SharePoint Fest DC 2017

Just in case you’re located in the Northern Virginia / DC / Maryland metropolitan area, and you’re looking for a solid conference but don’t have the budget to venture out of the area? Check out the SharePoint Fest DC event taking place in mid-April at the Convention Center downtown. Space is still available and you can even come meet me and many other MVPs from the National community. Look forward to seeing you there and getting to know more about your SharePoint and Office 365 needs, more details available here – http://sharepointfest.com/dc

Office 365 Groups and Outlook 2016 for Mac

Recently announced, hot off the press, Office 365 Groups are coming to Outlook 2016 for Mac!  More about this and what the scope of this release is yonder on the Outlook for Mac Insights blog on 2 March 2017 titled “Support for Groups in Outlook for Mac.”

Caveat, this is by way of the Insider builds fast ring at the moment, so if you’re a corporate user and you’re wondering where this is, give it sometime and keep on accessing groups through either a Windows VM in your favorite hypervisor on Mac (whether that be Parallels, VirtualBox or VMWare Fusion) or through Safari / Chrome / Firefox.

What does this look like you ask?Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.18.17.png

Pretty standard. If you’re used to the web view then you’re probably familiar with something that looks a little more like this:

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.24.37.png

The interactions with the UI are pretty decent. The caveat is that within the Outlook for Mac 2016 UI, you don’t have the ability to “easily” create a new thread in that discussion unless you go and create a new message and then lookup the discussion list name whereas in the Web UI you merely click on “New”. Of course the other thing to make note of is that since Groups make use of distribution lists, if within the Outlook for Mac client you click on “Reply” you’ll notice that you’re sending a note directly back to the original poster rather than a note to the entire group, thereby segmenting your conversation.

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.30.30.png

However, if you click Reply All, you’ll notice that you’re pushing to the Distribution list…

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.31.14.png

And as mentioned, to create a new message within the context of the Group, you’ll need to know the distribution list name of the group when you click on “New Message” within Outlook 2016 for Mac…

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.32.43.png

After you work through your message you’ll notice that when you press send it will post back into the thread as one might expect it to…

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.33.47.png

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.34.37.png

If you’re curious about other capabilities like Calendars and such… they’re coming soon (hopefully) but as the blog article mentions there are supported scenarios at the moment as follows:

Scenarios to try out:
  • View your top 10 list of groups in the left navigation pane.
  • Select a group in the left navigation pane to view conversations and attachments in the group shared space
  • Compose/Reply/Forward messages and send attachments.
Know issues:
  • Groups calendar view is out of scope for V1 release.
  • Scenarios that not enabled yet but are slated for V1 release:
    • Add groups events to your personal calendar
    • View group details, and manage my subscription settings from the group card
    • View entry points to other group workloads and navigate to them from the group card

To make suggestions, UserVoice is your best friend in this case or through the “Contact Support” button located in the upper right hand corner in the Outlook 2016 for Mac client as shown here.

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.40.35.png

which then takes you to the feedback dialog that looks something like this…

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.40.59.pngProps to Microsoft for continuing to integrate these capabilities into the desktop client software!

Wondering why to shift to Office 365…

So you’re a consultant that’s getting familiar with Office 365, having come from something like SharePoint or Exchange or perhaps Skype for Business on-premises and you think to yourself, “This platform probably has some limitations…. I can tune my back end storage to be performant… and my users are generally happy though we keep running out of space. I wonder what Microsoft can provide that’s better…”

All good thoughts and questions that I might find myself reflecting upon. I won’t deny that as a SharePoint IT Pro that occassionally dabbled in Exchange administration when I needed to, system tuning and upkeep can sometimes take a lot of time. When requirements are passed along from business owners around what end users need, I sometimes cringe, primarily when it comes to storage space – it’s difficult to keep up with the content that end users are creating (regardless of whether it’s duplicative or if it’s useful content), the needs are real. Sure, I could host my environment on the latest and greatest storage system and continually grow my storage spaces that my databases resided within (carving out storage from primordial storage is always fun, right?). And sure, I could go and order more disk for my system as I needed, but that also meant that I had to stay on top of things and learn the storage backend system and how to properly tune it as well as picking up other components of the surrounding infrastructure.

Of course, thinking through the other components that are required to keep an on-premises system operating such as needing to patch for system, application and configuration updates in addition to code deployments from developers also lends itself to keeping documentation up to date, all of which can be quite daunting.

Documentation? why would we need documentation? Sure, it’s good to have your own system properly documented in runbook of sorts, but also the documentation for business users and quasi-developers to understand the services and limitations surrounding the system. And if we become forgetful that our business users are the individuals that pay the bills then we probably need to take a reality check.

