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Microsoft

Microsoft monkeys with Office 365, Microsoft 365 release channels

Microsoft last week announced sweeping name and default-setting changes for how it updates and upgrades the core of Office 365, the locally installed applications such as  Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

These changes to Office 365 were not the first for the by-subscription suite of apps and services. In 2017, Microsoft dumped an earlier set of monikers – which included “Deferred Channel” and “First Release for Deferred Channel” – for new titles that matched, more or less, the then-current Windows 10 conventions.

But in the intervening years, Windows 10 had streamlined its servicing distribution options. Microsoft did do some Windows 10-esque clean-up on Office 365’s channels, but the latter, even after the changes take effect next month, will still greatly outnumber those of the operating system.

Changes, but toward what end?

The short version of Microsoft’s moves: The company added one new channel to Office 365’s servicing model, renamed the five existing ones to greater or lesser extent and dramatically altered the default setting for new customers.



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Microsoft touts new business features slated for Edge

Microsoft on Tuesday spelled out some of the business-designed additions and improvements it plans for the Edge browser.

The Chromium-based Edge, which Microsoft debuted in stable form in January, was to have been slowly rolled out to a subset of users “in the coming weeks” after a Jan. 15 announcement. That didn’t happen.

Whether because of Microsoft’s own delays, the disruption of lock-downs and work-at-home orders resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, or a combination, Microsoft never got around to distributing the new Edge.

That will now change, Microsoft pledged, effectively calling a do-over. Edge will be “delivered via a measured roll-out that you’ll see ramping up over the course of the next few weeks,” Kyle Pflug, principal program manager, wrote in a post to a company blog.

Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro devices that are not being managed by IT will be eligible for the automatic replacement of old Edge with new Edge. Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education will be immune from the Microsoft-mandated takeover, as will Home and Pro systems joined to an Active Directory or Azure Active Directory domain, or which receive updates and upgrades via WSUS (Windows Server Update Services) or WUfB (Windows Update for Business).

Users have been able to manually download and install Chromium Edge, and will continue to be allowed to do so.

Work, work, work

At the top of the list for users is a new “WORK” category displayed for all Microsoft 365 customers; it slips into the already-available ALL/IMAGES/VIDEOS/MAPS/NEWS/SHOP choices at the top of Bing’s results page. WORK slots between ALL and IMAGES and, when selected, shrinks the results to work-related files, locations, people, sites and so on – assuming a user has logged in with his or her work or school account.

The feature will be immediately available, Pflug said.

This is a refinement of what Office 365 ProPlus users had previously (ProPlus was rebranded as Microsoft 365 Apps in April). When Bing’s address bar was used to look up certain internal-to-the-company information – notably documents and other files stored on OneDrive or SharePoint – the results were displayed after clicking a “Show results from [Organization X]” link. Customers not subscribed to Microsoft 365 – but to, say, an Office 365 plan including ProPlus/Apps, will continue to see this latter construction.

new edge features Microsoft

Edge for Microsoft 365 customers shows a WORK category at the top – right beside ALL and IMAGES – to delimit results to inside-the-organization data, such as files on OneDrive and SharePoint.

Edge also now supports Windows Information Protection (WIP) in Windows 10, Pflug noted.

WIP, formerly known as Enterprise Data Protection (EDP), enforces data protection rules set by the organization, preventing accidental data leaks when employees blend personal and work tasks on a single device. IT-mandated policies, such as which apps can access corporate data, are enforced by WIP.

With WIP enabled in Edge, administrators can bar uploads from being sent to non-work locations, automatically encrypt work files when downloaded from a designated work locale, and more. Instructions on setting policies for WIP enforcement in the browser can be found in this support document.

Also new: more sync and auto profile switching

The other major business-oriented improvements to Edge center around synchronization, an important component of any browser when users have multiple devices and want to keep everything lined up.

According to Pflug, installed extensions – also called add-ons – now sync in Edge; they remained disabled in Computerworld‘s copies, however. Administrators also now have access to a policy – SyncTypesListDisabled – for managing which data types can be synced, letting them, say, block password sync but allow collections, extensions and bookmarks to synchronize. (Microsoft’s description of the policy notes that it required Edge 83 or later; Edge’s stable build is currently on version 81.)

Edge will also feature enhancements to its handling of multiple profiles, particularly those dedicated to work by virtue of company credentials and generic personal profiles, usually linked to a Microsoft Account for log-in.

Notably, the browser will boast Automatic Profile Switching, which will detect work-related links – for example, an intranet site or a line-of-business web app – and then if necessary switch from the personal profile then in use to the work profile, without requiring another sign-in session.

This automatic switcheroo is to go public in Edge 83; Microsoft has not yet announced a release date for that version. (Note: Google just issued Chrome 83 on May 19; Microsoft has generally followed Chrome upgrades with its own for Edge within two or three days.)

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Microsoft reiterates October end for Office 2010 support

Microsoft on Tuesday made clear it remains committed to ending support for Office 2010 in October, even though the company recently extended deadlines for other products, including some versions of Windows 10.

