May
06
2019
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Microsoft wants you to work less

Microsoft today announced updates to its MyAnalytics platform and a new Outlook feature that are meant to help you work less, find more time to focus on the work that actually matters and, by extension, get more downtime.

Until now, for example, MyAnalytics, Microsoft’s tool for helping employees track their productivity, would provide you with a measure of how much time you spent working after hours. That’s not necessarily a healthy number to track. Going forward, MyAnalytics will track the number of days you managed to unplug after work and didn’t check your email or work on a document at 8pm (something Microsoft’s own PR department could learn from given that it has a tendency to provide essential press materials for next-day embargoes at 6:30pm). The idea here, obviously, is to get employees to focus on this number instead of how much they work when they are off the clock.

“Our customers often tell us they spend all day in meetings with little time to focus on pressing tasks and projects,” Microsoft communications chief Frank X. Shaw also noted in a press briefing ahead of today’s announcement.

To combat this, the company today launched a few new features that will let you set up regular “focus time.” The first of this is a tool that lets you set up focus time each week, as well as a feature in Microsoft teams that will alert your fellow employees when you are trying to get things done.

Because your colleagues often don’t care about your flow, though, and are prone to scheduling yet another unnecessary meeting during those times, Microsoft is also launching a new AI-powered Outlook plugin that will help you rebook your focus time and find times for focusing on specific to-do items.

In the future, the company also plans to introduce well-being, networking and collaboration plans.

Focus plans will become available in preview in the next few months for Microsoft 365 and Office 365 users, with E5 customers getting them first.

Mar
20
2019
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Windows Virtual Desktop is now in public preview

Last year, Microsoft announced the launch of its Windows Virtual Desktop service. At the time, this was a private preview, but starting today, any enterprise user who wants to try out what using a virtual Windows 10 desktop that’s hosted in the Azure cloud looks like will be able to give it a try.

It’s worth noting that this is very much a product for businesses. You’re not going to use this to play Apex Legends on a virtual machine somewhere in the cloud. The idea here is that a service like this, which also includes access to Office 365 ProPlus, makes managing machines and the software that runs on them easier for enterprises. It also allows employers in regulated industries to provide their mobile workers with a virtual desktop that ensures that all of their precious data remains secure.

One stand-out feature here is that businesses can run multiple Windows 10 sessions on a single virtual machine.

It’s also worth noting that many of the features of this service are powered by technology from FSLogix, which Microsoft acquired last year. Specifically, these technologies allow Microsoft to give the non-persistent users relatively fast access to applications like their Outlook and OneDrive applications, for example.

For most Microsoft 365 enterprise customers, access to this service is simply part of the subscription cost they already pay — though they will need an Azure subscription and to pay for the virtual machines that run in the cloud.

Right now, the service is only available in the US East 2 and US Central Azure regions. Over time, and once the preview is over, Microsoft will expand it to all of its cloud regions.

Mar
20
2019
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Microsoft Defender comes to the Mac

Microsoft today announced that it is bringing its Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) to the Mac. Previously, this was a Windows solution for protecting the machines of Microsoft 365 subscribers and assets of the IT admins that try to keep them safe. It was also previously called Windows Defender ATP, but given that it is now on the Mac, too, Microsoft decided to drop the “Windows Defender” moniker in favor or “Microsoft Defender.”

“For us, it’s all about experiences that follow the person and help the individual be more productive,” Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Office and Windows, told me. “Just like we did with Office back in the day — that was a big move for us to move it off of Windows-only — but it was absolutely the right thing. So that’s where we’re headed.”

He stressed that this means that Microsoft is moving off its “Windows-centric approach to life.” He likened it to bringing the Office apps to the iPad and Android. “We’re just headed in that same direction of saying that it’s our intent that we can secure every endpoint so that this Microsoft 365 experience is not just Windows-centric,” Spataro said. Indeed, he argued that the news here isn’t even so much the launch of this service for the Mac but that Microsoft is reorienting the way it thinks about how it can deliver value for Microsoft 365 clients.

