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Office 365 To Get E-Mail Improvements this Year

Microsoft is planning to add two new features to Office 365 "later this year" that are aimed at improving Outlook Web App e-mail experiences, the company said Monday.

One of the features will help reduce e-mail clutter, and another is a collaboration enhancement for Outlook Web App, Microsoft's browser-enabled e-mail client.

Microsoft is also planning an Outlook Web App for Android-based smartphones, with a possible release sometime this year. Outlook Web Apps for Apple's iPhone and iPad became available last year.

Groups Integration
Microsoft also plans to integrate its new Groups capability, introduced as a SharePoint feature earlier this month, more broadly across its Office 365 services. Groups show public and private groups for employees to join, as well as individual conversations (called "cards") in a Yammer-like social networking fashion. The idea is to support a more collaborative business environment.

"Conversations that happen in public groups can lead to better information sharing, and free exchange of ideas connects people and makes the org more productive," wrote Steve Chew, senior product marketing manager in the Exchange group, in Microsoft's announcement.

It's an idea that may, or may not, be welcome in today's work environments, but it reflects Microsoft's embrace of the Yammer enterprise social networking solution that it purchased more than a year ago. Microsoft had indicated back then that it planned a broader integration of Yammer across Office 365, and it is now forecasting that the integration will start to take place sometime this year.

Outlook Web App Features
A forthcoming "Clutter" Outlook Web App feature will aim to unburden users from their less relevant e-mail. It uses Microsoft's new Office Graph technology to learn what users value or don't value in their in-boxes. The valued mail gets displayed in the Outlook Web App, while the rest gets archived at the bottom of the screen in a link called "Clutter," along with the number of archived e-mails. Users can use a right-mouse-button click to change a message's status if it was incorrectly marked as clutter. The Clutter name is currently considered to be a code name, so Microsoft may call it something else when it gets released.

The forthcoming collaboration improvements to Outlook Web App are mostly concerned with file handling and coauthoring in conjunction with the use of OneDrive for Business, which is Microsoft cloud-based storage service for organizations offered through Office 365 plans. Microsoft also has a premises-based Office Web Apps Server storage system, but it's unclear if the new improvements will apply there. Organizations will be able to share files two ways, via a link or an attachment, when using Outlook Web App with OneDrive for Business, according to Microsoft:

  • When you send an attachment from your computer or device you can now automatically upload the file to your OneDrive cloud drive and send it as a link.
  • You can also easily attach a file directly from your OneDrive cloud drive when sending an email in Outlook Web App.

Permissions can be set on the files, allowing document editing or be viewing only. The document editing or viewing experience can be accessed side by side directly from within the Outlook Web App pane. Microsoft describes that capability as the integration of Office Online in Outlook Web App. Recipients will get an indication if they can edit the file.

These changes will apply to Microsoft's commercial Office 365 services. It's not clear if they will apply also to Office Web Apps Server or to the consumer Office Online experience.

About the Author

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