Category Archives: UC&C

Azure Portal search: a tale in 4 pictures

Sorry that my first blog post in a while is a complaint, but, hey, at least you’re not paying a subscription fee for it.

We ran into an odd problem with our work Microsoft Teams environment. (I’ll blog more about the details once I confirm that it’s fixed; we’re still troubleshooting it.) Thanks to valiant efforts by Tony Redmond and the Teams engineering team, the root cause was tentatively identified as one of the Teams microservices being disabled. I needed to re-enable it.

First stop, the “Enterprise Applications” blade of the Azure portal. Note the list below is the default view, and it’s all you get– a naive user might assume that the list shows all applications in the AAD tenant because the filters are set to “application status any” and “application visibility any,” and the list appears to go from A through W.

portal-01

But noooooo. Notice that there’s no entry for “Microsoft Teams,” which I know perfectly well is enabled. OK then, let’s try setting the “Show” pulldown to “Microsoft applications.” Set that filter, click “Apply,” and check out the results.

portal-02

Huh. Still no entry for Teams. This time I notice the text in the search field: “First 20 shown, to search all your applications, enter a display name or the application ID.” All right, fine, I’ll try searching for “Teams”. Type that in, hit return, and…

portal-03

Well, that seems wrong. Let me try “Microsoft”. That produced a good-sized list of results, very few of which showed up in any of the preceding screenshots.. but only one entry showed up with a name of “Microsoft Teams.”

Finally, Vasil Michev took pity on me and told me to search for “Microsoft Teams.” Et voilà…

portal-04

There’s the problem child. A couple of clicks later, the service was enabled as intended.

Now, sure, in the grand scheme of things this is a minor issue. There’s so much stuff in the Azure portal, and so many great Azure services, that I can understand that maybe search in this one little corner of the portal isn’t a priority.

Having said that: this is an embarrassing thing to get wrong, and it’s emblematic of similar problems across other Microsoft properties (let’s not even talk about how bad content search is in the Teams client, or why I can’t search Exchange Online archive mailboxes on the Mac Outlook client).

Seriously– fix it, Microsoft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Removing Exchange Online calendar events when the meeting organizer leaves

“Hey, look! A new Office 365 feature!”

I get to say this a lot given how often Microsoft drops new features into various parts of the service. Sometimes they announce these features in advance, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes these features are large, and sometimes they’re small.. but even the small ones are often surprisingly valuable.

Today’s example: the new Remove-CalendarEvents cmdlet, which solves the issue of what to do with recurring meetings when a user leaves or is on extended leave. Here’s what the documentation says:

This cmdlet cancels meetings in the specified mailbox where the mailbox is the meeting organizer, and the meeting has one or more attendees or resources. It doesn’t cancel appointments or meetings without attendees or resources.

This is perfect for handling the case when someone leaves an organization and leaves behind recurring meetings, but it’s also useful for cleaning up calendar items for people who are on parental leave, medical leave, or other types of absence with a defined start and end time.

You can cancel all meetings with the -CancelOrganizedMeetings switch, or you can specify a date range with switches to specify the start date and the number of days or the end date to cancel. Keep in mind that if you don’t include -CancelOrganizedMeetings, nothing will happen when you run the cmdlet– if you want to see what it would do, you can use -PreviewOnly. I am not sure why the team didn’t use the standard -WhatIf switch, but that’s a minor point.

The cmdlet is very easy to use. I wanted to cancel all future meetings organized by a user who’s left my tenant, so this is what I did:

A single cmdlet will remove all of the target user’s meetings

Note what happened on the first try– I didn’t specify any switches, and the cmdlet warned me that it wouldn’t do anything… and indeed, it didn’t. The second attempt did exactly what it was supposed to:

Poof! no more meeting

I was delighted to see this result– it’s proof that Microsoft is paying attention to the small sharp edges that sometimes annoy administrators disproportionately. Hats off to the calendaring team (hi, Julia!) and thanks for listening.

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Windows Outlook Focused Inbox requires modern authentication

I make heavy use of Windows Outlook, especially its feature that allows you to have multiple Office 365 accounts set up in a single client. My ENow work account showed the Focused Inbox feature, but my personal robichaux.net account and the account from the free tenant Microsoft gives MVPs did not, and I couldn’t figure out why– the feature was turned on in the tenants, and I could see it working in Mac Outlook and Outlook for iOS.

