Category Archives: UC&C

A brief rant about the Mac Lync client

I’m supposed to be working on my Ignite slides, but I just ran into something that has flipped my safeties.

I just don’t understand.

Sure, I know the Lync/Skype for Business team has a lot of irons in the fire, what with their new product line and all. And I get that the Mac install base is small relative to the other things they have to do. But there is no reason I can see for the Mac Lync client to be as buggy and underfeatured as it is. They’ve had years to improve it.

The Lync PG has proven they can do rapid engineering work, as evidenced by the excellent speed and quality of the Lync mobile apps for Android and iOS.

And they’ve proven they can build a robust client, as evidenced by the history of the Lync desktop client for Windows.

The Mac Office team, for their part, has shown that they can produce high-quality clients that reliably work with Microsoft’s services.

So why does the Mac Lync client make me want to start throwing things?

Today’s example: I am signed into Lync with my work account. I want to create a meeting in my personal Exchange calendar, invite attendees, and set it up as an online meeting. This is trivial using Windows Outlook and the Lync (and, now, SfB) client: create the invite, click the “Lync meeting” button, and boom.

On the Mac, however, this scenario doesn’t work– clicking the “Online Meeting” button produces an obnoxious dialog telling me that I must be signed in to the same account in Lync as I’m using in Outlook.

This is just the latest in the pecked-to-death-by-ducks experience of using the Lync client on a Mac. In honesty, the client is more stable and has more features than its predecessors; hell, it even supports the Conversation History folder now. But what I want is a robust client, with feature parity with Windows, that works to enable the same scenarios I can easily perform in Windows. That’s not too much to ask.

I don’t know (and, as an end user, don’t care) which team inside Microsoft owns this. And I don’t have an opinion on who should own it. All I want is a solid client experience.

(And while I am on a rant: damnit, the Windows Phone sync client for the Mac is a giant pile of fail. Microsoft has apparently abandoned it in place. Bug reports go into a black hole. Latest example: after months of prerelease availability, Apple released the Photos app and… surprise… the WP8 sync app doesn’t work with it.)



Filed under FAIL, OS X, UC&C

Preparing for Ignite

I’m heads-down working on my materials for the upcoming Microsoft Ignite conference. This year, I have three sessions:

  • MVPs Unplugged: Real-World Microsoft Exchange Server Designs and Deployments. This is a panel with Jeff Guillet, Nic Blank, and Sigi Jagott, so I am really looking forward to it. I love panels in general, and my co-presenters are incredibly knowledgeable about the ins and outs of large and small Exchange deployments.
  • Exchange Online Archiving: Notes from the Field. Archiving is one of those topics that isn’t interesting to everyone— but for people who are interested, they tend to be very interested. In this session, I’ll be talking about various aspects of EOA, including what it is, how it works, and how to efficiently move to it.
  • Servicing Microsoft Exchange Server: Update Your Knowledge: this is a joint effort between me and Microsoft’s Brent Alinger. As you may know, he is Mr. Exchange Servicing. I’m really excited to have the chance to be onstage with him. He has some very interesting (dare I say “provocative”) things to say. I consistently find that people misunderstand (or maybe under-understand) how Exchange servicing works and why Microsoft does things the way they do, and I think this session will help shine a brilliant beam of knowledge down from the mothership.

As always, Microsoft has deployed a whole behind-the-scenes infrastructure for managing all this stuff; this year, the system allows attendees to register their session preferences, and we see projected attendee numbers in the speaker portal. When I check these sessions in the speaker portal, all 3 of them are shown as having more enrollees than the currently booked rooms can support— that’s an excellent sign.

Of course, I have to point out that the session schedule is still not 100% set in stone, and sessions may change both times and locations. That’s a good thing, as right now my EOA session is up against Julia White’s keynote, generating the following exchange:

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(Just for the record, Julia, you are more than welcome in my sessions, and I promise to come up with better jokes before you arrive!)

