Back in June 2014, Microsoft introduced the Office 365 for Business Public Roadmap, a website listing all recent and planned upgrades to Microsoft Office. Announcing the move, Jake Zborowski, a group product manager for Office 365, said it would provide a few months’ view of new features, enhancements, and major updates.
“We will provide visibility to planned updates that are in development and in the process of being rolled out to the service, as well as to items that have been launched and are now generally available for all eligible customers,” he said. “The public roadmap will be your best source of truth for product enhancements coming to the service.”
With the roadmap came the “First Release” program. “If you opt-in to First Release, you will receive new qualifying feature updates first, a minimum of two weeks before customers in our standard release group,” Zborowski promised.
For users of Office 365 there’s much on the roadmap to pique their interest. As at 13 July it listed no fewer than 93 launched updates, 37 that were “rolling out”, 128 “in development” and two “cancelled”. There’s also a category for “previously released”, with 394 entries.
What’s the difference between “launched” and “previously released”? The roadmap does not explain. Presumably it’s a time-related thing. At some time after its introduction a “launched” application will transition to “previously released”. Trouble is, the roadmap is a date-free zone: there is no indication of when it was last updated, or of the planned introduction date of new features.
The best you can do is to select features that have been updated in the 30 days prior and/or added in those 30 days. And there’s no way to get the ‘big picture’: what overall change of functionality Microsoft seeks to achieve with forthcoming updates.
Helpful in this context is a guide produced by TechTarget: Office 365 Roadmap Signs Point to Collaboration. Published in May 2016, it says the features covered will roll out gradually during Q3 of 2016.
One of the biggest, and likely most welcome, changes will be the optional replacement of email attachments in Outlook with shared attachments. If you are sending attachments back and forth among colleagues with each person making changes or annotations before sending it on, you’ll likely appreciate this feature. Those attachments will be replaced with a single file, stored in SharePoint and associated with the emails. Every time someone receives an email with that file attached, changes it and forwards it the changes are made in the single stored copy.
The guide also identifies two other new features, Delve and Office Graph, which “help users find valuable documents and other resources in large organisations.” Office Graph provides data based on a user’s identity and activity. Delve provides tailored search results and content based on user activity accrued by Office Graph.
Also, with a focus on collaboration, the guide says Microsoft will “deliver more on telephony and conferencing in its cloud apps with Skype for Business,” but gives no details. Fortunately, the roadmap allows you to filter by services and if you pick “Skype for Business” you’ll get five “in development” features, as follows.
-PSTN calling gives Office 365 customers the option to give their users the ability to receive and make calls to traditional phone numbers from their Skype for Business clients. Trial for UK customers announced in March 2016.
-Skype for Business Mac Client general availability.
-Phase 3 of PSTN conferencing expansion, planned for June 2016. Will reach approximately 80 sell-to countries and 100 dial-in countries.
-Support for toll-free numbers to Skype for Business PSTN conferencing.
-Free online meetings from Skype for Business that is easy to set up with a personalised meeting URL, helps team collaborate with screen share and is built for business with reliability and encryption.
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