Microsoft’s Rob Whaley pointed me in the right direction. It turns out that you must enable Modern Authentication for Exchange Online in order for this feature to work in Windows Outlook. I had it turned on for the ENow tenant, but not for the other two tenants. As soon as I turned it on with Set-OrganizationConfig -OAuth2ClientProfileEnabled $true, and relaunched Outlook, I saw the Focused tab pop up in those two accounts.

The technical reason behind this is only interesting to Exchange admins, but in case you were wondering: the Outlook REST API that Windows Outlook uses to access the Focused Inbox requires the use of Modern Authentication. No modern auth, no REST API, and therefore no Focused tab.

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Office 365 Hybrid Configuration Wizard won’t launch

I recently ran into a bizarre problem with the Office 365 Hybrid Configuration Wizard, and solved it after a bit of trial and error. Hopefully this article will be a useful breadcrumb for future hybridizers.

The HCW used to be a standalone Windows executable that you’d download. The Office 365 team (hi, Tim Heeney!) made the wise decision to turn it into a Click-To-Run (C2R) executable. The biggest benefit to using C2R is that whenever you click the link (which downloads the application’s manifest file) you get the latest version of the HCW, streamed directly to you from Microsoft’s servers. This ensures that everyone always gets the most up-to-date version, but it also introduces a few potential stumbling blocks.

C2R application manifests aren’t executable themselves; they’re just XML files that provide some metadata about the application. With that said, on a properly configured Windows box, as soon as you download the manifest, the C2R helper application does its thing; it reads the manifest, streams the application, and launches it.

In my Exchange 2016 lab, that’s not what was happening. When I clicked on the HCW link in Internet Explorer, the little “Scanning..” infobar would flash across the bottom of the window, but that was it. Same thing in Chrome. Downloading the HCW manually using the Start-BitsTransfer PowerShell cmdlet got me the manifest file, but it couldn’t be launched. Of course, since the C2R launcher itself wasn’t launching, there were no log files to use to troubleshoot the problem. By contrast, when I downloaded the HCW onto my Windows 10 desktop, it would fail because I didn’t have the right prerequisites installed, leaving me a log file full of juicy details. All of the machines in my lab had the same problem, perhaps not surprising since they were built from the same Amazon Web Services AMI.

I spent some time doing the usual things: trolling the TechNet forums, searching random posts by people who had problems with the HCW (all of which were problems with what it did after launch, not problems getting it launched), and asking my smart MVP friends. Nada.

Then I had a hunch and opened the Default Programs control panel. For the “.application” file type, this is what I saw:

Looks plausible, but it’s totally wrong

I changed the “.application” file type to be opened with Internet Explorer. Then I went back to the HCW link, clicked it, and was rewarded with a properly functioning copy of the HCW. Filed for future reference…

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Office 365 Engage wrapup

Last week, I had the privilege of presenting at the first Office 365 Engage conference. Billed as a practical, no-marketing-content conference, and chaired by Tony Redmond, the conference offered a pretty impressive lineup of speakers from across the Office 365 world, mostly from Europe. One big drawback to the way that Microsoft and Penton have organized their respective conferences is that it’s often difficult to get European experts and MVPs here to speak, so I was looking forward to seeing some fresh material presented by people I don’t usually get to hear from, and I was not disappointed.

I arrived midday Tuesday after changing planes in Reykjavik (more on that later). A quick train ride got me to the Haarlem Centraal station, after which I grabbed an Uber to the hotel. The conference was booked into the Philharmonie Haarlem, and I must say it was the nicest conference venue I’ve ever been in– a far cry from the typical US conference facilities located in echoing, soulless conference centers or noisy, smoky Vegas hotels. The location was excellent as well– Haarlem is a beautiful city and quite walkable. The conference hotel was a mere 3-minute walk from the Philharmonie and the area contained a wealth of restaurants and shops.

One of the meeting rooms at the Philharmonie

After I got registered, I wandered around talking to attendees and speakers. My first session (on monitoring Office 365, big surprise!) wasn’t until Wednesday morning so I got to drop in on a couple of sessions, which was nice. Unfortunately, I spent most of my time Tuesday either working on my slides and demos or on the phone with folks back in the USA– that’s the big downside to being in Europe. Tuesday night I met a group of MVPs for dinner, at a Mexican restaurant, of all places.

