Apr
30
2020
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Microsoft makes it easier to get started with Windows Virtual Desktops

Microsoft today announced a slew of updates to various parts of its Microsoft 365 ecosystem. A lot of these aren’t all that exciting (though that obviously depends on your level of enthusiasm for products like Microsoft Endpoint Manager), but the overall thrust behind this update is to make life easier for the IT admins that help provision and manage corporate Windows — and Mac — machines, something that’s even more important right now, given how many companies are trying to quickly adapt to this new work-from-home environment.

For them, the highlight of today’s set of announcements is surely an update to Windows Virtual Desktop, Microsoft’s service for giving employees access to a virtualized desktop environment on Azure and that allows IT departments to host multiple Windows 10 sessions on the same hardware. The company is launching a completely new management experience for this service that makes getting started significantly easier for admins.

Ahead of today’s announcement, Brad Anderson, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Microsoft 365, told me that it took a considerable amount of Azure expertise to get started with this service. With this update, you still need to know a bit about Azure, but the overall process of getting started is now significantly easier. And that, Anderson noted, is now more important than ever.

“Some organizations are telling me that they’re using on-prem [Virtual Desktop Infrastructure]. They had to go do work to basically free up capacity. In some cases, that means doing away with disaster recovery for some of their services in order to get the capacity,” Anderson said. “In some cases, I hear leaders say it’s going to take until the middle or the end of May to get the additional capacity to spin up the VDI sessions that are needed. In today’s world, that’s just unacceptable. Given what the cloud can do, people need to have the ability to spin up and spin down on demand. And that’s the unique thing that a Windows Virtual Desktop does relative to traditional VDI.”

Anderson also believes that remote work will remain much more common once things go back to normal — whenever that happens and whatever that will look like. “I think the usage of virtualization where you are virtualizing running an app in a data center in the cloud and then virtualizing it down will grow. This will introduce a secular trend and growth of cloud-based VDI,” he said.

In addition to making the management experience easier, Microsoft is now also making it possible to use Microsoft Teams for video meetings in these virtual desktop environments, using a feature called ‘A/V redirection’ that allows users to connect their local audio and video hardware and virtual machines with low latency. It’ll take another month or so for this feature to roll out, though.

Also new is the ability to keep service metadata about Windows Virtual Desktop usage within a certain Azure region for compliance and regulatory reasons.

For those of you interested in Microsoft Endpoint Manager, the big news here is better support for macOS-based machines. Using the new Intune MDM agent for macOS, admins can use the same tool for managing repetitive tasks on Windows 10 and macOS.

Productivity Score — a product only an enterprise manager would love — is also getting an update. You can now see how people in an organization are reading, authoring and collaborating around content in OneDrive and SharePoint, for example. And if they aren’t, you can write a memo and tell them they should collaborate more.

There are also new dashboards here for looking at how employees work across devices and how they communicate. It’s worth noting that this is aggregate data and not another way for corporate to look at what individual employees are doing.

The one feature here that does actually seem really useful, especially given the current situation, is a new Network Connectivity category that helps IT to figure out where there are networking challenges.

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.

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
06
2018
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Microsoft will buy out existing cloud storage contracts for customers switching to OneDrive for Business

 Microsoft is targeting its cloud storage rivals including Dropbox, Box, and Google today by offering to essentially buy out customers’ existing contracts if they make the switch to OneDrive for Business. The company says that customers currently paying for one of these competitive solutions, can instead opt to use OneDrive for free for the remainder of their contract’s term. The… Read More

Nov
30
2015
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Microsoft Launches PowerApps, Makes Building Business Apps Easier

PowerApps on Any Device Microsoft today launched PoweApps into preview. PowerApps is a new Office-like service that makes it easy for virtually any employee in a company to build basic mobile and web-based business apps — and for IT departments to enable them to do so. Read More

Dec
17
2014
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Salesforce Will Integrate With External File Storage Providers, With Microsoft Up First

screen-shot-2014-05-29-at-1-32-27-pm Salesforce, a SaaS CRM provider, announced a new product this morning that will connect external file storage solutions to its cloud-based products. In English, that means that if you store your digital goods on other services, but use them inside of Salesforce’s various tools, you’ll soon have a far simpler way to do so. The product, called ‘Files Connect,’ is… Read More

Jul
15
2014
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Box Plans Deep Office 365 Integration As It Removes Storage Caps For Business Customers

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 8.18.40 AM This morning Box announced that it will integrate its cloud storage solution into Microsoft’s popular Office 365 productivity suite. The company also indicated that its ‘Business’ SKU will no longer have a file storage cap, joining its ‘Enterprise’ SKU in having unlimited storage attached to each user’s account. The storage play is simple: As the amount… Read More

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