I must admit to being frustrated when Teams was first introduced. It automatically started at Windows login, sometimes before I’d even connected to wifi (and then would error out due to the lack of an Internet connection) and the disconnection between some of the Office 365 services Teams uses and the main apps for those services, e.g. Skype for Business, was hard to explain to customers.
The gap is closing however and Redmond are putting some thought into Teams now that it’s gaining momentum. There is a healthy roadmap, some good product management and top level buy-in from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
There is still a gap between some of the native clients and functionality in Teams. For example, you can do more in online meetings through Skype for Business currently than you can in a Teams meeting despite both apps using the Skype for Business online services. Teams is now bringing in functionality for meetings that isn’t available in Skype for Business so we find ourselves in the familiar place where we have two apps with an overlap of features but which individually might not meet all our needs; we need to choose which tool to use and accept some sacrifices in functionality. Check out this brief post from Satya introducing the updated features and the new, free edition of Teams. We’ll blog about the differences over the next week or so.
The thing to bear in mind is Teams is a presentation layer; an app. It connects to the existing backend Office 365 online services and enhances them with integration and connectivity to other services, including 3rd party services and apps. This is the strength of Teams – it is a hub where we can perform 60-70% of our collaborative tasks before we might need to go into another app to continue or access deeper features.
We would like to see Teams become an Office 365 service in itself and have service definitions just like Exchange online, SharePoint online, Yammer and Skype for Business online. It would need to find it’s own place for that to happen though, or displace Skype for Business completely.
Office 365 utilises Azure Intelligent Services for a number of features including dictation, designer and smart lookup. One of the features we love is the automatic alt-text generation when you insert a picture into an Office document.
We are strong advocates that accessibility is not just important to users who need these features; everyone who creates content should be making it accessible.
A picture tells a thousand words but when a screen reader is parsing a document it will read out the alt-text for an image. If there’s no alt-text then you’ll just hear something along the lines of ‘picture’. Not very helpful. It’s been possible to manually enter the alt-text of course and this is very helpful in online content for search engine optimisation.
Intelligent services can automatically generate the alt-text for you based on the image contents. If you are dealing with sensitive images, this feature can be turned off in options as it does require information being sent to Microsoft.
Let’s insert an online image into a document to see how it performs.
For blatant blog-promotion SEO purposes I’m going to search for an online image of the royal wedding. Megan Markle Prince Harry Royal Wedding Windsor Castle. That should raise us at least one place in search results.
When I insert the fourth image, intelligent services analyses it and generates an alt-text tag for me. In this case, it’s accurate but not quite hitting the spot of wedding dress and it certainly doesn’t even try to achieve facial recognition; we know that’s a minefield. This result is far better than leaving alt-text empty though.
So you’ll get mixed results. Insert the third image and you’ll get an amusing result of “A picture containing dancer, indoor, sport, red” when clearly the image is all about the military and boys in culottes.
Now, we’ll try a business image and search for Donald Trump. I can feel our SEO going up.
The alt-text is accurate but again, no face recognition. Last example to see if there’s some Microsoft bias. I inserted the Microsoft logo.
No alt-text was generated but there’s a button in the image option alt-text panel which you can click to generate some. If you need to use this button, the image was typically not obvious enough for intelligent services to work out straight away so the confidence level will be lower.
Our result? A drawing of a face. Perhaps Bill Gates’ face is in the logo subliminally.
Dictation is being made available to Office 365 applications including Outlook, PowerPoint and Word. Currently it’s a first release feature but will gradually make its way into the mainstream release. This is different from the Windows speech recognition feature where you can control your PC using speech and it’s also distinct from the Windows 10 dictation added to Windows last autumn (and only available for US English).
We loved the Learning Tools add-on for OneNote which included dication and a host of accessibility features and were keen to give dictation a whirl in Outlook.
Enabling Dictation in Office 365
Luckily, there’s very little to set-up as this is a feature that’s enabled by default in an office upgrade. It uses Microsoft’s intelligent services (just like the automatic Alt-Text feature for inserted images) so you’ll need an internet connection – dictation can’t be used offline. If you can’t get dictate to work, check Intelligent Services is enabled in the File, Options, General tab. Your Office account must also be up to date.