Wednesday I had my monitoring session in the morning, along with more work on my third session’s slides. I got some good attendee questions that I’ll use to make the presentation better for the next time– as Microsoft is always changing the monitoring and reporting functionality in Office 365, this is definitely an evolving area. In the afternoon, I was able to go to Tiago Costa’s session on Office Graph development, which I found quite valuable. Wednesday night the organizers had set up a canal cruise for the speakers, which was a lovely treat– Haarlem looks even better from the water.

Canal ahoy

Obligatory windmill photo. This was the only one I saw the entire trip.

Thursday was a big day. I had two sessions: one on Skype Meeting Broadcast and one on Windows Information Protection. Fellow MVP Brian Reid was kind enough to help salvage my demo; I filed a support ticket with Microsoft about an hour before my session because my tenant didn’t work, but his did. We even got to demonstrate the real-time automated closed captioning feature that Skype Meeting Broadcast now includes, which resulted in quite a few laughs from the audience. It works surprisingly well, better with Brian’s English accent than my own American one. Then it was back to the speaker lounge for still more work on my information protection slides, which I delivered to a curious audience without a hitch. (I had a great side conversation with a lady who works for, shall we say, an allied power and had a lot of interesting questions about ways to use the Information Protection features in what might euphemistically be called a nuclear bunker.) The afternoon sessions were accompanied by a loud, heavy thunderstorm that wouldn’t be out of place in Alabama– I think some of the locals were a little surprised by its ferocity. The rain had cleared and left the air cool and clear afterwards, perfect for the closing session, after which I jumped in a taxi to get to Schiphol for my flight on to Reykjavik.

A quick note on logistics: the venue’s Internet connection worked well for nearly everyone, seating was comfortable and plentiful, and the snacks, coffee, and lunches were good. Overall the logistics were far better than average, especially for a freshman offering. I believe that reflects the experience of the event team, all of whom have put on many such similar events in the past.

Overall, this was a solid first-year conference. With only a couple hundred attendees, it preserves the small-group feel that was formerly so attractive about first MEC and then Connections, but with a great deal of attention paid to ensuring that the content was relevant, unique, and practical. I’m looking forward to next year’s version!

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Speaking at 2017 Office 365 Engage

I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be presenting 3 sessions at the new Office 365 Engage conference, 19-22 June in Haarlem, The Netherlands.

With the death of TechEd and the product-specific conferences, Microsoft has more or less abandoned the broad conference market in Europe. They’ve hosted smaller, more focused events covering specific technologies in individual countries, but customers who want a broader perspective, or any degree of engagement with non-Microsoft speakers and experts, have had to come to the US-based conferences. Now the UnityConnect team, led by the redoubtable Tony Redmond, are hosting a full-spectrum event focused on all aspects of Office 365, including Teams, Planner, and Groups– not just the more established Exchange/SharePoint/Skype trinity (although there is plenty of that content, too). The speaker lineup is stellar as well; in fact, I wonder how I got in. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from Michael Van Hybrid Horenbeeck, Steve Goodman, Michel de Rooij, Sigi Jagott, Brian Reid, Alan Byrne, and a host of other MVPs and Microsoft technology experts. The session catalog is pretty impressive.

As for me, I’m presenting three sessions:

  • The Ins and Outs of Monitoring Office 365 covers the fundamentals of monitoring such a complex service environment. Although it may be tempting to just say “let Microsoft worry about it,” the fact is that it’s critical to keep tabs on the health and integrity of the service and all its components, as your users depend on it and probably won’t accept “it was Microsoft’s fault” as an answer. The session will cover the basic tools that Microsoft provides and analyze how they compare to the monitoring needs imposed by dependence on a hybrid cloud service.
  • Windows Information Protection and Azure Rights Managment: Better Together. Normally I hate the phrase “better together” because it is Microsoft-speak for “buy more of our products,” but in this case it’s apropos. WIP and AzureRM work quite well together, and the combination enables some interesting data protection scenarios that I’ll cover here in depth.
  • Like a Megaphone: Skype Meeting Broadcast will cover the little-known, but quite useful, Skype Meeting Broadcast feature. As its name implies, Broadcast lets you take an ordinary Skype for Business meeting and scale it out to up to 10,000 attendees… but there are some caveats you’ll need to know about to use it effectively.