“Office 2016 for Mac and Office 2010 will reach their end of support on October 13, 2020,” Microsoft’s Office 365 team wrote on a company blog, referring to a date that had been set long ago. The post’s title, “Reminder of changes coming to Office support in October,” offers an unsubtle hint that a different date is unlikely.

Microsoft will deliver the final security updates for Office 2010 and Office 2016 for Mac on Oct. 13, though the suites’ applications will continue to work after that. Microsoft does not cripple the applications post-retirement.

Nor will the company go out of its way to block the suites’ applications from connecting to Office 365 services, such as Exchange Online, even though announcements in 2017 and 2018 stated that only Office 365 ProPlus, Office 2019 and as an after-thought addition, Office 2016, could do so. “Microsoft will not take any active measures to block legacy versions of the Office client from connecting to Office 365 services, but these older clients may encounter performance and/or reliability issues over time,” Microsoft asserted Tuesday.

Although Computerworld had argued as recently as this week that Microsoft should offer customers more time to move off Office 2010, the Redmond, Wash. firm was, well, fairly firm. It did leave the door open just a crack, however.

“We recognize customers are at different points in their journey to the cloud, and we will continue to listen to and support our customers,” Microsoft said, using phrasing that has accompanied past reversals.

Over the last month, Microsoft has extended support for several products, citing the business disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, notably employers asking some workers to toil from home. Among the software receiving six-month support extensions: Windows 10 1709 and Windows 10 1809, and SharePoint Server.

At least one customer pleaded for an extension to Office 2010. “Due to [the] coronavirus, deploying new applications to remote workers is not [an] easy task and requires additional planning and testing. Therefore, I am wondering, is it possible to extend [the] end of support date for these products to next year?” asked Reza Ameri, a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) in a comment appended Wednesday to the blog post.

Ameri had yet to receive a reply.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Microsoft stretches support for SharePoint Server 2010, Windows 10 1809

Microsoft on Tuesday extended support by six months for more products, telling customers that SharePoint Server 2010 will now receive updates until April 13, 2021 and that Windows 10 1809 will get security fixes until Nov. 10, 2020.

“In response to the COVID-19 crisis and an increase in customer requests, we have decided to revise support for SharePoint Server 2010 products and technologies,’ Mark Kashman, senior product manager on the SharePoint team, wrote in an April 14 post to a company blog.

SharePoint Server 2010 was to have exited support Oct. 13.

Meanwhile, the company also postponed the end-of-support date for Windows 10 1809. “To help ease some of the burdens customers are facing, we are going to delay the scheduled end-of-service date for the Home, Pro, Pro Education, Pro for Workstations, and IoT Core editions of Windows 10, version 1809, to November 10, 2020,” the Redmond, Wash. firm stated in the Windows message center. From June through November, Microsoft will provide vulnerability patches only.

Windows 10 1809, which Microsoft released in November 2018, was originally set to exhaust its support May 12.

Other products also received six-month reprieves, including SharePoint Foundation 2010, Project Server 2010, Windows Server 1809 and the current branch of Configuration Manager 1810. The extensions will continue to provide monthly security updates – and emergency fixes if necessary – as well as both paid and self-help support.

Microsoft announced its first pandemic-related support retirement delay four weeks ago when it added six months to Windows 10 1709, giving Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education users until Oct. 13 to migrate to a newer version. At the time, Microsoft did not explain why it selected six months rather than a longer stretch, a year, for instance.

Nor did it offer a rationale today. But Microsoft made clear that it believes the six month delay would be all for SharePoint. “Microsoft has no plans to extend support for SharePoint 2010 beyond April 13, 2021,” wrote Kashman. “This is a one-time extension due to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Not surprisingly, Microsoft recommended that customers shift from an on-premises SharePoint Server product to Microsoft 365, the top-end subscription program that includes Office 365 applications and services (including SharePoint Online), Windows 10, and a set of security and management tools. Microsoft has aggressively pitched subscriptions to customers, arguing that the rent-not-buy model ensures users always have the latest in hand. The regular – and never ending – revenue, of course, is a boon to Microsoft’s bottom line.

Businesses that want to continue running on-premises SharePoint can upgrade to one of the three newer editions: SharePoint Server 2013, 2016 or 2019. The first exits support April 11, 2023, while the second and third run out of support on July 14, 2026.

Unfortunately, there is no simple upgrade path between the 2010 and 2019 editions. Instead, customers must upgrade from 2010 to 2013, next from 2013 to 2016, then finally from 2016 to 2019. More information on this phased approach is available here.

Microsoft has a full slate of products due to lose support in October

The SharePoint Server 2010 deferment may not be Microsoft’s last. A large number of products are scheduled to fall off the support rolls this year and arguably need just as much extra time as SharePoint Server 2010 and Windows 10.

Office 2010 and its several suite SKUs (stock-keeping units); Office 2016 on the Mac; separate applications, like Word 2010 and Excel 2010; and associated on-premises servers, including Exchange Server 2010 – all are due to expire Oct. 13.

