Foley on Microsoft

Microsoft Graph APIs: The Glue That's Starting to Stick

During the Build 2017 Day 2 keynote in May, Microsoft execs repeatedly referenced Microsoft Graph, the successor to Office Graph, as the key enabler of next-generation computing scenarios. Graph (the subject of last month's Redmond magazine cover story, "Build Intelligence with Microsoft Graph" was likely the single-most used term of this year's Build. On Microsoft's Channel 9 online video catalog under the Build 2017 section, the term "graph" is included in 40 sessions.

The notion of a graph that represents a set of connections isn't new. There are networking graphs, data mining graphs, artificial intelligence graphs, image graphs, graph engines and graph databases. Facebook is a social graph and LinkedIn calls itself the "Professional Graph" and is working to build a more comprehensive "Economic Graph."

Microsoft originally had articulated "Office Graph" as an extension of the Enterprise Graph concept from Yammer when it was introduced three years ago. Officials then described it as a machine learning substrate that could analyze content, user interactions, activity streams and the relationships among these components. Delve, now known as MyAnalytics, Microsoft's self-described "Flipboard app for Office 365" -- was the poster child for Office Graph.

Microsoft execs began talking up Graph as the heir-apparent to Office Graph. While Office Graph still exists, those involved with the two technologies describe Office Graph as "the brain" of Graph. Graph, the technology formerly known as the Office 365 Unified API, was released in November 2015. Microsoft has since added more bells and whistles to Graph with the goal of getting more developers inside and outside the company to write applications that use it.

The idea behind Graph is to make applications smarter, so that they don't require a lot of interim steps to surface contextual data. By integrating with Graph, apps will be able (with users' permissions) to access their calendars to suggest meeting times, get data from an Excel file to update a chart with the latest information, and let users know where they're spending their time, and so on.

Microsoft added several new API endpoints to Graph during this year's Build. In addition to the existing Azure Active Directory, Outlook (mail, calendar and contacts), Office 365 Groups, OneDrive drives and files, and Excel, there are also new APIs for Planner, OneNote, and SharePoint sites. Microsoft released technical preview/beta versions of APIs for Microsoft Teams, Insights (powering MyAnalytics), SharePoint Lists, Outlook Tasks, Intune, Office 365 Reporting and Project "Rome." And Microsoft is planning to add Dynamics endpoints to Graph in the near term, officials said during Build. Developers and tech-savvy users can also bring their own data into Graph via extensions.

The Project Rome piece is particu­larly interesting, as it's indicative of Microsoft's plans to make the Graph central to not just its Office apps and services, but Windows itself. Project Rome is a set of Microsoft technologies designed to do what Apple does with Handoff. It enables users to connect, manage and control any connected app or device, proximally or from the cloud. Project Rome provides the underpinnings for the "Pick Up Where You Left Off" capability coming to the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update.

Thanks to Graph integration with Project Rome, users will be able to work on a document on their Windows 10 PC and resume working on it later on another device that's part of their "Device Graphs" and "Activity Graphs." The Graph API and Project Rome also will help orchestrate situations such as, "Alexa, play Song xyz on my Xbox."

Up until now, Graph has been the uber-graph for all things Office-related. Now it's starting to live up to its name and act as the central hub for all things Microsoft -- and beyond.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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