Microsoft to integrate new social, machine learning technologies into Office 365

Microsoft to integrate new social, machine learning technologies into Office 365

Summary: Microsoft will be making some big changes as to how Office 365 looks and works later this year with the addition of new Office Graph and 'Oslo' technologies.


Microsoft is about to make some big changes as to how Office 365 looks and works.

At the company's SharePoint 2014 conference, which kicks off on March 3, executives will preview some of these coming changes -- specifically ones involving social and machine-learning technologies that Microsoft is baking into its cloud suite of Office apps. Once these technologies begin rolling out later this year, the lines between Exchange, SharePoint and Yammer will be blurred, and social collaboration will become more of a centerpiece of the more tightly-integrated suite.

Microsoft has built what it's calling the "Office Graph," which is the machine-learning piece. The Office Graph analyzes content, user interactions and activity streams and maps the relationships among these technolgies so that it can surface the most relevant content appropriate for each user. Office Graph is an extension of the Enterprise Graph concept in Yammer.

"Graph is what moves us beyond people and docs," said Jeff Teper, Microsoft's Corporate Vice President of Office Server Services. "We want software to learn from an organization and show you what's relevant to you."

The company also is building a number of new "experiences," or apps, that make use of the Office Graph. One of these is an application codenamed "Oslo." The new Oslo (not this previous Microsoft Oslo) takes its codename from the Microsoft Oslo office, which is where some of those who joined the company when Microsoft bought Fast Search & Transfer for $1.5 billion in 2008, still reside.

Oslo presents content in via a variety of views. In one view, the information is presented in the form of "cards." These cards can show users information such as who was in a particular meeting, trending discussions, or which documents were shared with a user via OneDrive, Yammer, email or other means. Microsoft officials likened Oslo to the Flipboard app.

Oslo will be available to Office 365 users starting in the second half of calendar year 2014, Teper said. Oslo is part of the Office 365 Early Adopter Program and Microsoft is in the process of recruiting customers for the program.

Teper called Oslo a "hero," or premier, Office Graph application. Here's what the content cards in Oslo look like:


Another Oslo view: How users will be able to see connections between people and information:


Another of the new Office Graph-powered features is known as Groups. Similar to the way groups currently work in Yammer, Groups will provide a unified view of people, conversations, calendars, emails and files across the Office 365 suite. Creating a Group will automatically provision a Yammer conversation feed, calendar, document library and inbox where members can work as a team. Groups can be open or private.

Here's a sample screen shot of how Groups will look and work inside Outlook:


And a shared Groups calendar view:


Inline Social is another example of a feature that is powered by the Office Graph. With its first implementations in SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business (formerly known as SkyDrive Pro), Inline Social will enable users to have conversations right inside their documents. And still another feature is the Office 365 Video Portal, which will allow users to upload, store, stream and discover videos in a secure way. Some kind of reading experience/app also may become another in the line-up, Teper said. (I'd think this might be the Office Reader app Microsoft demonstrated to employees last year.)

Microsoft will provide differently tailored versions of its new Office Graph-powered apps for different mobile and desktop devices, including Windows 8.x, Windows Phone, iOS and Android.

The FAST team built the Office Graph and Oslo application. They used the FAST index core, plus algorithms for big data and machine learning technologies from Bing, Teper said. Teper's team is part of Executive Vice President Qi Lu's Services and Applications group at Micorsoft, so the collaboration between the Office and Bing teams isn't too surprising.

"We (the Server services team) are building a graph of what the company knows. Bing is building a graph of what the Internet knows," Teper said.

There will be further integration in the future between these new, core Office 365 technologies and the Power BI for Office 365 business-intelligence ones Microsoft recently rolled out, Teper confirmed. He said Microsoft will demonstrate this during the SharePoint 2014 keynote.

Teper said Microsoft will introduce some, but not all, of these new capabilities to the next on-premises versions of Microsoft's Exchange and SharePoint servers, which are due in 2015. On-premises users who want to get a jump on preparing for them should start by using Yammer and OneDrive for Business, Teper said.

Topics: Cloud, Big Data, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Social Enterprise


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Office is Overkill for Personal Use

    If you are in business, esp. a large business or enterprise, MS Office is almost a must. When people comment about iWork or LibraOffice being able to do everything or most everything MS Office can do, they have no idea what they are talking about as Office is very very powerful and integrated and pluggable, etc.

    Unless you are working with other people or entities that use Office, MS Office is overkill for individuals. iWork, Google Docs, etc. should work fine for you.
    Rann Xeroxx
    • At work I just use the MS Office they bought for us

      No sense putting up a big fuss. If you try to use libreoffice or something, then it gets blamed if the formatting isn't correct. Even though often the document formatting seems to vary amongst MS Office itself. I prefer to convert to pdf if it won't need to be collaborated on.
      Also everyone can help each other with the ribbon interface, as far as how to do things. If everyone uses different office type apps, then you cannot help each other in that way since its not the ribbon.
      • If you have the "Real Thing"

        I agree with formatting (check), everyone on same page (check)
        So why are you even considering a substitute?
        Why would libreoffice even come into you conversation at work?
        Doesn't add up.
      • I prefer...

