Apps are going to get a lot smarter with help from Microsoft Office

This article excerpt, by Business Insider author Matt Weinberger, originally appeared here:

Today, Microsoft officially released the Microsoft Graph, a nerdy solution that opens the doors wide for developers to do a lot more with Microsoft Office.

The critical idea here is the “application programming interface,” or API. Programs use APIs to talk to each other — popular fitness app Runtastic, for example, uses the Google Maps API to display a real-time map on the app.

The Microsoft Graph, first announced in beta back in April, is a set of APIs that blow open theMicrosoft Office 365 productivity cloud to developers, letting them build apps that take a user’s data and put it to use in cool, new ways. 

Basically, it means that any developer can build an app that taps straight into the data that lives inside Office 365, making their wares smarter and faster.

“It’s not just all about Microsoft,” says Rob Lefferts, Microsoft general manager of Office exentensibility.  “It’s a huge starting set of information.” 

And just like Facebook’s famous social graph, the Microsoft Graph lets developers ask questions of the data like, “Who does my customer work closely with?” The intelligence is handled by Microsoft on the back end. (And no, it’s not as creepy as it might sound — like any other app, you’d have to give it permission to access data.)

For instance, Lefferts says, over 850 million meetings per month get booked via Microsoft Outlook for Office 365. That means that there’s tons of data there for an enterprising app developer to build a predictive calendar based on how users spend their time. 

At launch, the Microsoft Graph supports data from sources like e-mail, the address book, and calendars. Later, it’ll be able to support data taken from OneDrive storage, OneNote cloud notes, and other Microsoft data.

The Office Graph also goes both ways. For example, security startup Skyhigh Networks is already using the Microsoft Graph to enforce enterprise policies on customers’ Office 365 installations, scanning and quarantining files that live in the cloud.

For developers, the first taste of Microsoft Graph is free, Lefferts says. But if they’re using Microsoft Office data at volume in their own apps via Microsoft Graph, the company will collect a fee.

It will be a while before most developers figure out how to best access all that data, since the Microsoft Graph is new.

But it has the potential to make apps much smarter, in a behind-the-scenes kind of way. And it’s good for Microsoft, because it means that customers can get more out of the money they’re sinking into Office 365.

“The demand of customers is to say, ‘make it seamless, make it great,” says Lefferts.

    10 Ways Microsoft Office 2016 Could Improve Your Productivity

    This article excerpt, by TechRepublic, originally appeared here:…/

    On September 22, 2015, Microsoft released Office 2016 to the masses. At first glance, you may not notice much has changed since Office 2013. But when you look deeper, you will find some interesting and productivity-enhancing differences.

    For years we’ve been promised wonderful benefits from cloud computing, and Microsoft Office 2016 is trying to deliver on those promises. It’s designed to meet our expectations of what a cloud-based, mobile-ready productivity suite can and should be. Only time will tell if Office 2016 actually delivers the goods, but the initial reviews are promising.

    Here are 10 things Microsoft Office 2016 offers as it aspires to be the last productivity suite you are ever going to need.

    1: Real-time co-authoring

    Co-authoring has been around for a long time for many Office apps, but with Office 2016 that collaboration can now take place in real time. That means you will be able to see what your co-conspirators are doing in a Word document or PowerPoint presentation as they do it—and conversely they will be able to see what you are doing. It won’t even matter where you are or what device you are using.

    2: OneNote notebook sharing

    OneNote is one of the most useful applications available in Microsoft Office, and it is also one of the least appreciated. Office 2016 allows you to share a OneNote notebook with as many people as you want. And because OneNote works with text, images, worksheets, emails, and just about any other document type you can think of, it can be a great central resource for a team working on a project. That is, if they know to use it.

    3: Simplified document sharing

    Office 2016 simplifies sharing of documents by adding a Share button to the upper-right corner of your Office apps. Clicking that button will give you one-click access to share your document with anyone in your contacts list. You don’t even have to leave the document to do it. That does sound pretty simple.

