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Office 2016 and Skype for Business Previews Now Available

Microsoft kicked off this week's annual Convergence conference in Atlanta by announcing the preview of Office 2016 for IT Pros and Developers. It was among several releases which also includes a general preview of Skype for Business.

Office 2016 is the first major upgrade of the Office desktop suite since 2013 and follows last month's preview releases of touch-enabled versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for Windows 10. Today's Office 2016 release for IT pros and developers gives a far broader look at the new suite including some new features such as click-to-run-deployment, extended data loss prevention (DLP) support and the new Outlook 2016 client.

Julia White, general manager of Microsoft's Office division, demonstrated the new Outlook 2016 during the opening Convergence keynote. In the demo, she played up Outlook's ability to handle content linked with OneDrive for Business. When a user goes to attach a file, the most recently accessed documents appear and are added as a link to the sender's OneDrive for Business account.

"When I hit send, it looks like an attachment, it feels like an attachment and when I send it, it actually sends the access to the file," White said. "So I don't have to send a physical attachment and deal with versioning." Users can link up on the same document in the cloud, continued White. She also added that the new Outlook will still let users attach actual files.

The new Outlook also offers significant technical improvements, said Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for Microsoft's Office 365 Client Apps and Services team, in a blog post announcing the Office 2016 preview. Among the improvements in Outlook for IT pros he pointed to include:  

  • MAPI-HTTP protocol: RPC-based sync replaced with a new Internet-friendly MAPI-HTTP protocol that supports Exchange/Outlook connectivity
  • Foreground network calls: The use of foreground network calls eliminated to ensure Outlook stays responsive on unreliable networks
  • Multi-factor authentication:  Support multi-factor authentication via integration with the Active Directory Authentication Library (ADAL)
  • E-mail delivery performance: The amount of time it takes to download messages, display message lists and show new email after resuming from hibernation reduced
  • Smaller storage footprint: New settings  let users better manage storage by only retaining 1, 3, 7, 14 or 30 days of mail on the device
  • Search: Improved reliability, performance and usability of Outlook search and FAST-based search engine is integrated into Exchange.

The new Office 2016 preview doesn't include all of the features that Microsoft is planning for the new release, Koenigsbauer noted. The new DLP support builds on what Microsoft now offers with Exchange, Outlook, OneDrive for Business and SharePoint.  "Now we're bringing these same classification and policy features to Word, Excel and PowerPoint," he said. "With these new capabilities, IT admins can centrally create, manage and enforce polices for content authoring and document sharing -- and end users will see policy tips or sharing restrictions when the apps detect a potential policy violation."

Koenigsbauer noted that the new click-to-run deployment feature for Office 365 customers introduces Microsoft's new Background Intelligence Transfer Service (BITS), which Koenigsbauer said aims to prevent network  congestion on the network. "BITS throttles back the use of bandwidth when other critical network traffic is present," he said.

Other deployment improvements showcased in the new Office 2016 preview include tighter integration with Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), more flexible update management for handling feature updates and bug fixes and improved activation management added to the Office 365 Admin Portal.

White also talked up Skype for Business, which Microsoft said back in November would represent the rebranding of the company's Lync platform with its Skype service. "Now all of the Skype for Business users can connect with Skype from a contacts perspective and communicate [with] them with IM, voice and video," she said. "So imagine a sales person connecting with any customer, a doctor connecting with a patient, and employer interviewing someone via Skype. There's so many possibilities with this new experience."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/16/2015 at 2:13 PM


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