Using Office 365 Dictate in Outlook
In a new email, click the Dictate button on the right hand of the Ribbon Home tab. The dropdown menu shows the languages this is available in. This should default to your Windows locale and having UK English gives me a good excuse to test for UK spelling.
It’s unlikely many built-in pc microphones will provide good results in a noisy office so I grabbed a Sennheiser headset and recorded the following:
My favourite colour is purple to wear and green to see. I also like black but it’s not really a colour. I still can’t get dictation to type pounds. My favourite neighbour is the one down the road with the aluminium blinds. I drank too much at a party and made a bit of an arse of myself. It’s my mum’s birthday soon.
You need to specifically add punctuation by saying ‘full stop’ or ‘period’, etc. and also formatting such as ‘new line’ to add a carriage return. I was speaking in a normal cadence but did add a bit of a Windsor accent. This is the result:
Quite an impressive outcome. I like the way offensive words are automatically censored. Spelling is UK English. Why it shortened road I don’t know and the final ‘I’ would have been capitalised had I said ‘new line’ to move to a different paragraph. And I still can’t figure out how to get it to type a £ symbol.
You can say the following to add punctuation:
Period Comma Question mark Exclamation point Exclamation mark New line New paragraph Semicolon Colon Open quote Close quote Open quotes Close quotes
This should be a real boon for users and because it uses Microsoft’s online intelligent services with machine learning, recognition and accuracy should improve over time.
We often run accessibility training for staff. Not just staff with accessibility needs; all staff should have an understanding of how to create inclusive content and work collaboratively.
A very useful add-on for OneNote is Learning Tools. This is developed by Microsoft and there’s no charge so we hope it will make it’s way into the native product at some point rather than needing a separate download.
Learning tools includes a dictation feature to transform speech to text and it’s very effective, especially with a good quality microphone or headset.
However, try as we might we cannot get it to recognise £. Here’s an example:
As you can see, I’m dictating “Host a fantastic Office 365 excitement day from £500” (which is a blatant sales plug for our Buzz Days of course). OneNote recognises when I say dollars, euros and yen and probably many others that I could recall from my travels outside of Reading (does Swindon use Roubles?) but try as I might, I cannot get it to place a £ sign.
The dictation you see where OneNote has wisely replaced the letters with asterisks was me saying 500 nicker. Nicker is a slang term for pounds which OneNote is clearly not familiar with and thus thought I was being offensive.
No, OneNote, I’m not rapping, I’m simply trying to get our pricing correct.
We described the new Office 365 E5 plan and standalone features as well as how to licence them in previous blog posts. One of the features included in the PSTN Conferencing for Skype for Business (SfB) is to allow presenters to dial-out to a national phone number in order to add attendees into the meeting (or for attendees to ask SfB to dial them back on a national phone number).
The word national is important there because the plan wouldn’t allow you to dial-out to international phone numbers. This would be enabled when consumption billing is introduced in 2016 and customers could maintain a credit balance that international and freephone call costs would be drawn against.
However, today Microsoft have announced a free trial period where international dial-out will be enabled at no cost.
PSTN conferencing for Skype for Business is available to buy in 15 countries (as of the date of this blog post):
During the free trial period, users of PSTN Conferencing will be allowed to make international dial-out calls at no charge to phone numbers in any of those 15 countries where PSTN conferencing is available for sale. International dial-out calls outside of the 15 countries will not be enabled. This free period will last until April, 30th 2016. After that, customers will be billed per minute for all International Dial-Out calls.
Whilst Microsoft are selling PSTN conferencing in 15 countries, the users can be worldwide so this makes it easier to sell to multinational accounts. For example, a UK company who subscribe to PSTN conferencing can host a webcast and offer a New Zealand dial-in number even though PSTN Conferencing is not available to buy in that country yet.
December 1st marked two extraordinary launches: a brand new Office 365 plan called E5 and Microsoft becoming a Telco.
We described the key new features and capabilities in an earlier post and we’re going to concentrate on the licensing concepts in this blog post.
