Apps for Outlook.com: Build Extensions for 400 Million Users

mail-apps-for-outlook

Microsoft has announced several developer opportunities to extend Office 365, specifically around Outlook encompassing mail, contacts and calendar. All those initiatives focus around the business side of Microsoft’s email, contacts and calendaring, until now.

On October 30, Microsoft announced a similar initiative to have developers build apps to extend the consumer side of their email, contacts and calendaring called Apps for Outlook.com. This initiative will let developers build extensions that target a potential user base of 400 million.

In a sign of Microsoft “merging” the back-end technologies across business and consumer product lines, they also said that even though this functionality will be available only in Spring 2015, developers can start now by building apps against Outlook Web App. In other words, apps built for Outlook Web App today will work seamlessly with Outlook.com too. This is good news for developers, obviously, because now developers building productivity apps don’t have to worry about enterprise vs consumer our Outlook vs Hotmail/Outlook.com.

The APIs for Office 365 are already available, and these apps will use HTML and JavaScript so as consumers, the Apps for Outlook.com will work in any modern browser without the need for plugins. Some documentation for building such apps can be obtained at this MSDN site.

Per Microsoft:

Whenever a customer reads or composes an email or calendar event, your app could be there, helping them get the job done. If you have a great idea for how our customers should interact with their email or calendar, now is the time to make it happen. Not only are these apps simple to build–they use open web technologies such as HTML and Javascript–but you can start building them today.  To learn how to get started, check out Mail apps for Outlook on MSDN and the Office Dev Center.

It should be noted, Google has already built APIs to enable developers build apps against Google Apps which include GMail, Google Contacts and Google Calendar. These APIs also allow access to several other entities in Google Apps.

An example of an Outlook map running Bing Maps contextually:

Skype Translator Early Preview Now Open for Applicants

Skype Translator, the almost magical real-time translation technology built into Skype that was demonstrated by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Skype Corporate Vice President Gurdeep Singh Pall in May, is finally available. More details about Skype Translator are available here.

In what the Skype Blog calls an “early preview”, this technology will let users of Windows 8.1 computers and tablets (initially) in a limited number of languages (obviously). Since it is an early preview, the program is not completely open for everyone to sign up. Register here to sign up for the preview if you have a PC or a tablet running Windows 8.1.

Here’s how Skype describes the product:

Speak another language without learning another language. Simply set up a Skype video or voice call with someone who speaks another language to you and start talking.

* Your conversation is translated into their language in real time.

* And what they say is translated back in your language.

* An on-screen transcript of your call is displayed.

* Instant message chats in 45 languages can be translated.

 

So, as simple as a normal Skype call. No special software or plugins needed. Of course, if the language you care about is not available today, you can make a note in the registration so that they can prioritize the next languages per the interest expressed during the registration process.

Also, Skype Translator is free right now, but we don’t know the pricing once this product becomes final.

Here’s a demo of the Skype Translator from Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference:

Office 365 Customers Can Start Using the New Outlook for Mac

outlook-for-mac

If you are an Office 365 customer, there are a lot of benefits you already can avail of, like unlimited storage, always up-to-date desktop software, centralized management of licenses, etc. Now, per the blog post on Office Blogs on October 31, if you are using Mac OS, you can get the new Outlook app for Mac.

It is a surprising release because everyone expected Outlook to be part of the Office suite, and the rumored dates for the new Office for Mac were pointing towards a beta in November with a release in the first half of 2015. It is also a surprise that Outlook was released by itself, perhaps because it was probably the one app with the most complaints about, in Office for Mac 2011.

As for the rest of the suite, Microsoft said that the public preview of Excel for Mac, Word for Mac, PowerPoint for Mac, and curiously, OneNote for Mac will be made available as a public preview in the first half of 2015 and a final release in the second half of 2015. What’s curious about OneNote is that there is already an app in the Mac App Store called OneNote so I am not sure how they are going to distinguish between that app and the potentially “full” OneNote for Mac. This mirrors what Microsoft has on the Windows side, with a “desktop” OneNote and a Universal OneNote app which is available in the Windows Store.

To get the new Outlook:

  • Office 365 Commercial customers can get the new Outlook for Mac by accessing their Office 365 Portal, (Gear icon > Office 365 Settings > Software > Outlook for Mac icon) or visiting the Software page.
  • Office 365 consumer subscribers can get the new Outlook for Mac by going to their My Account page.

Finally we see the benefits of being an Office 365 customer, specifically regarding access to the latest software. Until now, Office 365 has not delivered any desktop software updates which perpetual license holders have not got. Now, a perpetual licensee of Office for Mac will be one version behind, at least for a year.

Microsoft Band Is Almost Here

It sure looks like Microsoft is very close to announcing and releasing their fitness band, simply called Microsoft Band. Their smartphone and Mac apps are available in respective stores ahead of a formal announcement.