There’s a full slate of pre-conference workshops, receptions, and so on as well. Perhaps I can persuade Tony to do a live episode of Office 365 Exposed while we’re there– we shall see. Come join me! The conference team has given me a discount code, SPRPR469, which will save you 10% on the registration cost. I hope to see you there!

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Focused Inbox in Office 365: making mail harder

About two and a half years ago, Microsoft rolled out a new mail-sorting feature called Clutter. It was intended to use machine learning to filter important mail from newsletters, shipping notifications, and other… well, clutter, leaving your inbox filled only with mail that required your attention. It was a great idea, and, although it had a few bumps in its implementation, soon evolved into a useful and dependable feature. Now Clutter is gone, and Focused Inbox has replaced it. How’s that working out so far?

First some history: in 2014, Acompli introduced what they called “Focused Inbox” in their mobile client. This represented a different take on inbox cleaning; machine learning would still be applied to sort important mail from clutter, but the important and unimportant mails wouldn’t be logically separated into different folders. This had the advantage of working across multiple email systems. Fast forward to today: Acompli was purchased by Microsoft in December 2014, the former Acompli team has been crushing it with their Outlook Mobile app, and key ex-Acompli folks have taken over some key positions on the Outlook team. Focused Inbox has become the new sheriff in town, and Microsoft is rolling it out to Office 365 tenants. One of my tenants was recently upgraded, so I wanted to write about my experience working with it as an end user. (Keep in mind that, as I write this, Microsoft’s January 26 announcement that they didn’t have a firm timeline for rolling out Focused support for Outlook for Windows is still in force.)

I use three primary clients: the Outlook Mobile client for iOS, Outlook 2016 for Windows, and Outlook 2016 for Mac OS X. I mostly use the mobile client to triage mail while away from my desk– I can quickly respond to important items and delete or file stuff I don’t need. In that role, I’ve been depending on Focused Inbox for a while, and I got used to the disparity between what I’d see on the Focused tab on my phone versus what showed up in my inbox– the desktop inbox showed all my messages, not just the Focused ones, but that wasn’t a big deal, as I was usually grooming my inbox by throwing away or otherwise dealing with the contents of the “Other” tab frequently enough to avoid ugly buildup.

When your tenant’s enabled for Focused Inbox, OWA and Outlook for Mac will display a prompt telling you so; when you click to acknowledge it, you’ll see the new Focused and Other tabs in the UI, just like in the mobile app. Here’s where the fun starts.

First up, Clutter is turned off when you accept that prompt, and it’s turned off permanently… so every message formerly  filtered into the Clutter folder now goes straight to your inbox. That means you’ll get a  notification (if that feature’s enabled) for each new message, much more frequently than you’re probably used to. I’ve long had mail notifications turned off on my phones, but now I have to turn them off on my Windows machine too.

Second, the mobile client doesn’t currently have a way to focus or unfocus a message– so now that Clutter isn’t filtering my inbox traffic, I get crap that I want to mark as “other” but I can’t until I get to a desktop. This is the exact opposite of what I want, and it breaks my normal triage-on-the-go workflow. Alert reader Dang Le Duy pointed out that you can focus or unfocus a message from the mobile client– tap the “overflow” icon (the three little dots) and you’ll see a popup that lets you change the message state, like this:

Yay! I didn't know this feature existed but it makes me happy

Yay! I didn’t know this feature existed but it makes me happy

 

Third, the Mac version of Outlook has long had a feature that combines the contents of the Inbox folder from each account into a single über-inbox (which the team calls the Unified Inbox). IMAP, POP, Exchange, gmail, whatever, all your messages appear in a single handy list. Unfortunately, you only get Focused Inbox in Exchange Online accounts that have the feature enabled– so when you switch back to the Unified Inbox view, all those messages that were neatly tucked away in the “Other” tab come back into your message list. When you select an individual account that has Focused Inbox enabled, you see what you’d expect to:

screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-07-29-35

However, if you go to the Unified Inbox view at the top level, you get something completely different– 6 of the 20 displayed messages appear when they would normally be hidden in the “Other” tab of their parent account:

Focused Inbox doesn't work in the Mac Outlook Unified Inbox

Focused Inbox doesn’t work in the Mac Outlook Unified Inbox

This to me is a significant loss of utility. It’s a complicated problem, to be sure; trying to figure out the right behavior for a mix of accounts (some with Focused Inbox, some without) is tricky. I hope the Mac Outlook team is working on a solution.