This seems to be a bit more than what a single individual can perform as a part of their job without becoming overwhelmed.

Perhaps we’ve become forgetful about what it’s like to leave the office at 430p because deployments of software to the server by our developers is a never ending troubleshooting battle. Or maybe we’re overwhelmed by the inabiity to keep up with end user storage requirements. Or maybe, we’ve determined that no matter how much we do in talking to end users about what they can and cannot do with SharePoint Designer or with JavaScript that it’s too late to enforce governance because the system has grown in a viral fashion.

Enter the Office 365 Service Description

So I’m not suggesting throwing in the towel of operating an on-premises system, though there’s definitely a lot of work. But continually having to review the work of others and then help to clean things up can be fairly difficult. That’s where something like Office 365 actually comes in to be incredibly helpful – especially when you start thinking about scaling to meet end user needs around storage. SharePoint site collections hosted on-premises can scale, but there’s a bit of work that is required when it comes to tuning the storage to be performant for users. Additionally if you’re thinking about using OneDrive for Business on-premises, it’ll require a bit of work to tune your servers to properly respond to requests in a way that doesn’t degrade the end user’s experience using the web interface.
To start with, look at what is provided for in terms of storage for an Office 365 Tenant.

Storage per user (contributes to total storage base of tenant) - 500 MB.
Storage base per tenant - 1 TB + user storage.

Source – https://support.office.com/en-us/article/SharePoint-Online-software-boundaries-and-limits-8f34ff47-b749-408b-abc0-b605e1f6d498?ui=en-US&rs=en-US&ad=US&fromAR=1

So if you start thinking about this, that’s a lot of storage space. If you’ve got 1000 users, you’ve got 1.5 TB of total storage (1000 users x 500 MB + 1 TB). If you add in the storage that each licensed user receives for their OneDrive for Business you have approximately 1000 TB of storage that users can make use of before they start storing documents in SharePoint collaboration sites or Office 365 Groups.

Consider the backups that are required for this – does your backup solution provide for the ability to pull files back or host 1k users and all the storage needs that they may have? Further, are you able to quickly react when someone deletes a document (realizing that their first thing to do is check the recycle bin before opening a ticket).

Lots of reasons just around storage to start considering the Office 365 services that are out there for the Enterprise (or education or small business customers). Seems like there’s probably a lot to chew on if we’ve only scratched the surface here in a thought experiment as a consultant.

Consider taking a few minutes and a pot of your favorite coffee and head on over to the Office 365 Service Description documentation to start learning what the capabilities and limits are of the Microsoft cloud productivity and collaboration platform – https://www.office365sd.com

Outlook for Mac and Gmail Contacts and Calendars

In case you missed it, the Microsoft Office team recently announced that Outlook 2016 for Mac using the Insider Fast build will begin rolling out the ability to make use of your Gmail account’s contacts and calendars. For those that have been using Outlook 2016 for Mac as their mail client on their desktop this is definitely a welcome capability rather than having to export your contacts or calendar items from Google and move them over to Outlook manually, you can just have it automatically imported.

Granted, there were kluge ways around this in the past using things like CardDav and CalDav with some other magic while rolling one’s own solution, but more work than was probably necessary for working with someone as an end user.

So what does this mean and how does this work practically speaking?

Step one, go to your Google calendar (it’s okay, you can go and create a Google account if you want to try this, that’s what I did ;-)). Then point your browser to https://calendar.google.com. This should bring you to your calendar. Simply create a calendar item and you’re probably used to seeing something like this in agenda view:

Screenshot 2017-03-04 18.07.03.png

Well that’s nice and pretty, right? But if you want to see that in Outlook, at least in the past you’ve not had all that much luck… that is until now.

Screenshot 2017-03-04 18.09.43.png

Pretty slick that it shows up. And if we view the contents of the item in Google’s calendar, we’ll see that we have one person that we’re inviting and a little bit of text to better describe the event.

Screenshot 2017-03-04 18.11.38.png

And if you open this up within Outlook, you’ll see similar information that’s editable.Screenshot 2017-03-04 18.11.24.png

Google Contacts are similar but without Outlook you’ll notice that it states that it’s a “Preview” feature while they’re still working out some of the kinks.

Interested in learning more of the known issues before rolling this out to your user base (probably for the best unless you want to have your phone ringing off the hook) then head on over here:

https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/outlookformac/2017/03/01/support-for-google-mail-calendar-and-contacts/

Definite kudos to the Office team for their continual work on the Outlook for Mac product and integration between platforms. Nice job folks!

