Aug
12
2019
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India’s Reliance Jio inks deal with Microsoft to expand Office 365, Azure to more businesses; unveils broadband, blockchain and IoT platforms

India’s Reliance Jio, which has disrupted the local telecom and features phone markets in less than three years of existence, is ready to foray into many more businesses.

In a series of announcements Monday, which included a long-term partnership with global giant Microsoft, Reliance Jio said it will commercially roll out its broadband service next month; an IoT platform with ambitions to power more than a billion devices on January 1 next year; and “one of the world’s biggest blockchain networks” in the next 12 months — all while also scaling its retail and commerce businesses.

The broadband service, called Jio Fiber, is aimed at individual customers, small and medium-sized businesses as well as enterprises, Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries and Asia’s richest man, said at a shareholders’ meeting today.

The service, which is being initially targeted at 20 million homes and 15 million businesses in 1,600 towns, will start rolling out commercially starting September 5. Ambani said more than half a million customers have already been testing the broadband service, which was first unveiled last year.

The broadband service will come bundled with access to hundreds of TV channels and free calls across India and at discounted rates to the U.S. and Canada, Ambani said. The service, the cheapest tier of which will offer internet speeds of 100Mbps, will be priced at Rs 700 (~$10) a month. The company said it will offer various plans to meet a variety of needs, including those of customers who want access to gigabit internet speeds.

Continuing its tradition to woo users with significant “free stuff,” Jio, which is a subsidiary of India’s largest industrial house (Reliance Industries) said customers who opt for the yearly plan of its fiber broadband will be provided with the set-top box and an HD or 4K TV at no extra charge. Specific details weren’t immediately available. A premium tier, which will be available starting next year, will allow customers to watch many movies on the day of their public release.

The broadband service will bundle games from many popular studios, including Microsoft Game Studios, Riot Games, Tencent Games and Gameloft, Jio said.

Partnership with Microsoft

The company also announced a 10-year partnership with Microsoft to launch new cloud data centers in India to ensure “more of Jio’s customers can access the tools and platforms they need to build their own digital capability,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a video appearance Monday.

ambani nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talks about the company’s partnership with Reliance Jio

“At Microsoft, our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Core to this mission is deep partnerships, like the one we are announcing today with Reliance Jio. Our ambition is to help millions of organizations across India thrive and grow in the era of rapid technological change.”

“Together, we will offer a comprehensive technology solution, from compute to storage, to connectivity and productivity for small and medium-sized businesses everywhere in the country,” he added.

As part of the partnership, Nadella said, Jio and Microsoft will jointly offer Azure, Microsoft 365 and Microsoft AI platforms to more organizations in India, and also bring Azure Cognitive Services to more devices and in 13 Indian languages to businesses in the country. The solutions will be “accessible” to reach as many people and organizations in India as possible, he added. The cloud services will be offered to businesses for as little as Rs 1,500 ($21) per month.

The first two data centers will be set up in Gujarat and Maharashtra by next year. Jio will migrate all of its non-networking apps to the Microsoft Azure platform and promote its adoption among its ecosystem of startups, the two said in a joint statement.

The foray into broadband business and push to court small enterprises come as Reliance Industries, which dominates the telecom and retail spaces in India, attempts to diversify from its marquee oil and gas business. Reliance Jio, the nation’s top telecom operator, has amassed more than 340 million subscribers in less than three years of its commercial operations.

At the meeting, Ambani also unveiled that Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil producer Aramco was buying a 20% stake in $75 billion worth Reliance Industries’ oil-to-chemicals business.

Like other Silicon Valley companies, Microsoft sees massive potential in India, where tens of millions of users and businesses have come online for the first time in recent years. Cloud services in India are estimated to generate a revenue of $2.4 billion this year, up about 25% from last year, according to research firm Gartner. Microsoft has won several major clients in India in recent years, including insurance giant ICICI Lombard.

Today’s partnership could significantly boost Microsoft’s footprint in India, posing a bigger headache for Amazon and Google.

Ambani also said Reliance Retail, the nation’s largest retailer, is working on a “digital stack” to create a new commerce partnership platform in India to reach tens of millions of merchants, consumers and producers. Ambani said Reliance Industries plans to list both Reliance Retail and Jio publicly in the next years.

