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Microsoft Updates Office 365 with Outlook, Sway Improvements

Microsoft is lighting up new Office 365 capabilities, including Outlook travel and tracking improvements, Office application inking capabilities, and Sway enhancements.

An outline of what's here and what's coming in the near future for Office 365 subscribers is available in this Tuesday announcement by Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for Office. The Microsoft Planner service, for example, is now generally available. Microsoft's GigJam collaboration application is still at the preview stage this month, but general availability release is planned for "later this year."

A demo of Microsoft Planner can be found in this recently published Microsoft Mechanics video, which shows how Planner can be used to schedule and track IT tasks. Planner is a collaboration and list-making tool designed for general use across an organization. It's integrated with Microsoft Groups capability and will just show up for use in the App Launcher for Office 365 subscribers. Microsoft has other collaboration tools, such as Outlook and Wunderlist, as well as the heavy-duty Microsoft Project tool for organizational milestone planning. But Planner is conceived as occupying the middle ground between those tools.

Future Microsoft Planner capabilities to come, according to the video, include the ability to extend Planner access to external users. Microsoft is also working on the ability to assign tasks to multiple users. Lastly, Microsoft is working on building a Universal Windows app for Planner, as well native apps for Android and iOS devices. Those enhancements will be arriving "in the coming months."

For IT pros, Microsoft this month released Office 365 Update 1602 "deferred channel." It's the slower-paced release consisting of "the February Office 2016 release with the last four months of security updates," according to Koenigsbauer. Also, for Office 365 E5 subscribers, Microsoft turned on its Advanced Security Management service this month, which estimates potential security risks based on Office 365 user activities.

Outlook Improvements
Microsoft has added Outlook e-mail and calendar tracking improvements, which are available starting in North America as early as this month for Office 365 subscribers. Global availability also is planned at some point, per Microsoft's announcement. The Outlook tracking features connect with information from various service providers, such as airlines, hotels and shipping companies. Only Office 365 subscribers with the Exchange Online option will see these improvements.

With these Outlook improvements, users will get automatic notifications, such as when a flight is delayed or when a package is sent. "Outlook will always send you a reminder email exactly 24 hours in advance with a link to the airline's check-in experience," Microsoft's announcement explained. It also reminds the user of flight departures three hours in advance.

These Outlook improvements are available to some Outlook for Mac and Outlook on the Web (formerly "Outlook Web App") users, starting this week. They will also arrive at some point for Android, iOS and Windows devices. Microsoft is planning to add the capabilities as well to its Mail and Calendar applications that come with Windows 10.

Office Inking
Office applications are getting inking capabilities for Office 365 subscribers. These inking enhancements were partly highlighted at Microsoft's Build developer event earlier this year. Microsoft has also described inking improvements that will light up with the Windows 10 "anniversary update" release. The anniversary update is arriving on Aug. 2, Microsoft announced Wednesday.

Koenigsbauer didn't get into those details, though. He limited his inking descriptions to just a few milestones:

  • Windows Phone devices as of this month have inking support for Excel, PowerPoint and Word
  • iPhones will have inking support for those apps next month
  • Android devices will get inking capabilities this month for "Word, Excel and PowerPoint for Office Insiders," Koenigsbauer said, but he was referring just to Microsoft's test program

He also explained that "Shape Recognition," an inking feature that turns a person's drawings into "perfect-looking shapes" is coming to Excel. It can be used to create dashboards and custom buttons, Koenigsbauer said.

Shape Recognition will be available for Excel on iPhones next month. Microsoft also plans to bring it to Excel on Windows PCs and iPads at some unspecified date. There also are plans to add it to Word.

Microsoft is planning to address "a top OneNote for Mac user request" by adding future "trackpad-based inking support," Koenigsbauer said. It will also support "third-party stylus- and pen-enabled drawing tablets and displays," he added.

The coding aspects of Microsoft's inking support can be seen in this recently posted Microsoft Channel 9 video.

Sway Improvements
Microsoft describes Sway, released back in August, as its "storytelling app." The Sway app creates "Sways," which are a combination of text and graphics that a user scrolls through. Microsoft this month added the ability to add password protection to Sways, which may make them potentially more useful to organizations.

Also this month, it's possible to create longer Sways, which Microsoft sees as useful for "company trainings, student projects and travel reports." In addition, Microsoft now permits users to remove the Sway brand, which is located in the footer position.

About the Author

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

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