    4: Smart attachments

    If you’re like me, you have to send email attachments just about every day. In previous versions of Office, adding attachments to an email required you to navigate to the location where the document was stored. You can still do that in Office 2016, but if the document in question was one you worked on recently, it will now show up in a list of shareable documents right there in Outlook. Essentially, Office 2016 keeps a universal recently worked on list for you.

    5: Clutter for Outlook

    Like most of us, you probably get a ton of email every day. Wading through the Outlook inbox to prioritize each email takes time and hampers your ability to be productive. Office 2016 adds a new category to your inbox triage toolbox, called Clutter. You can designate certain emails as low priority and they, and future similar emails, will be deposited automatically into a Clutter folder in Outlook. So now you have four categories for email: important, clutter, junk, and delete.

    6: Better version history

    Collaboration and creativity can be a messy process, with shared documents changing drastically over time. Office 2016 compensates for potentially lost ideas by keeping past versions of documents and making them available directly from Office applications under the History section of the File menu.

    7: New chart types in Excel

    The ability to visualize data with an Excel chart has always been a welcome and powerful capability. However, the list of available chart types found in previous versions of Excel needed an update. Office 2016 adds several new chart types to the templates list, including Waterfall, which is great chart if you like to track the stock market. Other new chart types include Treemap, Pareto, Histogram, Box and Whisker, and Sunburst.

    8: Power BI

    Between the release of Office 2013 and Office 2016, Microsoft spent a great amount of time and capital acquiring technologies that shore up its business intelligence and analytical applications. Power BI, a powerful analytics tool, now comes bundled with your Office 365 subscription. Knowing every little detail about how your business is running is essential information, and Power BI can bring it all together for you.

    9: Delve

    Delve is another new tool that comes with an Office 365 subscription. The best way to describe Delve is as a central location that gives you access to everything you have created, shared, or collaborated on using Office 2016. It is another recently worked on list, only this version of the list is stored in the cloud—so you can access it from anywhere with any device using the Office 365 Portal.

    10: Purchase choices

    Office 2016 is generally available only as a subscription. Even if you buy a boxed version of Office 2016, you are buying access to an annual subscription, with one exception. If you purchase the Office Home & Student 2016 box, you pay a one-time fee of $149.99 for just the basic Office apps.

    Microsoft has definitely stacked the deck so that the best bang for the buck is a subscription to Office 365, which includes Office 2016 plus all the cloud services. Businesses should be looking at one of the Office 365 for Business subscriptions. It is also going to be your best deal.


    This article excerpt originally appeared here:…/

    As any business owner knows, staying competitive means doing more with less. It’s about being nimble, looking professional online, and getting more done in less time. But, with the many choices that are available these days, it’s difficult to find the right tools to accomplish your goals.

    Office 365 delivers a full-featured, business-centric online productivity experience. It is designed from the ground up to meet business requirements for security, privacy, reliability, and manageability. Now, of course, Google also offers online productivity services with Google Apps for Work, so why should small and midsize businesses choose Office 365 over Google Apps?

    Below are ten 10 reasons:

    1. ENSURE THE PRIVACY OF YOUR BUSINESS INFORMATION. Your private business information should be just that—private. Your customers and partners trust you with their sensitive information as well, and Office 365 provides enhanced security by design with our state-of-the-art data centers, premium anti-spam and antivirus protection, and encrypted anywhere access to data. Google Apps for Work adheres to Google’s single privacy policy, which is shared across business and consumer applications.

    2. WORK VIRTUALLY ANYTIME, ANYWHERE. In today’s always-on business world, being able to get work done anywhere can be a significant competitive advantage—especially for small and midsize businesses looking to deliver superior customer service and to differentiate themselves from larger competitors. Office 365 delivers a familiar, yet powerful user experience across PC, phone, and browser, intelligently tailored for each platform. Google has limited offline capabilities for its services. They are only limited to Chrome browser. And the experience is inconsistent across services.