“We have received strong interests from strategic and financial investors in our consumer businesses — Jio and Reliance Retail. We will induct leading global partners in these businesses in the next few quarters and move towards listing of both these companies within the next five years,” he said.

The announcement comes weeks after Reliance Industries acquired for $42.3 million a majority stake in Fynd, a Mumbai-based startup that connects brick and mortar retailers with online stores and consumers. Reliance Industries has previously stated plans to launch a new e-commerce firm in the country.

Without revealing specific details, Ambani also said that Jio is building an IoT platform to control at least one billion of the two billion IoT devices in India by next year. He said he sees IoT as a $2.8 billion revenue opportunity for Jio. Similarly, the company also plans to expand its blockchain network across India, he said.

“Using blockchain, we can deliver unprecedented security, trust, automation and efficiency to almost any type of transaction. And using blockchain, we also have an opportunity to invent a brand-new model for data privacy where Indian data, especially customer data is owned and controlled through technology by the Indian people an d not by corporate, especially global corporations,” he added.

Jul
22
2019
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In spite of slowing growth, Microsoft has been flexing its cloud muscles

When Microsoft reported its FY19, Q4 earnings last week, the numbers were mostly positive, but as we pointed out, Azure earnings growth has stalled. Productivity and business, which includes Office 365, has also mostly flattened out. But slowing growth is not always as bad as it may seem. In fact, it’s an inevitability that once you start to reach Microsoft’s market maturity, it gets harder to maintain large growth numbers.

That said, AWS launched the first cloud infrastructure service, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud in August, 2006. Microsoft came much later to the cloud, launching Azure in February, 2010, but so were other established companies in Microsoft’s market share rearview. What did it do differently to achieve this success that the companies chasing it — Google, IBM and Oracle — failed to do? It’s a key question.

Let’s look at some numbers

For starters, let’s look at the most numbers for Productivity & Business Processes this year. This category includes all of its commercial and consumer SaaS products including Office 365 commercial and consumer, Dynamics 365, LinkedIn and others. The percentage growth started FY19 at 19% but ended at 14%

Screenshot 2019 07 19 14.34.00

When you look at just Office365 commercial earnings growth, it started at 36% and dropped down to 31% by Q4.

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.

Apr
09
2019
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Slack integration with Office 365 one more step toward total enterprise integration

Slack’s goal of integrating enterprise tools in the chat interface has been a major differentiator from the giant companies it’s competing with like Microsoft and Facebook. Last year, it bought Astro, specifically with the goal of integrating enterprise productivity tools inside Slack, and today it announced new integrations with Microsoft OneDrive and Outlook.

Specifically, Slack is integrating calendar, files and calls and bringing in integrations with other services, including Box, Dropbox and Zoom.

Andy Pflaum, director of project management at Slack, came over in the Astro deal, and he says one of the primary goals of the acquisition was to help build connections like this to Microsoft and Google productivity tools.

“When we joined Slack, it was to build out the interoperability between Slack and Microsoft’s products, particularly Office and Office 365 products, and the comparable products from Google, G Suite. We focused on deep integration with mail and calendar in Slack, as well as bringing in files and calls in from Microsoft, Google and other leading providers like Zoom, Box and Dropbox,” Pflaum, who was co-founder and CEO at Astro, told TechCrunch.

For starters, the company is announcing deep integration with Outlook that enables users to get and respond to invitations in Slack. You can also join a meeting with a click directly from Slack, whether that’s Zoom, WebEx or Skype for Business. What’s more, when you’re in a meeting, your status will update automatically in Slack, saving users from manually doing this (or more likely forgetting and getting a flurry of Slack questions in the middle of a meeting).

Another integration lets you share emails directly into Slack. Instead of copying and pasting or forwarding the email to a large group, you can click a Slack button in the Outlook interface and share it as a direct message with a group or to your personal Slack channel.

File sharing is not being left behind here either, whether from Microsoft, Box or Dropbox; users will be able to share files inside of Slack easily. Finally, users will be able to view full Office document previews inside of Slack, another step in avoiding tasking switching to get work done.