Some of the new features will be included via updates to the E1 and E3 plans. Most of the new features will be included in the E5 plan with the exception of PSTN Calling which will be an add-on subscription. All of the new features will be available as standalone subscriptions which will suit customers that don’t require all of the E5 functionality but do want one of two of the new capabilities.
This does mean that Office 365 E4 plan follows E2 in being discontinued. E4 will remain on the pricelist until the end of Microsoft’s financial year, June 30th, 2016. Customers on E4 will be able to renew it as E4 prior to that date but should look to transition into E5 or into E3 with the Cloud PBX add-on. If customers want to maintain E4 functionality after June 30th, they can transition to the E3 plan and add the new Skype for Business Plus user subscription licence (USL) that was released on the 1st December.
Table 1: Office 365 E1, E3 and E5 plans with new or enhanced features highlighted in orange
How can customers licence Office 356 E5?
Office 365 E5 is available as a:
Full User Subscription Licence (USL) for new users
Step-up licence for existing Office 365 E3 and E4 customers
From SA USL for customers who currently own licences for and have active Software Assurance (SA) on Office and a Client Access licence (CAL) Suite
Add-on licence for customers who already subscribe to the Enterprise Cloud Suite (ECS)
At launch, what you’ll see on the price list is Office 365 Enterprise E5 without PSTN Conferencing. Office 365 E5 and Cloud PBX is available worldwide, however the PSTN conferencing feature is only available in fifteen countries from the 1st December. Lucky UK; we’re one of those fifteen. The remaining 191 countries (bonus points if you can name them all; I had to source from the United Nations) cannot enjoy PSTN conferencing yet so it‘s unfair to sell them full E5.
Where PSTN Conferencing is available, customers will purchase Office 365 Enterprise E5 without PSTN Conferencingand Office 365 Skype for Business PSTN Conferencing
Where PSTN Conferencing is not available, customers will purchase Office 365 Enterprise E5 without PSTN Conferencing
At some point in the future, we’ll announce a single Office 365 E5 licence on the pricelist which is likely to be priced the same as the combination of E5 w/out PSTN Conferencingand the Skype for Business PSTN Conferencinglicences.
What channels are the new plans available through?
Being a telco brings tax and regulatory responsibilities. Microsoft needs to sell these PSTN features in the right way so whilst the Office 365 Enterprise E5 without PSTN ConferencingSKU is available worldwide and through all licensing channels, currently Office 365 Skype for Business PSTN Conferencingis only available through direct channels: the Microsoft Online Subscription Program (MOSP) and direct Enterprise Agreements.
How can customers licence the new features as standalone subscriptions?
Table 2 lists the new standalone licences along with the relevant pre-requisite.
Table 2: Office 365 E1, E3 and E5 plans with new or enhanced features highlighted in orange
How can customers licence the PSTN Calling Plans?
These are not available as of December in the UK. In fact they are only available in the US but the UK should be able to enjoy this in the first half of 2016.
There are two PSTN Calling Plans: Domestic and International. Domestic will have a set price per user/per month for 3,000 minutes of national calls. The International Plan will include the domestic quota and add 600 minutes of international calls. These quotas will be allocated to the organisation as a whole, rather than each user so a customer with 10 USLs for the International PSTN Calling Plan will have 30,000 national minutes and 6,000 international minutes.
What do the PSTN features include?
At launch, PSTN Conferencing includes the ability to advertise a national, non-freephone number (e.g. 0118 for Reading, 020 for London, etc.). The person dialling into the conference will pay for the call charges. Customers can also dial-out to a phone using a national phone number in order to bring someone into the Skype conference.
In 2016, there will be a consumption billing model, similar to Azure consumption billing, where customers can maintain a balance of monetary credit. This can then be used to advertise Freephone numbers to conferences and dial-out to international phone numbers to bring people into the conference. The call charges will be met using the consumption balance.
The same goes for the PSTN Calling plans. If a customer exceeds their quota of minutes, or a customer subscribing to the Domestic plan wants to make international calls, the charges will be drawn from their consumption balance.