In addition to our assigned sessions, Microsoft has asked each speaker to conduct peer review of other presentations. In addition to the sessions I’m presenting, I’m peer-reviewing sessions on Clutter, Office 365 Groups, and SharePoint enterprise search (pretty sure this last assignment was an accident). We’re also all supposed to man the show floor Office 365 booth, plus there are various side events to plan and RSVP for. In particular, if you haven’t yet requested an invitation to the Scheduled Maintenance party, you’d better act quickly; I hear it will introduce a new level of awesomeness.

Apart from my sessions, the only logistical item I have to complete is to book my flights; until the session schedule is finalized, I can’t. While I’d much prefer to fly myself, Microsoft only covers commercial airfare for speakers. I might fly myself anyway, though!

The workload is ramping up quickly as we get closer to the event, but it should pay off with some excellent sessions. I’m looking forward to Ignite– drop by and say hello if you’re there!

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Filed under Office 365, UC&C

License usage reporting in Office 365, part 2

If you’ve been wondering where part 2 of my series on reporting in Office 365 was, wonder no more; it just went live this morning.

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Filed under Office 365, UC&C

Microsoft rolls out Clutter admin improvements

Back in November, I wrote about my early experience with the Office 365 Clutter feature. I’ve been using it on and off– mostly off, due to a rare bug that surfaced because my mailbox is actually hosted on a portion of the Office 365 cloud that descends from the old Exchange Labs “friends and family” tenant. The bug kept Clutter from correctly moving clutter messages automatically; once it was fixed things returned to normal after I re-enabled the Clutter feature, and I’ve been happily using it since.

One of the big advantages of Office 365 is that the service team can develop and release new features much faster than they can for on-premises services. Sure enough, Microsoft today announced three new features for Clutter.

The biggest of these is the ability to create transport rules that flag messages, or senders, as exempt from Clutter processing. This is exactly the same thing as specifying safe senders for message hygiene filtering, although the implementation is a little different. You’ll create a transport rule that has the conditions and exceptions you want, but with an action that adds a header value of “ClutterBypassedByTransportRuleOverride: TRUE”, as described here. I have not personally had even a single false positive from Clutter since I’ve been testing it, and I haven’t seen any complaints about false positive problems from other users, MVPs, or customers. Having said that, Microsoft was smart to include a way to exempt certain messages from processing, as this will soothe some users and tenant administrators who are worried about the potential to have important messages be misdirected.

Second, the Clutter folder can now be managed by retention policies. This is an eminently logical thing to do, and it nicely highlights the flexibility of Exchange’s messaging records management system.

Rounding out the trio, you now have a very limited ability to customize the message that users see when they enable Clutter for their mailboxes: you can change the display name that the notification appears to be from, and you’ll soon be abe to change the logo. Frankly, this is weak sauce; there’s no way to customize the text of the notification, add custom URLs to it, or otherwise modify it in a useful way. Long-time Exchange administrators will recognize a familiar pattern exemplified by customizable delivery status notifications (DSNs), quota warning messages, and MailTips in previous versions of Exchange: first Microsoft delivered a useful feature with no customization capability, then they enabled limited customization, then (after prolonged complaining from customers) they broadened the range of things that could be customized. Let’s hope that pattern holds here.

There’s still one weak spot in the Clutter feature set: it still requires individual users to opt in (or out). While it’s true that users would likely be alarmed by the sudden forceful application or removal of the Clutter feature from their mailboxes, it’s also true that Office 365 as a whole needs to provide better controls for administrators to regulate which service features users have access to. I am hopeful that we’ll see better admin controls (and reporting) for this feature in the future.

While these improvements aren’t necessarily earth-shaking, they do add some welcome utility to what is already a valuable feature. Clutter is a great example of a feature that can make a measurable positive difference in users’ satisfaction with the service, and I look forward to more improvements in the feature.

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Filed under Office 365, UC&C

License usage reporting in Office 365, part 1

On this blog, I write about whatever interests me. To the chagrin of some folks, this often includes aviation, fitness, and various complaints, but hey.. it could be worse. I save the really inane stuff for Twitter.

Besides the content I post here, though, I also blog at the Summit 7 Systems blog collective. Right now I’m publishing a series on reporting in Office 365. The first part of the series, on license usage reporting, is here, and the second part will be published shortly. In general, when I post content there that might be of interest to readers here, I’ll cross-post it with a short post like this one.