Given that Microsoft Defender is part of the Microsoft 365 package, you may wonder why those users would even care about the Mac, but there are plenty of enterprises that use a mix of Windows machines and Mac, and which provide all of their employees with Office already. Having a security solution that spans both systems can greatly reduce complexity for IT departments — and keeping up with security vulnerabilities on one system is hard enough to begin with.

In addition to the launch of the Mac version of Microsoft Defender ATP, the company also today announced the launch of new threat and vulnerability management capabilities for the service. Over the last few months, Microsoft had already launched a number of new features that help businesses proactively monitor and identify security threats.

“What we’re hearing from customers now is that the landscape is getting increasingly sophisticated, the volume of alerts that we’re starting to get is pretty overwhelming,” Spataro said. “We really don’t have the budget to hire the thousands of people required to sort through all this and figure out what to do.”

So with this new tool, Microsoft uses its machine learning smarts to prioritize threads and present them to its customers for remediation.

To Spataro, these announcements come down to the fact that Microsoft is slowly morphing into more of a security company than ever before. “I think we’ve made a lot more progress than people realize,” he said. “And it’s been driven by the market.” He noted that its customers have long asked Microsoft to help them protect their endpoints. Now, he argues, customers have realized that Microsoft is moving to this person-centric approach (instead of a Windows-centric one) and that the company may now be able to help them protect large parts of their systems. At the same time, Microsoft realized that it could use all of the billions of signals it gets from its users to better help its customers proactively.

Jan
24
2019
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Apple finally brings Microsoft Office to the Mac App Store, and there is much rejoicing

That slow clap you hear spreading around the internet today could be due to the fact that Apple has finally added Microsoft Office to the Mac App Store. The package will include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote.

Shaan Pruden, senior director of worldwide developer relations at Apple, says that when the company overhauled the App Store last year, it added the ability to roll several apps into a subscription package with the idea of bringing Microsoft Office into the fold. That lack of bundling had been a stumbling block to an earlier partnership.

“One of the features that we brought specifically in working with Microsoft was the ability to subscribe to bundles, which is obviously something that they would need in order to bring Office 365 to the Mac App Store.”

That’s because Microsoft sells Office 365 subscriptions as a package of applications, and it didn’t want to alter the experience by forcing customers to download each one individually, Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365 explained.

PowerPoint on the Mac. Photo: Apple

Spataro said that until now, customers could of course go directly to Microsoft or another retail outlet to subscribe to the same bundle, but what today’s announcement does is wrap the subscription process into an integrated Mac experience where installation and updates all happen in a way you expect with macOS.

“The apps themselves are updated through the App Store, and we’ve done a lot of great work between the two companies to make sure that the experience really feels good and feels like it’s fully integrated,” he said. That includes support for dark mode, photo continuity to easily insert photos into Office apps from Apple devices and app-specific toolbars for the Touch Bar.

A subscription will run you $69 for an individual or $99 for a household. The latter allows up to six household members to piggyback on the subscription, and each person gets one terabyte of storage, to boot. What’s more, you can access your subscription across all of your Apple, Android and Windows devices and your files, settings and preferences will follow wherever you go.

Businesses can order Microsoft Office bundles through the App Store and then distribute them using the Apple Business Manager, a tool Apple developed last year to help IT manage the application distribution process. Once installed, users have the same ability to access their subscriptions, complete with settings across devices.

Microsoft OneNote on the Mac. Photo: Apple

While Apple and Microsoft have always had a complicated relationship, the two companies have been working together in one capacity or another for nearly three decades now. Neither company was willing to discuss the timeline it took to get to this point, or the financial arrangements between the two companies, but in the standard split for subscriptions, the company gets 70 percent of the price the first year with Apple getting 30 percent for hosting fees. That changes to an 85/15 split in subsequent years.

Apple noted that worldwide availability could take up to 24 hours depending on your location, but you’ve waited this long, you can wait one more day, right?

Dec
19
2018
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Microsoft launches a new app to make using Office easier

Microsoft today announced a new Office app that’s now available to Windows Insiders and that will soon roll out to all Windows 10 users. The new Office app will replace the existing My Office app (yeah, those names…). While the existing app was mostly about managing Office 365 subscriptions, the new app provides significantly more features and will essentially become the central hub for Office users to switch between apps, see their pinned documents and access other Office features.

