Posey's Tips & Tricks

Microsoft Improves Notifications to Office 365 Subscribers

The constant stream of new features and updates is great, but keeping track of all the changes can be a serious headache. Luckily, Microsoft isn't leaving its customers to figure it out alone.

One of my favorite things about Microsoft Office 365 is the fact that Microsoft is constantly adding new applications and functionality, without raising rates for existing subscribers. In fact, that is one of the reasons why I write so many Office 365-related blog posts.

As much as I love all of the new Office 365 features that Microsoft keeps giving us, the relentless innovation does have its drawbacks. It can sometimes be tough to keep up with what Microsoft is doing, or with the changes that are looming on the horizon.

While the introduction of new features and capabilities is generally considered to be a good thing, sometimes Microsoft makes changes that impact existing features that are already being used in production, and those types of changes have a direct impact on enterprise IT. The bottom line is that admins need to know when Microsoft is making significant changes.

While it is tempting to think of unwanted or unexpected changes within the public cloud in terms of the way that Microsoft manages Office 365 today, the problem is far from being new and not unique to Microsoft. Several years ago, Steve Wozniak (of Apple fame) was quoted as saying, "I've come to a depressed state of feeling that I own nothing on the cloud and have no ability to keep things working the way they do." The overall sentiment behind this quote was that cloud service providers can change or drop features at will.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am in no way suggesting that Microsoft doesn't bother to tell its subscribers when it is about to make major changes to Office 365. Quite the contrary. Microsoft has historically used several different mechanisms in an effort to try to keep customers informed of changes. Even so, Microsoft's efforts sometimes seem disjointed, and unless an administrator makes a conscious effort to keep up with forthcoming changes to Office 365, it is easy for notifications to be neglected.

One of the ways that Microsoft has historically kept subscribers in the loop with what is going on with Office 365 is through e-mail. Each week, Microsoft sends out a weekly digest of Office 365 changes. A recent digest, for example, included things like improvements to public folder migrations, new encryption capabilities for e-mail messages and for Information Rights Management, and the introduction of the SharePoint Online Site Collection App Catalog. You can see an example of the weekly digest e-mail in Figure 1.

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 1: Microsoft e-mails Office 365 subscribers a weekly digest of Office 365 changes.

E-mail is not the only source for information about Office 365 changes and updates. Microsoft also displays this information, along with messages about potential service interruptions, within the Office 365 Admin Center. The Message Center is displayed on the Admin Center dashboard, and clicking on the Message Center takes you into a mailbox-like interface where you can see all of the latest Office 365 happenings.

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 2: Microsoft displays information about upcoming changes in the Office 365 Message Center.

As someone who both writes about and uses Office 365, I had become accustomed to using the two previously mentioned sources of information to keep up with what is going on with Office 365. On the evening of Oct. 20, 2017, however, something changed. I received an e-mail message from the Office 365 Message Center with the subject line, "Message Center Major Update Notification."

At first, I assumed that the message was probably a phishing scam or something like that, but the Outlook preview showed just enough of the message to pique my curiosity. If the message is real, I thought, then Microsoft must be getting ready to do something really big, because it has never sent me this type of message before.

As you can see in Figure 3, the e-mail notification was simply referencing the general availability of Microsoft To-Do. As it turns out, the message is Microsoft's latest attempt to keep Office 365 subscribers in the know when it comes to major updates and changes.

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 3: Microsoft is now e-mailing Office 365 subscribers to inform them of major upcoming changes.

While the cynics among us will surely dismiss Microsoft's latest efforts as one more item to clutter their inboxes, I am thankful for Microsoft's efforts to keep customers informed. I think that e-mailing Office 365 subscribers to let them know what is going on will be widely regarded as a positive move.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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