Filed under Office 365, UC&C

Universal version of Outlook coming to your phone

Big news from today’s Windows 10 announcement: Microsoft will be shipping a “universal” version of Outlook that works on Windows tablets, phones, and PCs. This is a really interesting move, and not something I expected based on the existence of OWA for Devices (MOWA) on iOS and Android. The universal Outlook uses the universal version of Word as its editing engine, a huge plus because it delivers all the rich formatting tools available on Windows PCs (and which are still, sadly, missing from Mac Outlook, hint hint), and during the demo, Joe Belfiore showed a fluid touch-based interface that nonetheless preserved much of the look and feel of Outlook and OWA.

This announcement raises a lot of interesting questions, though. A partial list, just off the top of my head… (and a disclaimer: I haven’t seen any preview versions of Office 16 so perhaps these are naive questions that have all been well dealt with in the code)

  • Is this new version of Outlook a replacement for, or a complement to, the existing rich Outlook client? In other words, will it be able to do everything that I can do with Outlook 2013 on a Surface Pro 3? If not, what will they leave out?
  • Will this app replace the native WP calendar and contacts app? I’d guess not, given that the People app got a lot of play in today’s announcement.
  • Outlook’s resource requirements would seem to be a poor fit for phones and low-end tablets. I’d imagine that we’ll have sync controls similar to what exist on WP8.1 to allow users to sync a certain amount, but not necessarily all, of their mail, but it’s going to take a lot of optimization to provide acceptable performance on these devices.
  • Will this version of Outlook support on-premises servers? If so, that means it probably won’t rely on MAPI over HTTPS, which isn’t widely deployed. But it’s hard to imagine Outlook built completely on Exchange Web Services.
  • Will the universal Outlook team match the slow release cadence of desktop Office or the faster cadence of, say, the Lync mobile clients? One of the nicest features of OWA for Devices is that new OWA/Office 365 features (such as Clutter and the People view) just automatically show up in MOWA because it’s essentially a container for OWA views. How will the universal Outlook team bake in support for new features as Exchange and Office 365 ship them?
  • Will Exchange ActiveSync-specific features (especially remote device wipe) be included in this version of Outlook? They aren’t included in the existing Outlook family, of course.
    • If the answer is “no, but you can use InTune or Office 365 MDM”, that’s going to displease a lot of existing users. On the other hand, you can’t remotely wipe a desktop Office installation, something which has led several of my customers to block Outlook Anywhere so that people can’t easily use Outlook from personal machines.
    • If the answer is “yes”, then it will be fascinating to see how Outlook interacts with native data such as contacts stored on the device.
  • What does this mean for OWA for Devices? I’d guess that we won’t see Outlook for iOS and Android, but I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out. Maybe we’re headed back to the days of yore, where the premium clients run on Microsoft operating systems, with a sort of best-effort client set for competitors.
  • Is this the logical vehicle for incorporating the technology Microsoft acquired from Acompli? Or is that being baked in somewhere else?
  • When can I get a Surface Hub?

Given the upcoming availability of previews for Windows 10 for phones, I suppose we’ll get the answers to these questions soon.



Filed under UC&C

Microsoft sneaks out Mac Outlook update

Good news: Microsoft just issued an updated version of Outlook for Mac. (I guess that’s the official name, as opposed to the older Outlook 2011). The list of fixes is pretty nondescript: you can change calendar colors, add alt-text to images, and use custom AD RMS templates. I suspect most of the effort for this release was actually focused on the “Top crashes fixed” item in the KB article.

Bad news: you have to manually download it from the Office 365 portal. The AutoUpdate mechanism shipped with Office 2011 doesn’t yet know how to handle updates for Outlook for Mac. I suppose Microsoft could either update the Office 2011 AU mechanism or ship a new one as part of a future Outlook update; presumably the latter choice would actually deliver the Office 2015 update mechanism, since there’s undoubtedly going to be one.

The real news here is how quickly Microsoft released this update. While this is only one release, it’s an excellent sign that we got it quickly, and it makes me hopeful that we’ll see a steady stream of updates and fixes for the Mac Office apps in the future— with a cadence more akin to the Lync Mobile clients releases than the glacial pace of past Mac Office updates.

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