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Microsoft Talks Up Office 365 Collaboration Tools, Demos 'Oslo'

Microsoft is using this week's SharePoint Conference to make some broader announcements, including two new social networking technologies for Office 365 and SharePoint Online that are planned for release sometime this year.

Kirk Gregerson, general manager for Microsoft Office, said that because of Microsoft's new, faster release cycle for its products, the company will talk in greater detail about its product roadmaps at the conference, which kicks off on Monday in Las Vegas. Microsoft is now delivering updates to Office 365, SharePoint and Yammer at a monthly rate, he said, in a pre-briefing conference call on Friday.

The two social networking technologies Microsoft is announcing at the conference are a new search and discovery app, code-named "Oslo," plus a new "Groups" capability, both of which are being extended across Office 365. The technologies are based on Microsoft's "Office Graph" engine, which is a new information fabric that works across communications silos for Office 365 subscribers.

Oslo Demo
Oslo delivers insights to end users about their communications, according to Gregerson. Oslo is based on Microsoft's FAST enterprise search technology and was developed by a Microsoft team in Oslo, Norway. It's not related to the "Oslo" modeling technology that went by the same code name.

Cem Aykan, senior product marketing manager for Microsoft Office, demonstrated Oslo, which will get a new name at product rollout. Oslo uses "content cards" (see image below) that show information associated with documents. Users can check to see what documents were shared with them, as well as the documents that are part of their "trends."

[Click on image for larger view.] Oslo search results, showing related information in "content cards."

Oslo pulls the information together via the Office Graph engine. For instance, Oslo will check a user's calendar and see that a user was scheduled for a meeting. It can then deliver a recording of that meeting, if available, as a document for the user's review. It doesn't matter if content was shared via Yammer or the OneDrive for Business app because Oslo will find it and make the content available, based on the user's trends. Users don't have to remember where documents are stored because Office Graph has made the connections behind the scenes, Aykan contended.

The Office Graph fabric pulls from Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Yammer. Its machine learning brings together relationships between people, content and organization, and it all takes place in the background, without the user being aware of it, Aykan explained.

Oslo also works when searching for people within an organization. For instance, users can search and then drill down to see that person's associations within an organization. No setup is required to have that functionality. Aykan said that Oslo gets stronger and more intelligent with its use over time.

Oslo is expected to become available in the second half of this year, according to Microsoft Corporate Vice President Jeff Teper, speaking to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley.

Groups Capability
The new Groups capability derives from Microsoft's Yammer enterprise social networking application, but now it's been extended across Office 365, Gregerson explained. Users get a list of groups, based on two types, public and private. The system works to encourage users to discover new groups via the public groups space. For instance, users can subscribe to a group and all of the group's events will get copied to their calendars.

[Click on image for larger view.] New Groups capability in Office 365.

The Groups capability works the same in Yammer as in other Microsoft applications, such as the Outlook Web App. Groups is integrated across Exchange, SharePoint and Yammer.

Organizations get Office 365 security protections with the new Groups and Oslo capabilities. For instance, Oslo works with Windows Azure Active Directory and users are restricted to the permissions that are set up there.

Delivery of Groups and Oslo in Office 365 is coming this calendar year, but Microsoft hasn't determined the pricing yet. Gregerson suggested that the new capabilities may just get added to existing Office 365 service offerings.

Microsoft is also announcing the launch of OneDrive for Business on Monday, which is a document storage service for organizations based on SharePoint Online. Last week, the company explained that it is rolling out OneDrive for Business for iOS 1.2 first, followed by support for other platforms. Microsoft also will deliver the capability to use OneDrive for Business with SharePoint Server 2013 Service Pack 1. However, the new "branding" capability, in which organizations can customize the appearance of the OneDrive app, is yet to come.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.