E5 and the PSTN features mark a very exciting chapter in Microsoft’s online capabilities. Keep a close eye out for the release of UK PSTN Calling plans and the consumption billing in 2016. We’ll continue to keep you up to date with blog posts.
We should be used to Microsoft announcing new capabilities and investments in Office 365 but December 1st marked two extraordinary launches.
Firstly, a brand new Office 365 plan called E5. This joins the current enterprise plan line up of E1, E3 and E4 and becomes Microsoft’s new ‘hero’ plan. We’ll cover what it contains in a moment.
The second extraordinary launch is Microsoft is becoming a telecommunications provider (or simply telco in modern syntax). Microsoft has extraordinary capacity in its global data network and is putting it to good use by offering PSTN conferencing and PSTN calling plans for Skype for Business.
Before you worry that Microsoft will start making adverts starring Maureen Lipman about ‘ologies, these PSTN capabilities are aimed squarely at organisations rather than consumers at this point.
What do I need to know from the December launch?
The key new features and capabilities are below. There’s a post on Microsoft’s Volume Licensing site covering how to licence Office 365 E5 and the standalone features.
PSTN Conferencing (Public Switch Telephone Network) offers audio conferencing within Skype for Business web conferences. If people can’t connect to a conference over the internet, it’s nice to give them a phone number so they can dial-in and listen to the audio. Currently you need to set up an account with one of the audio conferencing providers in the Office 365 Marketplace, or have on-premises Mediation Servers and PSTN gateways.
Dial-in conferencing allows meeting attendees to dial into Skype meetings through a local phone number and in the near-future, a Freephone number (when consumption billing is released for Office 365).
Dial-out conferencing enables presenters in the web conference to add others to the meeting by dialling their phone number. It also allows attendees to join the audio portion of the meeting by asking Skype for Business to call them on a specified phone number.
PBX stands for private branch exchange and is the internal phone system an organisation uses. Cloud PBX can offload that requirement entirely to the cloud, or connect cloud PBX to an on-premises PBX in hybrid configurations.
It includes all the features you’d expect including calling by name & number from Softphones, IP Phones and mobile devices, Call History & Redial, Call Hold/Retrieve, Transfer, Forwarding, Call Waiting, Simultaneous Ring, Team Calling, and so on.
Like the rest of Office 365, updates are delivered over the cloud so customers can avoid the headache of upgrading their on-premises PBX. A notable update in the pipeline will be PBX features for call centres.
Cloud PBX can be connected to the PSTN through two different capabilities. First, a customer can purchase a PSTN calling service add-on to Office 365, available initially in the US only. Alternatively, a customer can use Skype for Business software on-premises to provide PSTN connectivity.
Which brings us nicely onto PSTN Calling. This is an add-on to Cloud PBX that provides national and international calling services directly from Office 365. Instead of a customer contracting with a traditional telco and using an on-premises IP-PBX, they can purchase the Cloud PBX from Microsoft and add on PSTN Calling for a complete enterprise telephony experience for end-users.
So Microsoft is becoming a regulated carrier in each geography that this will be available. Customers can get new phone numbers for users or have phone numbers ported to the PSTN Calling service. Number provisioning will be done directly through the Office 365 admin portal or of course, via PowerShell.
Power BI Pro
Power BI Pro is a business analytics service that enables information workers to visualize and analyse data with greater speed, efficiency and understanding. Users are connected to live data through dashboards, interactive reports and visualizations that bring data to life and make it meaningful to their role. And don’t underestimate the live data here; this could come from Internet of Things (IoT) devices, wearables for example and be up to the second. Power BI provides a Power BI Desktop tool and Power BI mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows. Excel also has Power BI enhancements such as being able to merge and use queries from multiple data sources, including public sources like Twitter alongside corporate data.
You may have heard or perhaps used Delve. Delve allows an individual to see and search the documents and sites that are important to people connected to you. It surfaces knowledge according to what and who you’re working with.
