Two of my favorite questions about Microsoft Office 365 are “What are they going to do next?” and “When is this new feature they’ve announced actually going to show up?” Microsoft has now provided some, but not all, answers to that. In the process, they’ve also made it easier to review improvements you may not have noticed.
In an Office Blog Post, released June 19 with the rather restrained title, “Improving Visibility to Service Updates,” Microsoft has announced two important things. First, there is a page where you can get a pretty comprehensive list of what new features are in the Office 365 pipeline. Second, there’s an advance-release program you can join to get some of the new features a couple of weeks earlier. This program, called First Release, is probably a necessity for consultants like us, because it’s always nice to try something out before your users do.
The Microsoft Office 365 for Business Public Roadmap
The Roadmap, pictured above, is said to provide “a few months’ view of new features, enhancements, and major updates.” Occasionally, features that will arrive later are also included, such as the new Codenamed “Oslo” service. Microsoft is calling the roadmap “your best source of truth for product enhancements” coming to Office 365. They also say, however, that the roadmap “will not capture every change.”
If what the Roadmap shows today is an example, it should prove very useful to Office 365 managers. It breaks recent and upcoming enhancements into three categories, “Launched,” “Rolling Out,” and “In Development.” Launched updates are fully released and should be generally available for all applicable customers. Looking at these is a nice way to check if you’ve missed anything. For example, did you know about the nifty new Site Folders link in OneDrive for Business that displays all the SharePoint document libraries that have been shared with you?
The “Rolling Out” category contains updates that are beginning to roll out, but are not yet available to all applicable customers. We’ve noticed that some on this list are already available on our site, so we must be among the lucky. It’s nice to know about these, too. For example, did you know that you can remove “OneDrive,” “Sites,” and/or “Yammer/Newsfeed” from the Office 365 top navigation bar if you don’t want your users to blunder into those areas?
“In Development” is interesting for two reasons. First, it lets you know what Microsoft has promised to get you sometime. Second, it tells you it’s not happening all that soon. For example, we thought something as simple as increasing the individual storage in OneDrive for Business wouldn’t take all that long. It’s in the “In Development” category, not “Rolling Out,” however, so we’re no longer holding our breath.
The other part of the announcement, First Release, is a program that gets enhancements to customers earlier, if they sign up. It’s not a beta. The new features will be fully tested at this point. It’s a way, however, to get some enhancements before they go out to the people who don’t sign up. Only “a small selection of significant enhancements” will be included in the program, and it will not include updates to Lync Online, Exchange Online Protection, or Office 365 ProPlus. For some things, however, opting in will get you stuff earlier.
Is this real, or a ploy based on a marketing guy’s reading of some behavioral economics text? Is this really going to make a difference, particularly since the “Rolling Out” category, into which things go when they’re released, already says not everybody will get them at the same time? So, to this cynical observer, it remains to be seen whether this is more than a device to get people to feel special and stop bugging Microsoft to get into a beta. We hope it is.
Cynicism aside, however, making all this information easily available online is a major plus. Microsoft is fond of saying that this is the kind of openness that distinguishes them from Google, and we say, “Excellent! Go for it!”