Category Archives: UC&C

License usage reporting in Office 365, part 2

If you’ve been wondering where part 2 of my series on reporting in Office 365 was, wonder no more; it just went live this morning.

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Microsoft rolls out Clutter admin improvements

Back in November, I wrote about my early experience with the Office 365 Clutter feature. I’ve been using it on and off– mostly off, due to a rare bug that surfaced because my mailbox is actually hosted on a portion of the Office 365 cloud that descends from the old Exchange Labs “friends and family” tenant. The bug kept Clutter from correctly moving clutter messages automatically; once it was fixed things returned to normal after I re-enabled the Clutter feature, and I’ve been happily using it since.

One of the big advantages of Office 365 is that the service team can develop and release new features much faster than they can for on-premises services. Sure enough, Microsoft today announced three new features for Clutter.

The biggest of these is the ability to create transport rules that flag messages, or senders, as exempt from Clutter processing. This is exactly the same thing as specifying safe senders for message hygiene filtering, although the implementation is a little different. You’ll create a transport rule that has the conditions and exceptions you want, but with an action that adds a header value of “ClutterBypassedByTransportRuleOverride: TRUE”, as described here. I have not personally had even a single false positive from Clutter since I’ve been testing it, and I haven’t seen any complaints about false positive problems from other users, MVPs, or customers. Having said that, Microsoft was smart to include a way to exempt certain messages from processing, as this will soothe some users and tenant administrators who are worried about the potential to have important messages be misdirected.

Second, the Clutter folder can now be managed by retention policies. This is an eminently logical thing to do, and it nicely highlights the flexibility of Exchange’s messaging records management system.

Rounding out the trio, you now have a very limited ability to customize the message that users see when they enable Clutter for their mailboxes: you can change the display name that the notification appears to be from, and you’ll soon be abe to change the logo. Frankly, this is weak sauce; there’s no way to customize the text of the notification, add custom URLs to it, or otherwise modify it in a useful way. Long-time Exchange administrators will recognize a familiar pattern exemplified by customizable delivery status notifications (DSNs), quota warning messages, and MailTips in previous versions of Exchange: first Microsoft delivered a useful feature with no customization capability, then they enabled limited customization, then (after prolonged complaining from customers) they broadened the range of things that could be customized. Let’s hope that pattern holds here.

There’s still one weak spot in the Clutter feature set: it still requires individual users to opt in (or out). While it’s true that users would likely be alarmed by the sudden forceful application or removal of the Clutter feature from their mailboxes, it’s also true that Office 365 as a whole needs to provide better controls for administrators to regulate which service features users have access to. I am hopeful that we’ll see better admin controls (and reporting) for this feature in the future.

While these improvements aren’t necessarily earth-shaking, they do add some welcome utility to what is already a valuable feature. Clutter is a great example of a feature that can make a measurable positive difference in users’ satisfaction with the service, and I look forward to more improvements in the feature.

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License usage reporting in Office 365, part 1

On this blog, I write about whatever interests me. To the chagrin of some folks, this often includes aviation, fitness, and various complaints, but hey.. it could be worse. I save the really inane stuff for Twitter.

Besides the content I post here, though, I also blog at the Summit 7 Systems blog collective. Right now I’m publishing a series on reporting in Office 365. The first part of the series, on license usage reporting, is here, and the second part will be published shortly. In general, when I post content there that might be of interest to readers here, I’ll cross-post it with a short post like this one.

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Universal version of Outlook coming to your phone

Big news from today’s Windows 10 announcement: Microsoft will be shipping a “universal” version of Outlook that works on Windows tablets, phones, and PCs. This is a really interesting move, and not something I expected based on the existence of OWA for Devices (MOWA) on iOS and Android. The universal Outlook uses the universal version of Word as its editing engine, a huge plus because it delivers all the rich formatting tools available on Windows PCs (and which are still, sadly, missing from Mac Outlook, hint hint), and during the demo, Joe Belfiore showed a fluid touch-based interface that nonetheless preserved much of the look and feel of Outlook and OWA.

This announcement raises a lot of interesting questions, though. A partial list, just off the top of my head… (and a disclaimer: I haven’t seen any preview versions of Office 16 so perhaps these are naive questions that have all been well dealt with in the code)

  • Is this new version of Outlook a replacement for, or a complement to, the existing rich Outlook client? In other words, will it be able to do everything that I can do with Outlook 2013 on a Surface Pro 3? If not, what will they leave out?
  • Will this app replace the native WP calendar and contacts app? I’d guess not, given that the People app got a lot of play in today’s announcement.
  • Outlook’s resource requirements would seem to be a poor fit for phones and low-end tablets. I’d imagine that we’ll have sync controls similar to what exist on WP8.1 to allow users to sync a certain amount, but not necessarily all, of their mail, but it’s going to take a lot of optimization to provide acceptable performance on these devices.
  • Will this version of Outlook support on-premises servers? If so, that means it probably won’t rely on MAPI over HTTPS, which isn’t widely deployed. But it’s hard to imagine Outlook built completely on Exchange Web Services.
  • Will the universal Outlook team match the slow release cadence of desktop Office or the faster cadence of, say, the Lync mobile clients? One of the nicest features of OWA for Devices is that new OWA/Office 365 features (such as Clutter and the People view) just automatically show up in MOWA because it’s essentially a container for OWA views. How will the universal Outlook team bake in support for new features as Exchange and Office 365 ship them?
  • Will Exchange ActiveSync-specific features (especially remote device wipe) be included in this version of Outlook? They aren’t included in the existing Outlook family, of course.
    • If the answer is “no, but you can use InTune or Office 365 MDM”, that’s going to displease a lot of existing users. On the other hand, you can’t remotely wipe a desktop Office installation, something which has led several of my customers to block Outlook Anywhere so that people can’t easily use Outlook from personal machines.
    • If the answer is “yes”, then it will be fascinating to see how Outlook interacts with native data such as contacts stored on the device.
  • What does this mean for OWA for Devices? I’d guess that we won’t see Outlook for iOS and Android, but I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out. Maybe we’re headed back to the days of yore, where the premium clients run on Microsoft operating systems, with a sort of best-effort client set for competitors.
  • Is this the logical vehicle for incorporating the technology Microsoft acquired from Acompli? Or is that being baked in somewhere else?
  • When can I get a Surface Hub?