Screenshot: Slack

Mike Gotta, an analyst at Gartner who has been following the collaboration space for many years, says the integration has done a good job of preserving the user experience, while allowing for a seamless connection between email, calendar and files. He says that this could give them an edge in the highly competitive collaboration market, and more importantly allow users to maintain context.

“The collaboration market is highly fragmented with many vendors adding ‘just a little’ collaboration to products designed for specific purposes. Buyers can find that this type of collaboration in context to the flow of work is more impactful than switching to a generalized tool that lacks situational awareness of the task at hand. Knowledge-based work often involves process and project-related applications, so the more we can handle transitions across tools, the more productive the user experience becomes. More importantly there’s less context fragmentation for the individual and team,” Gotta told TechCrunch.

These updates are about staying one step ahead of the competition, and being able to run Microsoft tools inside of Slack gives customers another reason to stick with (or to buy) Slack instead of Microsoft’s competing product, Teams.

All of this new functionality is designed to work in both mobile and desktop versions of the product and is available today.

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.

Nov
19
2018
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Microsoft acquires FSLogix to enhance Office 365 virtual desktop experience

Back in September, Microsoft announced a virtual desktop solution that lets customers run Office 365 and Windows 10 in the cloud. They mentioned several partners in the announcement that were working on solutions with them. One of those was FSLogix, a Georgia virtual desktop startup. Today, Microsoft announced it has acquired FSLogix. It did not share the purchase price.

“FSLogix is a next-generation app-provisioning platform that reduces the resources, time and labor required to support virtualization,” Brad Anderson, corporate VP for Microsoft Office 365 and Julia White, corporate VP for Microsoft Azure,  href=”https://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2018/11/19/microsoft-acquires-fslogix-to-enhance-the-office-365-virtualization-experience/”>wrote in a joint blog post today.

When Microsoft made the virtual desktop announcement in September they named Citrix, CloudJumper, Lakeside Software, Liquidware, People Tech Group, ThinPrint and FSLogix as partners working on solutions. Apparently, the company decided it wanted to own one of those experiences and acquired FSLogix.

Microsoft believes by incorporating the FSLogix solution, it will provide a better virtual desktop experience for its customers by enabling better performance and faster load times, especially for Office 365 ProPlus customers.

Randy Cook, founder and CTO at FSLogix, said the acquisition made sense given how well the two companies have worked together over the years. “From the beginning, in working closely with several teams at Microsoft, we recognized that our missions were completely aligned. Both FSLogix and Microsoft are dedicated to providing the absolute best experience for companies choosing to deploy virtual desktops,” Cook wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

Lots of companies have what are essentially dumb terminals running just the tools each employee needs, rather than a fully functioning standalone PC. Citrix has made a living offering these services. When employees come in to start the day, they sign in with their credentials and they get a virtual desktop with the tools they need to do their jobs. Microsoft’s version of this involves Office 365 and Windows 10 running on Azure.

FSLogix was founded in 2013 and has raised more than $10 million, according to data on Crunchbase. Today’s acquisition, which has already closed according to Microsoft, comes on the heels of last week’s announcement that the company was buying Xoxco, an Austin-based developer shop with experience building conversational bots.

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

Sep
06
2018
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Microsoft commits to fixing custom apps broken by Windows 10 upgrades

Microsoft wants to make life easier for enterprise customers. Starting today, it is committing to fix any custom applications that may break as a result of updates to Windows 10 or the Office 365 product suite.

Most large companies have a series of custom applications that play a crucial role inside their organizations. When you update Windows and Office 365, Murphy’s Law of updates says one or more of those applications is going to break.

Up until this announcement when that inevitably happened, it was entirely the problem of the customer. Microsoft has taken a huge step today by promising to help companies understand which applications will likely break when you install updates, and working to help fix them if it ultimately happens anyway.

One of the reasons the company can afford to be so generous is they have data that suggests the vast majority of applications won’t break when customers move from Windows 7 to Windows 10. “Using millions of data points from customer diagnostic data and the Windows Insider validation process, we’ve found that 99 percent of apps are compatible with new Windows updates,” Microsoft’s Jared Spataro wrote in a blog post announcing these programs.

