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Microsoft Adds Guest Access to Office 365 Groups

Microsoft has started turning on a new guest capability in Office 365 groups.

The guest capability lets users in an organization share communications resources with others outside the organization. The feature is designed to permit information sharing with "customers, partners, suppliers or consultants," according to Microsoft's announcement today.

An Office 365 group is collection of team collaboration resources that gets created by adding members to a group using their e-mail addresses. Individual Office 365 end users will typically create a group, although IT pros also can do so. Once a group is created, the members will have access to a common SharePoint Online Sites library for file storage, as well as a common mailbox, calendar, planning tool and OneNote notebook.

Guests, when invited to join a group, get access to those same communication resources via "Office on the web and the Outlook Groups mobile application," Microsoft's announcement explained. The invitation to join a group will show what kinds of things the guests can do. Microsoft lists the permitted and prohibited guest actions in this support article. Guests can't create groups themselves. They can't add or remove members. However, they can start up group conversations and reply to conversations once they are members of a group.

Presumably, access is somewhat controlled by an organization's policies. A Microsoft "Admin Help" document explains that "the guest settings are set in Azure Active Directory" and it takes "about 2 to 24 hours" for the guest access to take effect. IT pros have the ability to delete the groups that get created by end users. They can monitor groups and remove members.

Permitting guest access to groups, though, appears to be an all-or-nothing kind of feature for a computing environment.

"Once the guest access feature is turned on in your organization, by default, everyone is enabled and users will be able to add guest users to an Office 365 group, and they'll have access to all Office 365 group features," Microsoft explained in the "Admin Help" document.

IT pros can use PowerShell to turn on guest access for all Office 365 groups. It's also possible to add guests via the Azure Active Directory B2B service, according to the Help document.

It's not quite clear if every organization with an Office 365 subscription has the new guest capability quite yet. The feature is just getting rolled out to subscribers "in phases," starting today, Microsoft's announcement indicated.

About the Author

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

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