Given the upcoming availability of previews for Windows 10 for phones, I suppose we’ll get the answers to these questions soon.

 

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Microsoft sneaks out Mac Outlook update

Good news: Microsoft just issued an updated version of Outlook for Mac. (I guess that’s the official name, as opposed to the older Outlook 2011). The list of fixes is pretty nondescript: you can change calendar colors, add alt-text to images, and use custom AD RMS templates. I suspect most of the effort for this release was actually focused on the “Top crashes fixed” item in the KB article.

Bad news: you have to manually download it from the Office 365 portal. The AutoUpdate mechanism shipped with Office 2011 doesn’t yet know how to handle updates for Outlook for Mac. I suppose Microsoft could either update the Office 2011 AU mechanism or ship a new one as part of a future Outlook update; presumably the latter choice would actually deliver the Office 2015 update mechanism, since there’s undoubtedly going to be one.

The real news here is how quickly Microsoft released this update. While this is only one release, it’s an excellent sign that we got it quickly, and it makes me hopeful that we’ll see a steady stream of updates and fixes for the Mac Office apps in the future— with a cadence more akin to the Lync Mobile clients releases than the glacial pace of past Mac Office updates.

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My first week with Office 365 Clutter

Immediately after Microsoft announced that Clutter was available, I enabled it in all my personal tenants and started training it. As you may recall, you can train Clutter in two ways: implicitly (as it sees how you interact with mail from particular senders, such as by ignoring it or deleting it without reading it) or explicitly (by moving messages into or out of the Clutter folder). Because I’m fairly impatient, I set about explicit training by moving messages to the Clutter folder. I’ve done this with all of the clients I use: Outlook for Mac, OWA, Outlook 2013, the iOS mail app, and Outlook Mobile. Whenever possible I move the message while leaving it unread, so as not to make Clutter think I’m interested.

The upshot: it works reasonably well, but it seems to have trouble learning about messages from some sources. For example, both Strava and Twitter alerts remain resolutely un-Cluttered even though I’ve been moving 100% of those messages, unread, to the folder. I think that’s because the message subject for these messages often changes to reflect the message contents (e.g. “@jaapwess retweeted a Tweet you were mentioned in!”) and that confuses the algorithm in some way. It may be that the algorithm used to categorize these messages needs more data to act on before it can decide. The downside of machine learning systems is that, as an end user, you often can’t see just what the machine has learned, only the actions it takes. In this regard, machine learning is somewhat like owning a cat. I can see that Clutter isn’t moving some messages I think it should, but I don’t have any way to see why, nor any way to effectively correct it. This reminds me of the good old days of training neural networks from HNC Software to do various interesting things and sometimes being bewildered by the resulting behavior.

One bit of good news: I have been very pleased to see no false positives; that is, Clutter has not taken any mail I wanted to read and treated it as clutter. If the price of zero false positives is that some real clutter isn’t treated as such, I’m OK with that.

The junk mail filtering infrastructure continues to catch some messages that might more properly be treated as clutter, e.g. the flood of marketing crap I get from GameStop. I don’t mind such messages being treated as junk, though.

One unexpected side effect is that I have been much more diligent than usual about unsubscribing from newsletters or marketing mails that I no longer care about. This has helped to cut the volume of clutter I have to deal with.

In closing, I note that no matter how many times I tell Clutter that notifications from Yammer should be treated as clutter, they keep going right into my Inbox. I suspect a conspiracy.

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Why the Outlook for Mac folder pane changes colors

I mentioned in my review of the new Outlook for Mac client that the background of the folder list seemed to randomly change colors:

It may also be a feature that there is a color gradient fill in the folder list. At first I thought the color was the same as the color of the category of my current calendar appointment, but after changing all the category colors, waiting for sync, and quitting and relaunching Outlook, the color didn’t change, so I’m not sure what Microsoft had in mind here, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to turn it off.

Thanks to the most excellent Bill Smith, long-time Mac Office MVP, now I know the answer:

You’re seeing translucency in the navigation pane. So long as you have a window or other white object behind Outlook you’ll see a whitish background, but arrange Outlook over your Desktop picture and you’ll see those colors peeking through it. Choose Outlook menu > Hide Others to quickly show Outlook over your Desktop.

Sure enough, that explains it. I use SatelliteEyes to update my desktop background, and as I move around (and thus get new satellite maps), or as change the Z order of other open windows, voilà color changes. I normally don’t mind window translucency, but I don’t care for the combination of OS X Yosemite and this effect. Looks like I’m stuck with it, though.

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