Based on the details listed in the app description, an updated health privacy policy and screenshots, it does look like the band will work with all platforms and will be, as is normal with Microsoft these days, powered by a cloud service called Microsoft Health.

The band will apparently track heart rate, steps, calories burned and sleep. The band will also work with your smartphone and show notifications, and in the case of Windows Phone, integrate with Cortana. Among the type of notifications that the Band will be able to show are email messages, calendar reminders, phone calls received, text messages social updates like those from Twitter and Facebook, weather and finance. The band will use the smartphone’s location services to determine your location, in order to show the weather, for example.

Notifications and other settings will be configured via the Microsoft Health app which is now available on all platforms.

It is unclear if the following tweet from Microsoft Store has any connection to the Microsoft Band, but it is quite a coincidence, if not:


I don’t know about you, but I am more excited about the cloud-powered service Microsoft Health, than the band itself. As a cross-platform consumer, I would love to have something that works across all my devices, and it looks like Microsoft may have the answer.

Some screenshots from the various apps follow below:

Mac App Store

Microsoft Band - Mac App
Microsoft Band – Mac App
Microsoft Band - Mac App
Microsoft Band – Mac App
Microsoft Band - Mac App
Microsoft Band – Mac App

Android Google Play

Microsoft Band - Android App
Microsoft Band – Android App
Microsoft Band - Android App
Microsoft Band – Android App
Microsoft Band - Android App
Microsoft Band – Android App
Microsoft Band - Android App
Microsoft Band – Android App
Microsoft Band - Android App
Microsoft Band – Android App

Windows Phone Store

Microsoft Band - Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band – Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band - Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band – Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band - Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band – Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band - Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band – Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band - Winows Phone App
Microsoft Band – Winows Phone App

OneDrive Storage Goes Unlimited For Office 365 Subscribers

Remember when OneDrive bumped up their free storage tier and made the storage included with Office 365 1TB from the 25GB that it used to be? Well, that was only a few months ago. Now, as they announced on the OneDrive blog on October 27, Microsoft is making the OneDrive storage unlimited for Office 365 Home, Personal and University subscribers.

The upgrade to unlimited storage rolls out today and there is a priority list for those who would like to see it early. I was one of those, and I got an email later in the day that while the upgrade to unlimited is in progress, the storage in my Office 365 Home account is bumped to 10TB, ten times the current allocation of 1TB.

So now, a customer can potentially get the full desktop Office suite for a PC/Mac, unlock editing features for tablet (iPad), get 60 minutes of Skype world calling to over 60 countries, use Office Online and Office Mobile on smartphones and unlimited storage for only $6.99 per month.

The above deal becomes even sweeter when there is a need for more than one user to be on the subscription. In such a case, a customer can get Office 365 Home which provides the same features for 5 users for $8.33 per month.

This is another move in the trend for cloud storage to become virtually free, tied closely to other services that companies like Microsoft, Google and to some extent, Apple provide. Here’s what Microsoft’s blog post said:

While unlimited storage is another important milestone for OneDrive we believe the true value of cloud storage is only realized when it is tightly integrated with the tools people use to communicate, create, and collaborate, both personally and professionally. That is why unlimited storage is just one small part of our broader promise to deliver a single experience across work and life that helps people store, sync, share, and collaborate on all the files that are important to them, all while meeting the security and compliance needs of even the most stringent organizations.

While Microsoft and Google have been really aggressive with their pricing, Apple has been a little reserved in how aggressive they get with the storage pricing. However, the biggest impact of such pricing moves are the likes of Box and Dropbox. For these companies, storage is a key factor but for platform makers like Microsoft, Google and Apple, adding storage inexpensively is not a big deal. How will Box and Dropbox combat this move? Your guess is as good as mine.

Microsoft Sets Conference Calendar for 2015: New Enterprise Event Named Microsoft Ignite

In July of this year, Microsoft announced that they were combining several of their tech conferences like Microsoft Management Summit and TechEd into one event and making it more broad-focused that each of the combined ones were by themselves. At the time though, they had not named the conference, just simply made a note that it was happening, and that it would be May 4 to May 8 in 2015 in Chicago.

On October 16, Microsoft not only announced the event name, but also made available some of the other events coming in 2015 for those interested in Microsoft’s tools and technologies. The new event will be called Microsoft Ignite, and as communicated earlier, it will be in Chicago from May 4 to May 8. This event will feature the cream of Microsoft officials headlined by the CEO Satya Nadella. Others scheduled to be at Ignite include Brad Anderson, Joe Belfiore, Dave Campbell, Peggy Johnson, Chris Jones, Julie Larson Green, Gurdeep Singh Pall and many others. Clearly, this event is going to be a big deal.