Delve Analytics on the other hand, allows managers to discover how their team or organisation works. It provides insights into important business problems like organization collaboration, who’s talking to whom, siloed team detection, identification of most connected employees, types of meetings taking place across the organization and work-life balance; which teams are consistently working beyond their shifts. Individuals can gain a fresh perspective about the way they work including time management, network analysis and influence and reach indicators.
Both Delve and Delve Analytics use Office Graph and sophisticated machine learning to map the relationships between people, content and activity that occurs across Office 365.
One of the common cloud topics is that organisations want to have full control over their content stored in cloud services. Office 365 has evolved so nearly all service operations performed by Microsoft are fully automated and any human interaction is highly controlled and kept away from customer content. Only in very rare cases does a Microsoft engineer have any reason to access customer content. Microsoft employees do not have automatic access to service operations. All access is obtained through a rigorous access control technology called Lockbox. An extension to this is Customer Lockbox and if an organisation has Customer Lockbox, they have the keys to that engineer access. The customer is notified when their content needs to be accessed by service administrators and the have total control to approve or deny such access. They can set up Just-In-Time access to specific scopes of data and all access control activities are logged and audited. So access currently goes through a secure workflow process but Lockbox makes the customer part of that process.
Customer Lockbox will be available for Exchange Online first and for SharePoint Online in Q1 of 2016.
Advanced Threat Protection
Advanced threat protection has been available for a few months now. It combats unknown & sophisticated threats in email. Let’s say you get an email with a short link, a Bit.ly link for example. When you first receive the email, the link is fine and directs you to the Sugababes fan club site as expected. However, sometime in the future that shortlink redirects you to a malware site and before you know it you’ve downloaded a One Direction virus. Safe Links provide time-of-click protection against such malicious URLs by wrapping external links in special URLs that check the destination link for threats before opening them. There’s also Safe Attachments which opens email attachments sandboxed virtual environments to detect malicious behaviour. And Click Trace keeps a record of every user who has clicked on a URL for additional protection so if you do need to take remedial action, it’s easier to know exactly where.
Equivio Analytics for eDiscovery
Back in January, Microsoft acquired Equivio, a provider of machine learning technologies for eDiscovery and information governance. If an organisation goes through a law suit, it’s extremely expensive and time consuming. Data on a given topic needs to be found and collected and once it’s harvested, typically lawyers are paid lots of money to go through that data and determine relevance. Equivio simplifies the eDiscovery process by using machine learning, tagging and predictive coding to identify relevant email and documents and reduce the amount of data that’s returned.
All of these new capabilities form part of Office 365 E5 and with the exception of the PSTN Calling plans are available as standalones licences.
In the next blog post, we’ll go deeper into the PSTN features and what they include.
Office 2016 is released on 22nd September 2015 and hits the volume licensing pricelist on the 1st October. What’s new? Some will be disappointed it’s not radically different from Office 2013. Others will breathe a sigh of relief and appreciate the consistency between the versions whilst having a good level of improvement over Office 2013 which was a fantastic suite of applications. We’ll be running a series of hints and tips blog posts over the next month detailing the main changes.
For now, if you’re a Microsoft partner you can visit the Microsoft Drumbeat site, packed full of sales training events and resources to help you start, grow and accelerate your Office 365 practice (registration required).
If you love videos of Americans waving their hands around too much and generally being very excited with words like ‘super’ and ‘cool’ then take a look at the 400 second-long Vimeo video.
Q – Is this going to be an automatic upgrade from 2013 to 2016 if I’m on Office 365?
A – No. If you want to deploy Office 2016 you’ll need to do that using your usual deployment processes, e.g. via the Office 365 portal. There will be automatic upgrades in the future but there aren’t any full details on that yet, for example how to accept or prevent the automatic upgrade to 2016.
Q – Will Office 2016 still be available as a perpetual, on-premises product?
A – Yes, Office 2016 is available on-premises and through Office 365 subscriptions. Unless you have Software Assurance on Office 2013 on-premises, you’ll need to buy the licence to Office 2016 as it’s a completely new version. Office 365 includes new version rights so if you’re on an Office 365 which includes the Office apps (e.g. E3, E4, Business, Business Premium, ProPlus) you have the rights to 2016 immediately.
