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Microsoft Launches Previews of Office 2016, Skype for Business

Microsoft on Monday released the preview of Office 2016 for IT Pros and Developers, as well as the technical preview of the new Skype for Business (previously named Lync Server).

The releases were among several product announcements made by Microsoft at its 2015 Convergence conference, taking place this week in Atlanta, Ga.

Office 2016 is the first major upgrade of Microsoft's Office desktop productivity suite since 2013. It is not to be confused with Office for Windows 10, the suite of touch-based Office apps for the forthcoming Windows 10 operating system; those apps became available in preview form in early February.

The Office 2016 preview release for IT pros and developers has new features that include click-to-run-deployment, extended data-loss prevention (DLP) support and the new Outlook 2016 client. Julia White, general manager of Microsoft's Office division, demonstrated the new Outlook 2016 during Monday's opening Convergence keynote. In the demo, she played up Outlook's ability to handle content linked with OneDrive for Business. When a user attaches a file, the most recently accessed documents appear and are added as a link to the sender's OneDrive for Business account.

"When I hit send, it looks like an attachment, it feels like an attachment and, when I send it, it actually sends the access to the file," White said. "So I don't have to send a physical attachment and deal with versioning." Users can link up to the same document in the cloud, continued White. She also added that the new Outlook will still let users attach actual files.

Outlook 2016 also offers significant technical improvements, said Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for Microsoft's Office 365 Client Apps and Services team, in a blog post announcing the Office 2016 preview. Among the improvements in Outlook for IT pros that Koenigsbauer pointed to are:

  • MAPI-HTTP protocol: RPC-based sync has been replaced with a new Internet-friendly MAPI-HTTP protocol that supports Exchange/Outlook connectivity.

  • Foreground network calls: The use of foreground network calls has been eliminated to ensure that Outlook stays responsive on unreliable networks.

  • Multi-factor authentication: Support has been added for multi-factor authentication via integration with the Active Directory Authentication Library (ADAL).

  • E-mail delivery performance: The amount of time it takes to download messages, display message lists and show new e-mail after resuming from hibernation has been reduced.

  • Smaller storage footprint: New settings let users better manage storage by only retaining one, three, seven, 14 or 30 days of mail on the device.

  • Search: Improved reliability, performance and usability of Outlook search and FAST-based search engine has been integrated into Exchange.

The Office 2016 preview doesn't include all of the features that Microsoft is planning for the new release, Koenigsbauer noted. The new DLP support builds on what Microsoft now offers with Exchange, Outlook, OneDrive for Business and SharePoint.

"Now we're bringing these same classification and policy features to Word, Excel and PowerPoint," he said. "With these new capabilities, IT admins can centrally create, manage and enforce polices for content authoring and document sharing -- and end users will see policy tips or sharing restrictions when the apps detect a potential policy violation."

Koenigsbauer noted that the new click-to-run deployment feature for Office 365 customers introduces Microsoft's new Background Intelligence Transfer Service (BITS), which Koenigsbauer said aims to prevent network congestion on the network. "BITS throttles back the use of bandwidth when other critical network traffic is present," he said.

Other deployment improvements showcased in the new Office 2016 preview include tighter integration with Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), more flexible update management for handling feature updates and bug fixes, and improved activation management added to the Office 365 Admin Portal.

During the keynote White also talked up Skype for Business, which Microsoft said back in November would represent the rebranding of the company's Lync platform to its Skype service.

"Now all of the Skype for Business users can connect with Skype from a Contacts perspective and communicate [with] them with IM, voice and video," she said. "So imagine a salesperson connecting with any customer, a doctor connecting with a patient, an employer interviewing someone via Skype. There's so many possibilities with this new experience."

More from Convergence 2015:

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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