Global Azure Bootcamp 2017

Interested in learning more about Microsoft Azure? Looking for a starting point and you’ve already read all the documentation over at https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/? Have a Saturday afternoon free in the latter part of April? Check out the Global Azure Bootcamp community event taking place on 22 April 2017 around the world. There are locations everywhere as the world simultaneously learns about Azure, details here:

https://global.azurebootcamp.net/locations/

Each event is unique, the speakers and organizers put together the content and determine what the talks will be as well as what their focus will be. Come learn about Azure and the ability to host nearly anything on it.

If you’re new to Azure, you’re bound to learn a ton about the platform by attending one of these events.

Helping End Users Help Themselves

We’ve all been there, our end users are queued up at our door or cubical entrance, waiting in line as though they’re waiting to buy a lottery ticket or get a haircut. And yet in this case it’s something much less interesting… perhaps it’s “how do I create a column within a SharePoint document library” or “how do I upload multiple files”? To most seasoned IT Pros that have been using the SharePoint platform for a while, these seem to be easy areas to dive into. For those that are business users or end users that are just trying to store documents somewhere, it’s maybe not that easy.  Each and everyone of these instances could be done in just 10 minutes… 

If you’ve been implementing the SharePoint on-premises platform for a while, you find yourself somewhat perplexed that users aren’t able to perform simple tasks – though in many cases they weren’t that simple. Consider uploading a document into a document library – most users are used to the experience of something like File Explorer or Windows Explorer where they merely drag and drop a file from one folder to another (aren’t GUI’s grand?). In the case of SharePoint through 2010, dragging and dropping files onto the canvas of the browser, typically just meant that you were opening up the file by dropping it into the browser and having it fire a MIME type when it detected a particular file type.

With SharePoint 2013, things began to change as the UI became more intelligent. With SharePoint Online, dragging and dropping onto the canvas of the page effectively meant that you were interacting with a library – easier yet the ability to select multiple files within the library and drag and drop them to a new location.

The user experience is becoming a bit more refined and modern as some might say, helping the end user to be more productive without necessarily requiring them to reach out and interrupt their favorite IT Pro (caveat, IT Pros still like donuts, so please feel free to stop by and bring one by to us and not forget who we are).

As an IT Pro, we hope that the queue of individuals with 10 minute questions continues to decrease, however what we find is that the number of individuals still seems to be there, waiting with their trouble tickets in hand waiting for assistance.  This isn’t due to the platform though, but rather the individuals still not knowing how to interact with the platform. Call it an issue of change fatigue on the behalf of the users but also the lack of time or training to become acclimated with the tools that they have at their disposal. In days past, an organization could pick up a copy of MindSharp’s training modules which provided the ability to embed videos and how to’s within a SharePoint site or portal to make use of out of the box capabilities. Or alternatively if you were looking for something more modern that gave expert examples of advanced topics you might look at VisualSP or perhaps Content Panda.

For the basics though, the areas that end users still struggle with before they can even step into the MindSharp / VisualSP / Content Panda arena, there’s a gap that needs to be leapt over. How do we get there you ask? Why not just the out of the box information that Microsoft has started providing yonder at office.com in their Quick Starts for Business and Education

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.04.49.png

These resources provide not only the basics of the Office clients for the end users desktop but capabilities like OneDrive for Business, Microsoft Teams, Delve, Groups and SharePoint to help users get up and running quickly. Additionally, for organizations that are big on having slick sheets for each of their applications for end users to have available, printed off next to their computing workstation, there are downloadable guides in PDF and Sway format for core applications.

Screenshot 2017-03-05 10.06.50.png

All in all, the basics for helping to get moving forward with getting team members up and running with Office and Office 365 capabilities.

Azure AD Connect – SSO

On a pretty regular basis I find myself discussing the merits of using AD FS with Office 365 when a customer or client has special requirements pertaining to their environment. Not only does it allow for instant user control ensuring a user authenticates against their local domain, but it also provides for capabilities pertaining to “complex” user scenarios.

One thing that AD FS does for user login’s is the idea of a “Simple Sign On” where the user’s identity is passed on their behalf in the background, similar to how a Kerberos ticket might be passed but in the terms of an authentication flow that ends up with the user having a resource token to pass to Office 365.

One of the downsides of AD FS is the requirement to have redundancy, proxies and oh right, still having Azure AD Connect running for identity synchronization from the on-premises environment to Office 365.

Enter the Pass-Through preview capability within Azure AD Connect.

Back in mid-December 2016, Microsoft introduced Azure AD Connect custom settings to allow for “Simple Sign On” through just using the Azure AD Connect preview functionality.

For more on this topic, I highly recommend reading the SSO / Pass-Through article Microsoft posted here:

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/active-directory/connect/active-directory-aadconnect-sso