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Microsoft Spruces Up Office 365's Groups Feature

Microsoft this week began rolling out new Office 365 Groups management capabilities to its commercial and education subscribers.

Some of the new capabilities were originally announced back in December. Microsoft's announcement on Monday also included a few roadmap items to expect in the near future.

Groups is an Office 365 service that surfaces organizational information for end users in a "card-like" format. It enables collaborations among co-workers. Groups currently works across various Office 365 applications, including Dynamics CRM, OneDrive for Business, OneNote, Outlook, Power BI and Skype for Business.

New and Rolling Out
New Office 365 Groups capabilities available as early as Monday include public/private settings controls, support for multiple domains and a "Send As" capability.

Previously, it wasn't possible to change the public/private designation of a group once it was created in Outlook on the Web, which is Microsoft's browser-based e-mail client. However, this latest Office 365 update will permit such group designations to be switched, as shown in these steps. The PowerShell cmdlet Set-UnifiedGroup also can be used to change a group's designation.

IT pros now have control over setting specific e-mail domains for groups. They aren't tied to just using the default e-mail domain. The control gets carried out using PowerShell to configure e-mail address policies. Gritty details are spelled out here.

It's also possible with this Office 365 Groups rollout to permit users to send messages to particular groups using a new "Send As" feature, where the group gets specified by the end user. However, IT pros have to use PowerShell cmdlets to configure this capability for Outlook on the Web or Outlook clients. The PowerShell cmdlets Add-RecipientPermission and Get-RecipientPermission are used for the purpose, per this document.

There's also new documentation to help organizations with hybrid scenarios, such as using Office 365 Groups with Exchange Server on premises. Microsoft considers this hybrid scenario to be a "new feature" enabled by its Office 365 services. The steps to set it up, as well as the known issues, are described in this Microsoft TechNet document. Organizations need an Azure Active Directory Premium subscription to make it work. Office 365 Groups will work with either Exchange Server 2016 or Exchange Server 2013 on premises, provided that the latest cumulative updates are applied.

End-of-July Arrival
Microsoft's announcement also described Office 365 Groups improvements for IT pros that are scheduled for arrival at the end of July, but they could be available as early as Monday. Here's that list, in a nutshell:

  • Ability to restrict group creation to certain end users
  • Ability to define Office 365 Groups guidelines for end users
  • Ability to set policy types for groups, such as "unclassified," "secret," etc.

As a side note, Microsoft's announcement indicated that it is "working on exposing the Outlook Groups mobile apps in Microsoft Intune as policy-managed apps." Intune is Microsoft's mobile device management solution, with varied capabilities. It recently got a Gartner Magic Quadrant mention in the "Visionary" category.

Other Items Coming This Year
A few Office 365 Groups items will be coming in the second half of this year. Here's that list:

  • Ability to add external members to a group
  • Inclusion of a SharePoint Team Site "for every group"
  • Addition of Yammer groups to the Office 365 Groups service

On the Roadmap
Other Office 365 Groups improvements were announced, although arrival wasn't described. They are to-do items in Microsoft's overall Office 365 Roadmap.

For instance, Microsoft is planning to permit IT pros to use the Exchange Admin Center to migrate distribution lists to groups via "one click." In addition, Microsoft will permit IT pros to append text to "a group's name and email address," regardless of the application used to create the group, such as "Outlook, Planner, Power BI, etc." IT pros also will be able to restrict specific words from being used in group names.

Lastly, Microsoft plans to make it possible for end users to search for files in private groups, if they have permission. These searches will be possible by end users "from both public and private groups as long as they're a member." This capability, though, will depend on integrating Office 365 Groups with Office Delve, Microsoft's announcement indicated.

Office Delve similarly surfaces organizational information, much like Office 365 Groups. Behind both solutions is Office Graph technology, which is based on Microsoft's FAST enterprise search technology.

About the Author

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