Windows 10 also has some impending 2020 dates, too. Windows 10 Enterprise 1803 and Windows 10 Education 1803 are currently scheduled to lose support Nov. 10, while all SKUs of Windows 10 1903, from Home to Enterprise, are to retire Dec. 8.

Awarding everything now sporting a 2020 retirement date with six more months would shift the burden into next year. Office 2010, for example, would not lose support until April 13, 2021. Windows 10 1803 and 1903 would receive updates until May 11, 2021 and June 8, 2021, respectively.

It’s unclear whether Microsoft will extend all deadlines. It has a slew of factors to consider, ranging from its estimate for the length of time businesses will have employees working from home to an obvious desire not to unduly postpone revenue-producing upgrades and shifts to subscriptions.

At the same time, customers will likely ask why they can’t have more time to migrate from, say, Exchange Server 2010, when others were given six more months to move off SharePoint Server 2010. And wonder, with cause, with the retirement deadlines of Windows 10 1809 and 1903 less than a month apart, why the latter doesn’t get the same extension already given to the former.

Microsoft may want to keep support extensions to a minimum because of the disruption they cause to the overall schedule, but that horse has left the barn. In truth, the calendar is already a shambles. For a short time metronomic, Windows 10’s cadence has sputtered instead, with support spans of 18 months and 24, 30 months and 36.

It seems reasonable that Microsoft will continue to add support time as the pandemic – and its impact on society and business both – continues.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Microsoft just fixed Powerpoint: You’re going to love Presenter Coach

I’ve come to loathe PowerPoint over the years. I once was a competitive speaker and watching people use this product – and the bad habits I’ve developed using it – has been like fingernails on a chalkboard. It has historically been a tool that promoted stupid things, like creating audience-abuse slides that no one could read and presentations where the presenter read the slide to the audience.  People, and I include myself, found it so easy to build presentations they’d wait until the last minute and then get in front of an audience with little or no rehearsal or preparation, resulting in substandard performance.  

But last month, Microsoft unveiled a whole bunch of enhancements, features, and improvements for Office 365, now called Microsoft 365. If you blinked, you may have missed something named Presenter Coach, which could turn Powerpoint into a tool that ensures presentation quality.  These features will roll out over the next several weeks; I can hardly wait.

When I first heard about Presenter Coach, I think I heard Angels sing. Here is why.

Common Powerpoint mistakes

I’d argue a majority of corporate executives never learned how to present in front of an audience – or didn’t listen to their speaking coach. Standard bad practices include making changes to a presentation right up to the last moment, making them (and their company) look inept. More bad moves: reading from a slide, talking in a monotone, or speaking so fast people can’t keep up. (I do this all too often.)

I’ve even watched a cross-section of Microsoft’s own executives make these mistakes, often all of them, in a single presentation. PowerPoint didn’t make you a better speaker, it tended to drive behavior that did the opposite. 

Finally, Microsoft fixed that.

What is Presenter Coach?

This update was kind of an embarrassing fix for me because, as an analyst, I’m supposed to suggest solutions for problems, not just point out issues out. With  PowerPoint, I’ve been outspoken about the problems but not how to fix them.  Looking at what Microsoft has done, I realize I should have figured this out. That said, the fixes are still brilliant. 

It seems obvious in hindsight that the answer was to build in a virtual coach – Presenter Coach – that can help people overcome bad habits PowerPoint helped create.

It will alert you if it hears you reading the slide. If you are like me, this is probably one of the things that perhaps annoyed you most about a PowerPoint presentation. I’m not a child. I can read. I don’t need someone to read out loud something I can understand myself. 

Presenter Coach will also alert you if you talk in a monotone. This practice often happens when people are reading content, but it is tough to stay awake or focus on a speaker with no vocal range. A 15-minute talk can feel like a lifetime, and after an hour, it feels as if you’re being punished for something significant. 

One of my biggest problems when I get in front of an audience, and haven’t been speaking for a while, is that adrenaline kicks in and my speaking speed gets much too fast.  I sound like I’m being paid for how many words I can cram in a minute; I can burn through a 30-minute rehearsed talk in 10 or 15 minutes. 

True story: I once did a talk in Japan while hungover (thanks co-workers), and both spoke in a monotone and fast. I thought the two translators were going to kill me after. Powerpoint will now alert you if you are talking too fast. 

Finally, one of the most annoying things a speaker can do is rely on filler words like “umm” or “ahh.”  You see this a lot on the news. People using these filler words look stupid. Presenter Coach will help train you out of this annoying practice. 

Wrapping Up

Presenter Coach was only one of a host of improvements Microsoft made to Microsoft 365. Others include better blended personal and business calendars (so you don’t get meetings that conflict with your kid’s school events), better connections between Excel and financial institutions so you can better manage your money, and Family Safety features that should help protect our kids.  

But the one that hit me where I live is Presenter Coach for PowerPoint. It’s  just brilliant. And while I’m still surprised I didn’t think of this fix myself, I’m glad that Powerpoint now looks like it might make me a better speaker instead of promoting bad behavior.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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