    3. BOOST PRODUCTIVITY AND EFFICIENCY WITH A COMPLETE SOLUTION. Microsoft has been improving Office productivity applications for decades, and Office 365 is a natural extension of that process. With Office 365, you get everything you love about Microsoft Office, and then some. Instant messaging, Yammer Enterprise, real-time presence, video conferencing, and more are built right in and accessible from desktop applications or in the web browser. Customers using Google Apps for Work must rely on third-party solutions for core features such as Mail Merge, Bibliography etc.

    4. GET UP AND RUNNING FAST WITH A FAMILIAR, STRAIGHTFORWARD INTERFACE. Office 365 mobile, online, and desktop applications share a consistent yet tailored experience to give users instant familiarity across devices and locations. You get the familiar Microsoft Outlook® and Office productivity applications you already use—now powered by and working seamlessly with cloud services. Share a file in Word, Microsoft Excel®, or Microsoft PowerPoint® and almost anyone will be able to use it without thinking twice. Customers using Google Apps for Work must rely on third-party tools such as OffiSync and Memeo for functionality that is similar to what is offered in Office 365.

    5. MAKE LIFE EASY FOR CUSTOMERS AND PARTNERS. Office 365 makes it easy for users to create rich documents that convince customers, preserve ideas, and drive innovation. All that richness is preserved whether documents are edited using Office tools on a desktop computer, a tablet, through a browser, or on a mobile device. Google Docs is limited in functionality compared to Office, despite recent efforts to improve.

    6. REDUCE IT COMPLEXITY. Even if you have dedicated IT staff, it’s still likely that you want to minimize the amount of time and money you spend managing systems. Office 365 is designed to be easy for most users to administer and manage, and provides the power of trusted business solutions to meet even the most advanced IT needs. Google Apps does not provide the same level of IT management functionality as Office 365.

    7. MEET YOUR BUSINESS NEEDS WITH A FLEXIBLE SOLUTION. Microsoft believes in giving customers the flexibility to choose what works for their business. That’s why Office 365 offers a choice of easy-to-buy plans to help you get the best solution whether you are a company of one or one thousand. Google’s approach is simple, but it may not satisfy all of your business needs.

    8. RELY ON A FINANCIALLY-BACKED 99.9 PERCENT SERVICE LEVEL AGREEMENT. Office 365 has been built from the ground up for reliability, availability, and performance. Our proven service is powered by the same Microsoft email and collaboration products that businesses have been using for decades. Because of this commitment to reliability and availability, Microsoft is one of the very few cloud services providers that offer a financially-backed service level agreement (SLA) when any Office 365 service drops below 99.9 percent availability.

    9. PLAN EFFECTIVELY WITH A CLEAR ROADMAP AND ALL-INCLUSIVE PRICING. Microsoft updates Office 365 on a regular schedule and provides customers with 12 months’ notice of significant changes to Office 365. Microsoft also contractually commits to maintaining core Office 365 features for the term of the customer’s subscription. With a new customer roadmap to help businesses set their technical strategy, Microsoft helps you understand the company’s vision and innovations. Flexible, predictable, pay-as-you-go pricing options include everything that is listed, so you can rest-assured that Microsoft will support all of the features you purchased, helping you plan budgets more effectively and avoid unexpected expenditures. Google’s approach to innovation is to release beta features with little or no advance warning.

    10. GET THE SUPPORT YOU NEED WHEN YOU NEED IT. Small and midsize businesses don’t have the time to be disrupted. Microsoft provides easy-to-access support options that meet a variety of needs. For small-business customers, Microsoft provides moderated community forums to find quick solutions to problems faced by businesses just like yours. For businesses with advanced technology needs, Office 365 Enterprise plans supplement community support with 24/7 phone support for even single-user outages. And, of course, Office 365 is designed to be easy to manage, even for non-technical people.