        ...a system that does not require an office full of people to help me figure out how to make it work.

        You know, kind of like the pre-ribbon version of Office- or like LibreOffice.
    • You are making seem like Office is out of reach

      Why Office might seem like overkill is the wealth of features in it for a large audience. The saying goes, the 10% of features you use in Office, is not what I use. Remember, the user base for this suite is over 1 billion. I am sure there features in iOS or Android some users don't use regardless of how large their user base is. Also, Office is not Office of 2000 when it was this rare business productivity suite that only an elite group of users bought or lucky enough to get at work. Office is available at various price points. If you want Office, but don't want to pay for it, then go with Office Online, its just like Google Docs in that you can access it only over the Internet, but is very much compatible with Office where document fidelity is concerned, it has collaborative tools, you can edit documents and most of what light users of Office would want. Also, if you already have Office 2007, Office 2010 or you got it through your employer or University, what is there really to complain about?
    • migration costs are non trivial

      while you may say it works, why do it? free office docs work just as well and you don't have to migrate to formats which offer low retention of original format. You're saying we should switch on the premise MSFT is evil or something? get clue. The times have changed and office is basically as free and as open as docs and free web apps are not something apple can offer. Google does but theirs aren't any better than the free office alternatives so...why change it?
  • Impressive

    This is impressive looking technology.
    One thing i'm starting to really appreciate about MS is that their innovations look cultivated a lot longer the other companies. People say they are slow moving and not innovative but it looks like there is going to be an explosion of semi mature technology soon.

    Exciting times!
    • Yes it is exciting

      watching the continuing overall follies of MS as a company. So you think windows 8 metro was a cultivated well thought out UI?
      • It *is* a cultivated and well-thought out UI.

        The problem people have is the fact that it replaces the mouse-driven Start Screen.

        For touch-devices however, it's very good.
        • Right but the fact that it was thrown

          across every OS/device variant whether it was appropriate or not is a major fail and shows that MS's product design is based completely on a self serving business strategy , not the best product. I will therefore not embrace microsoft.
          • windows 9

            Yes that was a miss-step to throw that on a server UI. I'll give you that. However we're seeing the correction to that in windows 9 and its server variant no doubt.

            However the point of the modern/material UI was to work well with touch which is the area MSFT needs to gain traction on. The other area, desktops and servers, while annoyed, stayed firmly in MSFT's camp because google and apple simply can't match the win32/x86 ecosystem.
      • Yes it is... well thought out

        Have you ever tried the UI on a touch device?
        Have you ever tried it at all?
      • metro = material

        and now that google is flat as a board, I think the times have changed. move on.
  • The Office Team is Probably the Most Innovative One in MS

    Ian Easson
  • I think the stuff looks excellent!

    P. Douglas
  • Another problem for MS is that they seem to try to mix

    any current trend like "social" into everything - whether appropriate or not. If I am working on the back room server, will I get a graph of these happy people faces in baloons on the screen and an update of the great pizza party they just had to celebrate some new contract, and then links to pizza hut via Bing Ads or something.
    Maybe that's a rediculous example, but the way they put the metro interface even on windows server - I wouldn't be surprised. They are talking about windows 8.1 with Bing a lot lately.
  • Microsoft to integrate new social, machine learning technologies into Offic

    A faster and more productive way to get to my documents and get real work done? Sign me up!
  • Yes it's overkill, but...

    Office has a very wide audience to cater to, and the biggest dog in that audience is the enterprise customer.

    However, I would argue that even small teams can benefit from some of these social features, but only as long as it's basically free, otherwise, this is not for them!
  • Seems convoluted.

    Not sure the gains from this technology are going to justify the confusion and clutter associated with the user experience. I hope these features can be turned off and or customized based on user comfort. I can't imagine trying to teach my parents how these features work. Forget my parents, my colleagues at work too a few months to figure out lync.
  • Typical

    Everything no one asked for, and nothing anyone did. Pretty much SOP for Redmond.

    These features have nothing whatsoever to do with how how documents are handled in 97% of the real world. And if history is any indication, deploying them will be so difficult and bug-ridden that they won't be fully leverage even in the few places where they might be useful, and that have IT staffs big enough to even try.

    (Meanwhile, does anyone know how to get rid of this horizontal line that appeared in my Word document when I typed three hyphens in a row?)

    Office 03's still working great here, thanks. And we can even access our POP/SMTP mail servers with Outlook 03. Using a mouse and keyboard. How convenient.

    Finally, let's recall that Lotus Notes offered many of these features in the early 90's, right before MS used its dominance in the OS market to put them out of business. It only took 20 years and the acquisition of billions of dollars worth of smaller innovative companies for MS to get to the same goal. Impressive.