For many businesses, the cloud and cloud-based solutions are becoming increasingly popular. Microsoft Office 365 is one of the most commonly integrated cloud-based solutions amongst small to medium businesses. With a suite of familiar and powerful apps, it offers a wide variety of features. In mid June, Microsoft announced a new program, the Office 365 roadmap, that allows business users to see what new features are coming soon.
The Office 365 roadmap
Earlier in 2014, Microsoft announced that they would be moving to a faster rollout schedule for their popular software solutions like Office 365. This means that we can expect to see updates for some software being introduced on a fairly regular basis.
Because of this, it would help to know exactly what Microsoft is working on and when you can expect an update or introduction of new features. To cover this, Microsoft has recently announced an Office 365 roadmap that covers what the company is doing in relation to the business oriented version of Office 365.
You can view the roadmap on this Microsoft website which has been designed to showcase the status of features based on:
- Launched – Features that have been completed and implemented in various Office 365 apps. These features should be accessible to all Office 365 for Business users.
- Rolling out – Features that have finished development and are ready to be implemented to the various apps but are not accessible to most users at this time, but will be in the near future.
- In development – Features that Microsoft developers are working on or testing, but aren’t ready to be implemented.
- Canceled – Features that have been canceled; developers are no longer working on these, and they won’t be implemented into Office 365 apps.
When you visit the roadmap site, you can click on the different sections and see the recent features that are relevant to each. For example, if you click on Launched, the recently launched features will drop down. Click on one to see a brief overview of the feature, along with a link to learn more.
This can be a useful site for businesses, especially if you rely on Office 365’s features and are interested in which new ones will be introduced. We should stress however that the features listed on the site are relevant only for Office 365 for Businesses and Enterprises. Private and Home users may not necessarily see these features introduced.
Office 365 First Release program
For those users who look at the Rolling Out section of the roadmap site, and would like to have access to fully tested and supported features that are just about ready to roll out, Microsoft has also introduced a new program called First Release.
This program allows Office 365 for Businesses and Education users to sign up and gain access to upcoming features two weeks or more before they are introduced. If you would like to sign up for this program, you can do so as long as you are the admin of your account. If you are the admin for your Office 365 accounts, you can enable First Release by going into the Service Settings area from your management console. You should see an option to enable First Release, which you need to tick to turn on.
Once this is enabled you should be notified within a month letting you know that the first batch of early features is ready to implement. Microsoft has noted that the features implemented early via First Release will apply to the Office 365 user experience, SharePoint Online and Exchange Online. At this time, other apps like Lync Online will not be part of the program, but you can probably expect this program to expand to cover other apps in the coming months and over the next year.
Both the roadmap and First Release features could prove useful for power users of Office 365. If you are looking to learn more about these concepts and how Office 365 can be used successfully in your business, contact us today to see how we can help.