To that end, they have a new tool called Desktop Deployment Analytics, which creates a map of your applications and predicts using artificial intelligence which of them are most likely to have problems with the update.

“You now have the ability with the cloud to have intelligence in how you manage these end points and get smart recommendations around how you deploy Windows,” Spataro, who is corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, told TechCrunch.

Even with that kind of intelligence-driven preventive approach, things still break, and that’s where the next program, Desktop App Assure, comes into play. It’s a service designed to address any application compatibility issues with Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus. In fact, Microsoft has promised to assign an engineer to a company to fix anything that breaks, even if it’s unique to a particular organization.

That’s quite a commitment, and Spataro recognizes that there will be plenty of skeptics where this program in particular is concerned. He says that it’s up to Microsoft to deliver what it’s promised.

Over the years, organizations have spent countless resources getting applications to work after Windows updates, sometimes leaving older versions in place for years to avoid incompatibility problems. These programs theoretically completely remove that pain point from the equation, placing the burden to fix the applications squarely on Microsoft.

“We will look to make changes in Windows or Office before we ask you to make changes in your custom application,” Spataro says, but if that doesn’t solve it, they have committed to helping you fix it.

Finally, the company heard a lot of complaints from customers when they announced they were ending extended support for Windows 7 in 2020. Spataro said Microsoft listened to its customers, and has now extended paid support until 2024, letting companies change at their own pace. Theoretically, however, if they can assure customers that updating won’t break things, and they will commit to fixing them if that happens, it should help move customers to Windows 10, which appears to be the company’s goal here.

They also made changes to the standard support and update cadence for Windows 10 and Office 365:

All of these programs appear to be a major shift in how Microsoft has traditionally done business, showing a much stronger commitment to servicing the requirements of enterprise customers, while shifting the cost of fixing custom applications from the customer to Microsoft when updates to its core products cause issues. But they have done so knowing that they can help prevent a lot of those incompatibility problems before they happen, making it easier to commit to this type of program.

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.

Jul
12
2018
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Microsoft wants to make you a better team player by nudging you into submission

Microsoft announced a number of new tools for its MyAnalytics tool for Office 365 users today that are geared toward giving employees more data about how they work, as well as ways to improve how teams work together. In today’s businesses, everybody has to be a team player, after all, and if you want to bring technology to bear on this, you first need data — and once you have data, you can go into full-on analytics mode and maybe even throw in a smidge of machine learning, too.

So today, Microsoft is launching two new products: Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics nudges. Yes, Office 365 will now nudge you to be a better team player. “Building better teams starts with transparent, data-driven dialog—but no one is perfect and sticking to good collaboration habits can be challenging in a fast-paced job,” Microsoft’s Natalie McCullough and Noelle Beaujon, using language only an MBA could love, write in today’s announcement.

I’m not sure what exactly that means or whether I have good collaboration habits or not, but in practice, Office 365 can now nudge you when you need more focus time as your calendar fills up, for example. You can block off those times without leaving your Inbox (or, I guess, you could always ignore this and just set up a standing block of time every day where you don’t accept meetings and just do your job…). MyAnalytics can also now nudge you to delegate meetings to a co-worker when your schedule is busy (because your co-workers aren’t busy and will love you for putting more meetings on your calendar) and tell you to avoid after-hours emails as you draft them to co-workers so they don’t have to work after hours, too (that’s actually smart, but may not work well in every company).

With this new feature, Microsoft is also using some machine learning smarts, of course. MyAnalytics was already able to remind you of tasks you promised to co-workers over email, and now it’ll nudge you when you read new emails from those co-workers, too. Because the more you get nudged, the more likely you are to finish that annoying task you never intended to do but promised your co-worker you would do so he’d go away.

If you’re whole team needs some nudging, Microsoft will also allow the group to enroll in a change program and provide you with lots of data about how you are changing. And if that doesn’t work, you can always set up a few meetings to discuss what’s going wrong.

These new features will roll out this summer. Get ready to be nudged.

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