With these gripes, you may believe I’m down on Focused Inbox as a feature. I wouldn’t say that’s true. It is useful, and it has tremendous potential, especially when coupled with other machine-learning-driven filtering and prioritization capabilities. But the current client-side implementation takes away some of the utility we had with Clutter, and I want it back. Hopefully we’ll see not only a return to feature parity, so that all my unwanted messages stay tucked out of sight, but improvements that make Focused Inbox clearly superior.

(edited 2-8-17 to reflect that you can, indeed, focus or unfocus messages from the mobile app)

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Multi-factor authentication for Exchange Online PowerShell

Everything at the Microsoft MVP Summit is automatically under NDA, so rather than talk about all the secret stuff, I thought I’d share something I learned there that isn’t under NDA because it was already public. Somehow I missed this announcement before, but: there’s a public preview of a new Exchange Online PowerShell module that supports Azure multi-factor authentication (MFA). If you have turned on MFA for administrators in Office 365, you’ve probably found that they can’t use PowerShell to manage Exchange objects. Now you can: download and install this module and you’re all set. Here’s what it looks like in action:

adal-ps

I found out about this when I complained publicly in Tim Heeney‘s session that this doesn’t work. Thankfully Tim set me straight posthaste; after I got the link to the preview, a little searching turned up fellow MVP Vasil Michev’s article describing it, which I either forgot about or never saw.

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Creating Exchange dynamic distribution groups with custom attributes

You learn something new every day… I guess that means I’m ahead of schedule for the day.

A coworker asked if there was a way to use PowerShell to create a dynamic distribution group using one of the AD customAttributeX values. I didn’t know the answer offhand (since I create new distribution groups about every 5 years), but a little binging turned up the documentation for New-DynamicDistributionGroup. Turns out that the ConditionalCustomAttributeN parameters will do what he wanted:

New-DynamicDistributionGroup -IncludedRecipients mailContacts -ConditionalCustomAttribute6 "PeopleToInclude"

It turns out that wasn’t what he really wanted– he wanted to create a dynamic DG to include objects where the custom attribute value was not set to a particular value. The ConditionalXXX switches can’t do that, so he had to use a RecipientFilter instead:

New-DynamicDistributionGroup -IncludedRecipients mailContacts -RecipientFilter {ExtensionCustomAttribute6 -ne "PeopleToExclude"}...

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Microsoft Exchange engineering and cloud-scale

The Exchange team (or at least Perry Clarke, its fearless leader) has been known to describe Exchange Online as “the gateway drug to the cloud.” But how did that come to pass?

This week at Ignite, I was lucky enough to have dinner with some folks from the Exchange product team and a very, very large customer where we discussed the various ways in which Exchange engineering has blazed a trail the rest of Microsoft’s server products have eventually followed. After a bracing Twitter discussion this afternoon with @swiftonsecurity and some of her other followers, I thought it would be fun to put together a partial list of some of the things we discussed to illustrate how the Exchange team has built a stairway to heaven, or an elevator to the cloud, or something like that.

Let’s start with PowerShell. Love it or hate it, it is here, so we all have to deal with it. In 2007, the idea that Exchange would be built on PS was both revolutionary and, to many, revolting, but it allowed Microsoft to do several important things (not all of which shipped in Exchange 2007, but all of which are critical to cloud operations):

  • Greatly improve testability, both for the developers themselves but also for administrators, who now got a suite of protocol and endpoint-related tests they could run as part of troubleshooting– critically important when you have to troubleshoot in a global network of data centers hosting tens of millions of mailboxes
  • Fully enable role-based access control, also critical for cloud deployments where customers want to control who can do what with their data
  • Finally decouple the presentation layer of the UI (EMC, EAC, etc) from business logic
  • Massively improve the tools for scripting, including enabling very large-scale bulk operations– an obvious requirement for a cloud-scale service

Requiring PowerShell was a bold move by the Exchange team but one which has both paid off hugely and one that’s been echoed by the Windows, SharePoint, SQL Server and Skype teams, all of whom depend on it for managing their own cloud services. (See also: the Microsoft Graph APIs.)

