Office 365 Roadmap Program Promises Clarity on Software Updates
Microsoft is attempting to make its Office 365 software release changes
more visible and predictable for organizations.
The concept is called "Office 365 for business public roadmap"
and consists of a couple of parts, according to Microsoft's announcement today. First, there's a
notification system where the software changes will be announced in
advance via Office 365's Message Center. Second, Microsoft plans to roll
out a new advance testing opt-in program, called "First Release."
Microsoft claims that First Release is not a beta testing program since
the features released for testing will have already been vetted across
approximately 200,000 seats beforehand as part of its internal "dogfood"
testing. In addition, Microsoft describes First Release changes as
bringing "big changes" to the product's capabilities.
In addition to Message Center, Microsoft also describes its Office 365
software changes at a portal page here. The portal shows changes that have been
launched, as well as those to come, and even cancelled releases.
The new business public roadmap model is aimed at better communicating
Microsoft's faster software release cadence that was announced a year ago. The faster releases stem from
Microsoft's practice of developing its software releases against its cloud
computing infrastructure first, along with some agile development
practices inspired by Microsoft's Yammer acquisition about two years ago. However, for
IT pros, the faster release pace has supplanted Microsoft's more familiar
three-year software release cycle. It's just been less predictable, and
perhaps more problematic, for organizations tasked with testing software
releases in their environments.
Microsoft's announcement contended that the new faster release cycle has been
an exciting ride for IT pros, giving them "the ability to consume change
in small chunks." But independent experts such as Wes Miller, an analyst with Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions
on Microsoft, offered an alternative perspective:
A glimpse of the roadmap program was provided at the Microsoft Exchange
Conference back in late March. According to a Microsoft video produced then, Microsoft is
carrying out a "continuous innovation cycle" that will deliver software
changes in small increments. There will be "updates," "disruptive changes"
and "configuration changes" as part of this new cycle. The updates will be
changes to existing scenarios, but they won't add new capabilities, so
it's not expected to break existing customizations, according to
Microsoft's video. For the disruptive changes (such as a new operating
system release or a new browser) and the configuration changes, Microsoft
plans to provide a one-year advance notification to its customers.
The most complete notifications will arrive via the Message Center used
for managing Office 365 accounts. It will provide a view of the changes a
few months in advance for "new features, enhancements and major updates,"
according to Microsoft's announcement. However, the roadmap program "will
not capture every change," the announcement added.
Message Center users will be part of the "standard release group" by
default. That means that they will receive updates about two weeks or
later than the First Release testers. Microsoft is excluding "Lync Online,
Exchange Online Protection and Office 365 ProPlus" services from its First
Release testing program initially, according to the announcement.
Organizations that want to be part of the First Release testing program
have to opt into it via Message Center's service settings. The option to
join the First Release program may already be available for some
subscribers, but it will be rolled out more broadly over the next week.
The first update for First Release testers is expected to arrive "later
Microsoft's roadmap program is rolling out to commercial and academic
Office 365 subscribers. It doesn't apply to "Office 365 Government
Community Cloud for U.S. Government customers, Office 365 operated by
21Vianet or Office 365 Dedicated/ITAR customers," the announcement
Microsoft will host a Yammer "YamJam" Q&A session on Tuesday, June 24
at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time to answer questions about the roadmap program.
The sign-up is via a Yammer Office 365 Technical Network page here.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.