    5 new Azure features you need to hear about

    This article excerpt, by Infoworld Tech Watch author Serdar Yegulalp, originally appeared here:

    Every public cloud offering is in constant mutation — adding features, revising old ones, revamping pricing, striving to stay ahead of the competition and to give existing customers incentive to stick around.

    Microsoft’s Azure improvements are often incremental changes aimed at a specific subset of users. But over the past month, several new features — and expansions on existing ones — have bubbled up, all of interest to a wide variety of Azure users. Here are five of the most significant additions.

    1. Azure’s close integration with the Akamai CDN

    The idea is simple: Come early 2016, Azure users will be able to programmatically deploy content into the Akamai CDN and buy Akamai offerings through their Azure self-service portal.

    Microsoft has its own CDN and has long enjoyed a close relationship with Akamai, but this takes the partnership to the next level. Apart from allowing Azure-deployed content to reach a broader audience (Latin America and Asia, in particular), it also means Microsoft can pit itself directly against Amazon CloudFront.

    Pricing wasn’t announced for the Akamai deal, although CloudFront is automatically quite competitive — its free tier allows up to 50GB out per month, albeit only for one year for a new account. Let’s see if Microsoft can hatch something at least as appealing.

    2. Azure’s PowerShell is almost ready for prime time

    Build a better command line, and the world will beat a path to your door. Microsoft made a bid in that direction with PowerShell, the power and utility of which speaks for itself.

    Integrating PowerShell with Azure has been in the works a long time, but earlier this month, a major milestone arrived: the preview release of Azure PowerShell 1.0. With it, the user can manage Azure resources and services from the command line instead of through a GUI — which most any veteran sys admin appreciates.

    Be warned: It’s such a major change that the featured Azure Resource Management cmd lets break backward compatibility with previous versions.

    3. Azure App Service supports Go, albeit experimentally

    If you’re a fan of Google’s Go and want to use it on Azure, desire no more: Support for Go with Web apps was added to Azure earlier this month — even in the free trial. Azure will take care of configuring the  file if needed for the app, but you can supply your own if your deployment requires custom settings.

    Right now, only Go 1.4.2 and Go 1.5.1 are supported in their 64-bit incarnations, and the whole package is considered experimental; deploy a production application at your own risk. For now, anyway — you have every reason to believe Go support on Azure will graduate to full support status before long.

    4. Azure Backup backs up a lot more than VMs

    Originally, Azure Backup was designed to back up Hyper-V VMs and their associated data volumes. Anything beyond that was the province of Microsoft Data Protection Manager. But of late, Azure Backup has grown to provide backup support for other Microsoft products as well. Microsoft SQL Server, SharePoint Server, Microsoft Exchange, and Windows Clients are all protected.

    Note that the cost of backups is two-fold: one charge for the size of the instance itself ($5 and up depending on the size of the instance), and charges for storage consumed by the backup. But the range of products covered by Azure Backup is likely to continue expanding.

    5. Azure File Storage gives you SMB in the cloud

    Sometimes you need to wait the longest for the simplest, most basic features because, counterintuitively, they’re hard to get right. Azure finally offered Azure File Storage, to perform conventional Windows file shares (via the SMB 3.0 protocol) in the cloud, at the end of September.

    The idea is to support existing applications as they’re moved to the cloud, some of which might depend on SMB share mounts. An Azure File Storage share can be mounted anywhere, allowing on-prem and cloud applications to share storage and data in a familiar manner.

    Note: Any clients that connect to an Azure File Storage share will be limited by their level of SMB support. For Windows 7, that’s SMB 2.1, which lacks support for encryption; SMB 3.0 is supported in only Windows 8 and up, as well as Windows Server 2012 and up. However, most recent Linux distributions support SMB 3.0 natively.