Microsoft Previews Office 365 Groups, Oslo Apps

by Pedro Hernandez
Microsoft Previews Office 365 Groups, Oslo Apps

Office 365's future comes into sharper focus with a new, deeply integrated social layer and an app that surfaces the most relevant activities and interactions.

Microsoft is setting the stage for a more intelligence-driven and social Office 365 experience at the company's SharePoint Conference March 3 to 6 in Las Vegas.

The software giant is previewing a handful of new features during the event that the company expects to roll out during the next 12 months, according Julia White, general manager of Microsoft Office. The sneak peek "enables us to showcase and foreshadow what we're doing in a more transparent way," said White. "Some of that is very early, but we're showing all live code," she added.

Besides giving businesses a glimpse into the future of its cloud-enabled Office 365 suite, Microsoft is showcasing how the new features can extend social collaboration and analytics capabilities deep into the daily lives of mobile workforces. Among the newly announced forthcoming Office 365 features are the company's new Oslo app and its underlying Office Graph, which Microsoft describes as the "new Office 365 intelligence fabric."

Describing Office Graph as an intelligence layer that resides "under the hood and never exposed to the user," White told eWEEK that the technology leverages machine learning and links to Microsoft's productivity software portfolio (SharePoint, Exchange, Lync, Yammer and Office) to help business users combat information overload and cluttered inboxes by serving up "really personalized and relevant views of their world." The goal is to enable users to  keep better tabs on initiatives and projects—and the conversations surrounding them—without getting pulled into endless email chains that often end up getting splintered or derailed.

Office Graph will first manifest to users as Oslo, a visual, mobile-optimized application that surfaces meaningful messages, documents and emails on cards that users can tap to invoke the relevant Office app or action. This compares with the traditional inbox, which prioritizes emails by "who hit send last," White said. Office Graph powers a completely personalized dashboard that provides information, ideas and files based on "the things that matter most."

Oslo also surfaces who matters most. Instead of the hierarchical views of past directory services, Oslo allows users to explore connections between workers, which can often stretch across different parts of an organization, to further encourage users to tap into the collective insight and problem-solving capabilities of a workforce.

Yammer, Everywhere

Microsoft is working to embed enterprise social networking into practically every Office-based task via Groups. A product of the company's Yammer acquisition, Groups is an "entity that spans all aspects of Office 365," said White. Users can create a group, consisting of a Yammer feed, calendar, document library and inbox, from anywhere in Office 365, according to the company.

Groups defaults to "open" to help promote collaborative experiences across an organization, said White, adding that users can easily set them to private, for more controlled information-sharing experiences.

In addition to Groups, Microsoft is planning a new Inline Social feature that will eventually encompass all of Office 365. Microsoft first will offer "the ability to have social conversations inside documents stored in SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business," the company said in a statement.

Microsoft also took the wraps off the upcoming Office 365 Video Portal. Powered by Windows Azure Media Services, the product will enable businesses to organize their video assets and create customized channels while Microsoft's cloud handles the rendering, compression and optimization.

Originally published on eWeek.
  This article was originally published on Tuesday Mar 4th 2014
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