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March Office 365 Updates Adding SharePoint and Excel Features

Microsoft this week noted March improvements and previews that are starting to arrive for Office 365 subscribers.

The updates this month were notable for including perks for SharePoint Online users. Additionally, Office 365 Excel users also are starting to see the fruits of Microsoft's efforts to improve the end user experience by using artificial intelligence (AI) techniques within the spreadsheet program.

SharePoint Web Parts
On the SharePoint Online side, Microsoft this week announced that the new Yammer Web Part has reached "general availability," meaning it's deemed ready by Microsoft for production use.

SharePoint Online users now can put Yammer conversations into a SharePoint page or news site. The feed will display based on three options configured in the Web Part, namely "top conversations," "latest conversations" or a there's a custom option. The Yammer Web Part is currently limited to using group feeds. In addition, it's not able to show images associated with Yammer groups just yet.

The new SharePoint Web Parts keep piling up, even from last month. To keep current, see this Redmond overview article by Brien Posey.

Other SharePoint Online additions coming to Office 365 subscribers are at the preview stage. For instance, SharePoint Hub Sites, a portal for unifying SharePoint Team Sites and Communication Sites, are rolling out as a preview this month. Hub Sites are expected to be more generally available in early May.

SharePoint Admin Center Previews
Microsoft also soon plans to issue previews of new Admin Center improvements for SharePoint Online users. The previews will arrive in the next four to eight weeks to "targeted release" Office 365 subscribers, according to a Wednesday announcement by Bill Baer, a senior product marketing manager for SharePoint at Microsoft.

The Admin Center's "Site Management" blade will be getting new button to export its data into the comma-separated value (CSV) format, allowing data visualizations using tools like Excel or Microsoft Power BI. IT pros also will be able to save custom views within the Admin Center, although the saved views get shared with all SharePoint administrators.

Baer also noted that Microsoft is adding a preview of site-level sharing management capabilities in the Admin Center for standalone, non-group-connected sites. There are plans to add site-level sharing management capabilities to group-connected sites, too, in the future, and Microsoft is also "working on a new tenant-level sharing page" for the Admin Center.

Other coming SharePoint Admin Center previews include an improved search experience and easier to read e-mails for site administrators.

Excel Cloud Data Type Previews
Microsoft is building "cloud-connected data types" into Excel, which use AI to enhance the data sources within an Excel spreadsheet. They tap the "Microsoft Knowledge Graph," which is also used by Microsoft's Bing search service.

The newest cloud-connected data types, arriving in preview form with the March Office 365 update, are the Stocks and Geography data types, as described in this Thursday Microsoft announcement. Essentially, users can change a plain text entry into a data source. For instance, Excel can recognize "France" as Geography data type, which provides access to more information that can be added within an Excel worksheet, such as pulling in demographic information.

These cloud-connected data types permit the data to be refreshed within Excel. With the Stocks data type, users can pull in ticker symbols and fund names for stocks, index funds and other financial information.

Microsoft is planning to add more of these data types to Excel. It'll even be possible to add data types that are "unique to your organization," Microsoft's announcement suggested.

About the Author

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

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