Q – I’m on Office 365; how long can I stay on the 2013 release?
A – For 12 months after the release of Office 2016.
Q – InfoPath is no longer included in the 2016 release, where can I get this?
A – InfoPath 2013 is the last version and can be downloaded from Microsoft’s download centre. Your Office 365 ProPlus licence allows use of InfoPath 2013 and it will still be supported
Select Disable Updates and none of your Office applications will be updated; you won’t need to do this in each application. Somewhere in the world a puppy will start crying however, because you are defying Microsoft.
This action shouldn’t be taken lightly though; you will also not receive security patches so your products may become vulnerable. And at some point, your installation of Office will become unsupported.
Option 3 is performed by running OfficeC2RClient.exe from an administrative command-prompt and using the updatetoversionswitch with the specific version you want to deploy which can be newer or older than the current version (or you may not have one installed at all). If you don’t specify a version, it defaults to the latest one. The versions only go back so far but theoretically you could deploy an older release going back a couple of years.
How will rollbacks work when Office 2016 applications are brought into mainstream Office 365?
We’ll post an update to this blog when we try it.
The last point may seem obvious and irrelevant but we have to mention it for completeness. You can of course still use Office 2011 for Mac on the device whilst connecting to the Office 365 cloud services. But this is not going to help if you’ve subscribed to an Office 365 plan which includes Office applications; who wants to pay twice for the same thing?
Sometimes Microsoft Excel is just too helpful. Like American shop assistants to an English shopper (I’m not being xenophobic, I’m just not used to lots of people asking if I want help finding things (try shopping in Reading on a Saturday afternoon).
Anyone who has tried to paste data in a filtered Excel spreadsheet knows this. Excel will also paste the data into the hidden (filtered out) cells. It obviously thinks it’s being helpful but it’s really not.
There are two solutions that we use. If you’re running Excel 2013 or above, you can utilise Flashfill. For earlier versions, you might be able to use the Fill function..
Let’s look at Fill first. Here is our example sheet:
A nice simple table with numbers in column B, whether they are odd or even in column A and the square of the number in column C. What I would like to do is filter on odd numbers (because I am a little odd), copy the square and paste those into the new column D.
Let’s try to do that in the most obvious way and see what happens.
Filter the table to show only odd numbers. Select all the squares in column C and copy.
Click in cell D2, right-click and select Paste Values. But wait! Only half of the values are shown. That’s because Excel is being over-helpful and pasting into the hidden, filtered-out rows as well as the visible rows. It would be lovely if there was a ‘Paste Values into Visible Cells’ option but you’ve already spent an hour searching the internet to discover there just isn’t.
If we clear the filter, we can see exactly that behaviour. Our five selected cells have been pasted into the interim rows.
Now go up to the ribbon (Home tab) and click Fill and Fill Right. Obviously if your destination column is to the left then feel free to hit Fill Left instead.
And voila, unlike the previous attempt, we are seeing all five desired values.
And just to be sure, let’s clear the filter condition to make sure nothing has been copied into the hidden rows.
Bingo. We have our desired outcome. Obviously this only works in the same sheet and if your columns are adjacent left or right to the cells you wish to copy. If there are columns in between, you can hide those columns and this method will still work; Excel doesn’t paste into hidden columns in the same way it pastes into hidden rows. In the screenshot below, I moved column A between the source column and the destination. I filtered on Odd numbers in the same way, then hid column C. Select Columns B and D and use the Fill Right method and as the screenshot works, once I unhide column C and clear the filter, everything still works out ok.
Flashfill Will Only Update Visible Cells
In Excel 2013, we have the lovely Flashfill feature which we blogged about previously. Flashfill will also help but it’s not relevant for Excel versions earlier than 2013 (or Office 365 ProPlus if you ‘re in the cloud).
You can filter on odd numbers, type 1 in the first cell of the destination column, type 9 in the next cell down, hit Enter and then CTRL + E to force Flashfill to take over. All the desired cells will be copied and if you clear the filter condition, you’ll see that the hidden rows haven’t been touched. This is why we love Flashfill!