Then there’s storage performance. In ancient days, getting scale from Exchange pretty much required the use of SANs due to Exchange’s IO requirements. Now, thanks to the IOPS diet imposed by Exchange engineering, it doesn’t. Tony does his usual excellent job of summarizing the actual reductions. Summary: Exchange 2016 requires roughly 96% fewer IOPS than Exchange 2003 did. There have been a ton of storage performance improvements in Exchange’s sister products (notably SQL) but those have their own stories that I’m not competent to tell. The relentless drive to cut IOPS requirements was one of the biggest enablers for Exchange Online, since controlling storage provisioning costs is critical for any type of scaled cloud service.

Of course, data protection is critical too. Exchange moved from having a single monolithic database to one with separate property and MIME databases (Exchange 2000) then to having software-based database replication with clustering (Exchange 2007) to shared-nothing, fully-replicated active/passive database replication (Exchange 2010 and later). Keeping multiple separate database copies (including lagged copies) enables all sorts of DR and HA scenarios that previously had required SANs. The ability to reliably use cheap JBOD disks, which thanks to Moore’s Law have embiggened nicely during Exchange’s lifetime, has been a key enabler for Exchange Online.

Then there’s a bunch of other architectural changes and improvements that are really only interesting to Exchange nerds. For the latest example, I present “read from passive,” but there’s also all the stuff covered by the Preferred Architecture.

Oh, I almost forgot: managed availability gives ExO a fair degree of self-healing, although its behavior sometimes surprises on-prem admins who see it do things on their behalf unexpectedly.

Oh, and let’s not forget the conversion of all the Exchange codebase to managed code– that was an important accelerator for the move to the cloud, as well as serving as a lighthouse for other product groups with code of similar vintage.

There are more examples, I’m sure, but these should get the point across– there’s been a steady stream of architectural changes in the nearly 20 years since Exchange 4.0 shipped that have led directly to the capability, power, and reliability of Exchange Online– which really has been the gateway drug for getting Microsoft’s customers to Office 365.

 

 

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Office 365 Exposed, Episode 4

Another trip to California for Tony and me means another episode of Office 365 Exposed! This time, we talked about Microsoft Ignite, Office 365 Groups, why the Saints are my favorite football team, and a host of other topics. (OK, I admit it. We did not actually talk about the Saints. Maybe next episode. I did sneak in a plug for the College Football Hall of Fame though.)

 

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Microsoft releases updated Office 365 Visio stencil

Yay! Microsoft has updated their downloadable Visio stencil set for Office 365 to include the 2016 versions of the application icons, plus some other visual improvements. Now your Visio diagrams can have that fresh 2016 feel. (Thanks to Samantha Robertson, Dan Fraser, and Tony Smith of Microsoft for making this happen.)

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Nifty new auto-vacation feature for Outlook on the Web

This is a great example of Microsoft bringing useful innovation to end users by deploying new features in Office 365:

Outlook on the web now makes it easier to clear your calendar and automatically decline meetings before you head out for some time away from the office. When you set an automatic reply in Outlook on the web, Outlook will offer to do the following on your behalf:

  • Block your calendar so people know you’re away.
  • Clear existing meetings on your calendar by declining/canceling them.
  • Automatically send a response to incoming invitations while you’re away.

Of course, Outlook and Exchange have long had the ability to automatically send an out-of-office (or “OOF”, from “out of facility“) message when you specify the dates when you’ll be away. These new features extend the traditional OOF behavior by adding some business logic to the OOF process– after all, when you’re out of the office, it is logical to assume that you won’t be accepting appointments during that time, and that you want new invitations to be automatically declined. (There are exceptions, of course, which is why you can turn this business logic off.) I’m not in love with the fact that this feature requires you to set your  works in Outlook on the web, but I’m hopeful that it will make it into other versions of Outlook at some point.

Apart from the specifics of this individual feature, it’s really encouraging to see the Outlook team invest in innovation like this. Given the large feature gap between Outlook on the web and Gmail (the only real enterprise competitor to Exchange/Outlook) it would be easy for the Outlook team to coast. Part of the ethos of building software at cloud speed involves iterating rapidly, and that in turn means sometimes you build something that turns out to get a lukewarm reception because it’s not as useful as first thought. (Tony argues that this is the case for Outlook’s support for likes and @ mentions.) However, sometimes you build something that turns out to be really nifty, and I think this feature is a good example– I look forward to seeing it roll out more broadly.

