastructure.
Modern SharePoint pages now support the ability to store metadata against each page. Once created in the Pages library of the site, the metadata columns are then made available in the Page details flyout when editing the content of the page.
There is also a new web part called Page properties that allows this metadata information to be shown when the page is viewed and can be configured to show only selected metadata columns.
Once pages are appropriately tagged, they can then be used as a filter mechanism in the Highlighted Content and News web parts. To do so the Source setting must be set to “The page library on this site” and the Filter dropdown set to “Page properties”. At this point, the Property name drop down will include all page metadata columns that can be used to filter the result set.
And to complete the picture on the updates to the page authoring experience, approval of pages, in SharePoint Online Communication sites only, can now be implemented using Microsoft Flow. Once configured, a Flow will run when a page is published, however, the page will not become visible until the approval process is complete. The mechanism to enable approval is built into the design of the Pages library with a new menu option appearing the Flow menu.
Selecting Configure page approval flow will enable the creation of a Flow using the default template and only requires a list of approvers to be defined.
Once enabled, the page authoring experience is updated to reflect that the page must approved prior to publication as the Publish button is changed to Submit for approval.
When pressed, the Submit for page approval panel appears and informs the user about the flow that is about to be run and what will happen next.
By hitting Continue the user is given the option to provide any additional information for the reviewers.
Unlike the Request Sign-off Flow that was highlighted in our April round up, the Page approval flow makes use of the underlying SharePoint Content Approval feature that has existed in SharePoint for many years. The flow will then mark the Approval status for the page as “Pending” and will notify the specified reviewers of the request for approval. Once approved by one of the reviewers, the Approval status is changed to “Approved” and the page is made available to all users. Naturally, if the design of the default Flow does not meet your business needs it can be simply modified in the Flow designer.
Collectively these features enable modern SharePoint sites to better support the need to structure and deliver content in more effective, intuitive & managed way. Previously, this feature gap was a major advantage that the Publishing Infrastructure had over modern SharePoint but now far more complex sites can be developed using this approach.
Self-service site creation configuration
Changes to the configuration options available for self-service site creation in the SharePoint Admin Center have also been implemented recently. Firstly, it is now possible to allow users to create modern team sites (and Communication sites) even if Office 365 Group creation has been disabled. Previously, users could only create “classic” team sites (i.e. no modern SharePoint UI or features such as News) in this circumstance.
For some time now Microsoft has been promoting the vision of a wide-but-shallow information architecture for SharePoint sites and has been actively discouraging the proliferation of subsites by instead promoting the concept of Hub sites (see our previous initial thoughts blog post). This position has been further emphasised by the introduction of a change that will by default, actively hide the ability to create subsites in modern SharePoint sites along with an ability to hide the command in all sites, classic and modern, from within the SharePoint admin center.
PowerShell support for SharePoint Migration Tool
Microsoft are continuing to invest in their first-party migration tool and has recently updated the product to provide support for PowerShell. With this change, migrations can be executed without direct user intervention. There are a number of benefits to this change that include the ability to schedule migrations to run during out-of-hours time as well as the benefit of being able to script and iteratively run migration jobs. While the SharePoint Migration Tool is still not as feature rich as other third-party tools, this is an important step to making it a more viable tool for larger scale migration projects.
SharePoint Server 2019 Preview now available
In our What to expect in SharePoint 2019 blog post, we speculated as to the feature set that would be included in the next on-premises release of SharePoint Server. This month, Microsoft released previews of Exchange Server, Skype for Business Server and SharePoint Server. As expected, the indications Microsoft previously provided were true and the major changes in SharePoint Server 2019 (SP2019) are as follows:
- Modern User Experiences – Virtually all the improvements to the user experience that have appeared in SharePoint over the last 2-3 years are to be found now in SP2019. This includes Team sites, Communication sites, list and library updates, page authoring including modern web parts, News and the SharePoint Home experience. SharePoint Framework support is improved to allow both web part and SharePoint extensions customisations. Without doubt, this will be the biggest change that on-premises users will encounter when SP2019 is deployed.
- OneDrive – As expected, synchronisation of documents from SharePoint and OneDrive for Business will be possible with the unified OneDrive client and thus offer a better, more reliable experience compared to the current OneDrive for Business client.
- SharePoint Mobile – With SharePoint Server 2019 providing more of the features found in SharePoint Online then the SharePoint Mobile app will consequently take on greater value as it more natively provides support for the responsive design of modern SharePoint sites and features such as SharePoint News.
- Under the hood – Not all the changes in SP2019 will be as immediately visible to users, however, there will be many welcome changes that ease the management of SharePoint environments and bring support for changes previously only found in SharePoint Online such as large file support (up to 15GB), better support for characters such as # and % in the names of SharePoint files and folders.
Overall, SharePoint Server 2019 is shaping up to be a major release of SharePoint. It should be noted that the branch for this version of SharePoint was taken some time ago and therefore SharePoint Online has already progressed beyond what will be delivered in SP2019 and has introduced many additional features (see above and previous posts!). The most notable example of this is the omission of the SharePoint hub sites feature. This again reflects the reality that on-premises deployments will always lag behind their cloud counterparts by a significant margin. SharePoint Server 2019 will be released in the second half of 2018.
The rate of innovation in Microsoft Teams continues to be breath-taking, including some important new capabilities and offerings.
At the Inspire conference, Microsoft formally announced that a free version of Microsoft Teams was now available. This version is aimed at small business and individuals that do not have commercial Office 365 subscriptions and allows Microsoft Teams to compete more fully with Slack.
The free version is limited to 300 people and includes the following features:
- Chat messages and search.
- Audio and video calling for individuals, groups, and full team meetups.
- 10 GB of team file storage plus an additional 2 GB per person for personal storage.
- Integrated, real-time content creation with Office Online apps (i.e. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote)
- All Microsoft Teams app integration (e.g. Evernote, Trello, Twitter) that are available to commercial customers.
- Support for all types of participants (i.e. co-workers, external contacts etc.) backed by Azure Active Directory for identity management.
Visio file support
The Teams client now supports viewing and editing Visio diagrams. As per the information above about Visio Online, it should be noted that while viewing Visio diagrams does not require a Visio Online subscription, editing diagrams does.
Office 365 app launcher
When Microsoft Teams first launched as part of Office 365, it did not honour the Office 365 app launcher (or “waffle” as it is often called) and thus created something of a dead-end when users navigated to Teams in a browser. The Teams web client now includes a variation of the launcher that is at least closer to the implementation found elsewhere across Office 365 but it is not the same implementation and lacks many of the feature set (for example, it does not show pinned applications or relevant documents). It is also not clear why the Teams web client does not show the Office 365 suite bar either.