The company notes that this launch is part of its efforts to make using Office easier and help users “get the most out of Office and getting them back into their work quickly.” For many Office users, Outlook, Word, PowerPoint and Excel are basically their central tools for getting work done, so it makes sense to give them a single app that combines in a single place all the information about their work.

Using the app, users can switch between apps, see everything they’ve been working on, as well as recommended documents based on what I assume is data from the Microsoft Graph. There’s also an integrated search feature and admins will be able to customize the app with other line of business applications and their company’s branding.

The app is free and will be available in the oft-forgotten Microsoft Store. It’ll work for all users with Office 365 subscriptions or access to Office 2019, Office 2016 or Office Online.

Sep
24
2018
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Microsoft Teams gets bokeh and meeting recordings with transcripts

If you’ve ever attended a video meeting and wished that the speakers used really expensive cameras and lenses that allowed for that soft classy background blur of a portrait photo, then Microsoft wants to make that wish come true. The company announced a number of updates to Microsoft Teams today, and one of those is a feature that automatically detects faces and blurs the background behind a speaker.

While background blur is nice (or at least we have to assume it will be because we haven’t been able to try it yet), the more useful new feature in Teams is intelligent recordings. Teams can now automatically generate captions and provide time-coded transcripts for the replays. This feature is coming to Office 365 commercial customers now.

Microsoft first demoed these new transcription capabilities at its Build developer conference earlier this year. In that demo, the transcription service was able to distinguish between speakers and create a real-time transcript of the meeting.

If you want to create live streams and on-demand video for a wider audience inside your company, Teams is also getting that capability next month, together with Microsoft Stream and Yammer (which seems to be lingering in the shadow of Teams these days).

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

Aug
28
2018
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Microsoft will soon automatically transcribe video files in OneDrive for Office 365 subscribers

Microsoft today announced a couple of AI-centric updates for OneDrive and SharePoint users with an Office 365 subscription that bring more of the company’s machine learning smarts to its file storage services.

All of these features will launch at some point later this year. With the company’s Ignite conference in Orlando coming up next month, it’s probably a fair guess that we’ll see some of these updates make a reappearance there.

The highlight of these announcements is that starting later this year, both services will get automated transcription services for video and audio files. While video is great, it’s virtually impossible to find any information in these files without spending a lot of time. And once you’ve found it, you still have to transcribe it. Microsoft says this new service will handle the transcription automatically and then display the transcript as you’re watching the video. The service can handle over 320 file types, so chances are it’ll work with your files, too.

Other updates the company today announced include a new file view for OneDrive and Office.com that will recommend files to you by looking at what you’ve been working on lately across the Microsoft 365 and making an educated guess as to what you’ll likely want to work on now. Microsoft will also soon use a similar set of algorithms to prompt you to share files with your colleagues after you’ve just presented them in a meeting with PowerPoint, for example.

Power users will also soon see access statistics for any file in OneDrive and SharePoint.

Feb
07
2018
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Google Drive now lets you easily comment on Microsoft Office files, PDFs and images

 Google is launching an update to Google Drive today that will make it easier for teams and agencies to use a mix of G Suite and Microsoft Office while working with their colleagues and customers.
With this update, Google Drive users can now easily comment on Office files, PDFs and images in the Drive preview pane without having to use (and potentially pay for) tools like Microsoft Office or… Read More

Jan
12
2017
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Microsoft launches StaffHub, a new Office 365 app aimed at shift workers

staffhub Microsoft today unveiled the newest addition to its Office 365 suite with the debut of an application for shift workers and management, called StaffHub. The program is aimed at those who don’t tend to work from desktop computers and have different schedules from week to week, such as in retail, hospitality, restaurants and other industries.
The program was originally introduced in… Read More

Aug
22
2016
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Microsoft buys AI scheduling tool Genee to make Office 365 smarter

Genee Microsoft has picked up another productivity app — announcing the acquisition of AI-powered scheduling tool Genee. In a blog post today the software giant said it will be plugging Genee into its cloud productivity suite, Office 365. Read More

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