(for another time: I know not every tenant admin will want this feature turned on for their users without prior notice or permission, and Microsoft has a lot of room to improve the way they deliver features so that administrators can control user access to them.)

 

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Office 365 Exposed ep 02

It’s the offseason for Office 365, at least sort of– with no conferences until the fall, Tony and I had to take the opportunity of meetings at ENow to record this episode of Office 365 Exposed. Topics we covered included Delve Analytics, the contentious topic of mailbox anchoring, a bit about Skype for Business Online’s telephony features, and frequent mentions of Yammer for those of you who like to enjoy our podcast with a beverage in hand.

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The next big thing: joining ENow as CTO

It is a cliché to talk about an opportunity that’s too good to refuse (not to be confused with an offer you can’t refuse), but sometimes it doeshappen.

I am very excited to announce that, effective 26 October 2015, I will be taking the position of chief technology officer (CTO) for ENow Software. In that role, I will be driving the development of their next generation of products for both on-premises and Office 365 monitoring. It’s a big step forward for my career, moving me simultaneously back towards the development world and further into the cloud. (It’s also a little surreal to see one’s job change announced in a press release.)

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of what I’ll be doing, a personal note: I want to thank Scott Edwards, Ben Curry, and all my coworkers at Summit 7 Systems. What a talented and skilled group of people! I accidentally learned much more than I expected about SharePoint from them, and both Ben and managing consultant Matt Whitehorn were instrumental in helping me identify soft skills I need to work on— always a challenge. I have huge respect for what the Summit 7 team has accomplished and recommend them in the highest possible terms to anyone who needs Office 365, Azure, AWS, or SharePoint design, strategy, or migration help.

So, the new job. In the CTO role, I’ll be reporting directly to Jay Gundotra, the CEO. I’ll be responsible for technical product strategy and implementation, the customer success team, technical presales, and internal IT. (I am still working on a transition plan to establish an ENow corporate aviation department, but don’t tell Jay.) That’s quite a broad scope, which means I can bring to bear everything I’ve learned throughout my career as a developer, consultant, and administrator. Driving beneficial change across these disparate fields is going to be an exhilarating challenge! Luckily I will have a really powerful team on my side, including Michael Van Horenbeeck (noted hooligan/tequila drinker, Microsoft Certified Master, and Exchange MVP) and Tony Redmond, a member of ENow’s advisory board.

ENow is already very successful in their chosen markets, but the cloud poses a brand-new set of technical and business challenges, both for them and their customers. The #1 question I hear from IT pros and business decision makers is simple: how will the move to the cloud affect me and my business? It’s interesting that I don’t remember many people asking that during the years-long transition from mainframe- and mini-based solutions to the x86 world; people just naturally assumed their skills would transfer. That hasn’t been the case with the cloud. Figuring out how to effectively monitor and manage cloud services when you don’t control the underlying platform is a tough problem. Instrument flight is probably a good metaphor here. On a clear day, you can see the ground, so flying is easy. There’s a visible horizon and landmarks. In the clouds, everything changes– if you’ve ever been in an airplane on a cloudy day, you know that you can see where the clouds are but not what’s inside them. Flying inside clouds is like being inside a ping-pong ball, with no visual cues you can use for orientation. You have to use your instruments to keep the plane pointed in the right direction and right side up. Moving workloads such as Exchange email or SharePoint to the cloud doesn’t lessen your need to monitor what’s happening, it just changes the way in which you’ll do it, and figuring out that change is a key task in my new role.

Of course, Microsoft is releasing new services and capabilities in Office 365 at a rapid clip, so another key challenge will be figuring out how to keep up with them and how best to bring ENow’s experience in simplifying the complexities of enterprise application monitoring to a world where Microsoft seems intent on giving everyone Fisher-Price-style monitoring and reporting tools.

Despite the new job, some things won’t change: I’m still living in Huntsville, I’m still not a Cowboys fan (sorry, Jay), and I’ll still be blogging here, although I expect to be writing some more strategy-oriented posts for ENow’s blog. Where I can, I plan to share details of what I’m working on, so stay tuned!

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