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.