The other events announced:

  • Convergence 2015 in Atlanta, March 16-19
  • //Build in San Francisco, April 29-May 1
  • Worldwide Partner Conference in Orlando, July 12-16

Back to the new conference, Ignite. Here’s what Microsoft says about it:

If you are on the hook to help your company make the right tech moves in the new world of mobile and cloud, Ignite is the show for you. For the first time ever, we’re putting under one roof the education, vision and guidance for the full spectrum of our enterprise solutions. Our best and brightest minds, along with thousands of your peers, will be there to help you chart the course for your team, your company and your career.

They claim this will be for everyone from senior tech strategist to a hard-core IT admin. They further say:

Ignite is where you’ll come up with your next great idea, based on what you learn about the upcoming wave of products and services. We’re going to cover it all, across cloud infrastructure and management, big data and analytics, productivity, unified communications, operating systems, mobile devices and more.

So Ignite seems like a conference about the “productivity” part of Satya Nadella’s “productivity and platforms company” label and //Build will be the “platforms” part of the same.

Registration is already open for Ignite at http://ignite.microsoft.com

Windows 10 Technical Preview: 1 Million Users, 200,000 Pieces of Feedback

On October 13, Joe Belfiore announced on Windows Blogs that since the October 1 availability of Windows 10’s Technical Preview for Enterprises, it has been downloaded by 1 million users.

Given that there are almost 1.5 billion Windows users, it may seem like a very small percentage of the user base. However, this is a very early preview of the software and it required users to go sign up for it and download it. More importantly, per Microsoft, these 1 million users have provided 200,000 pieces of feedback. Here’s Belfiore:

Over 200,000 pieces of user-initiated feedback have been submitted to us via the Windows Feedback app from Windows Insiders like you. (BTW, we have a TLA—“three letter acronym”–for these: “UIFs”.) Matt Goldstein is a Windows Insider and actually developed a script that looks at the top feedback that has been sent in so far – see this article from Paul Thurrott for the rundown. This showcases how helpful it is for you to click the “me too” button when you see someone else’s feedback that you agree with or are experiencing yourself.

In the article referenced below, Thurrott summarized that many of the top requested features are very minor in nature, which shows that despite the label, this operating system is highly usable and mostly reliable. Another data point from Belfiore:

Wondering whether people are running this on actual PCs or just “trying it out” for a few minutes in a VM (Virtual Machine)? Well, only 36% of installations of the Windows 10 Technical Preview are in VMs. The remaining 64% are all on actual PCs. This makes us confident that a lot of the feedback is based on “medium-term” use and not just a few minutes of experimentation. (If you’re running the Windows 10 Technical Preview in a VM that’s cool too.)

Microsoft has always been big on software telemetry which provides them inputs of actual usage which helps them tweak and update their next version of the software to make it better for users. This preview is even more proactive in collecting feedback. There are times when the system prompts the users to provide quick updates on how they completed a recent task. For example, it could be something like “Would you like to provide input about how you discovered the print function?” and if one agrees to provide that input, it opens up the Windows Feedback app which gives users a quick way to provide feedback directly to the Windows teams.

Here’s how you can provide feedback:

Signed up as a Windows Insider? Tell us your Windows 10 likes, dislikes and bugs using the Windows Feedback app built into the Tech Preview software. This is the best way to get us your opinion on Windows 10 Tech Preview builds.

You can ask questions and talk with us and other Windows Insiders through the Windows Technical Preview Program forum. We have people reading the forum all the time and we’re forwarding questions, conclusions, discussions, stats around the team.

If you’re not a Windows Insider, you can still tell us what you’d like to see in Windows. We now have a Windows Suggestion Box on UserVoice which is open to anyone who wants to send us ideas and suggestions for Windows. For example – if you think it would be awesome if Windows natively supported some file format it doesn’t support today, submit it through the Windows Suggestion Box!

Belfiore also hinted that an update is expected soon for the Windows 10 Technical Preview.

Finally, Belfiore introduced Gabriel Aul (Gabe) who is running the Data & Fundamentals team. This is the team which analyzes and synthesizes the feedback they receive from the various sources and then route them to the various teams inside Windows, so that features get added, functionality gets addressed and it all happens quickly so that by the time Windows 10 ships, it will have all major issues addressed. Aul is on twitter at @GabeAul.

I had noted earlier on twitter, that while it is great for Microsoft to collect feedback this way, I wonder how closely will this enthusiast group match the broad spectrum of Windows users. In other words, is it a good idea to shape the Windows features based on early adopter/enthusiast’s inputs?

 

 


Have you downloaded Windows 10 Technical Preview? Are you liking it?

Attach and Share Files in Outlook Directly From OneDrive (Business and Consumer)

In two separate posts on the Office Blogs on October 8, Microsoft announced ways to easily share files in Outlook Web App and Outlook.com directly from OneDrive for Business and OneDrive respectively.

Advantages of sharing links vs attaching files

The advantages of attaching links as opposed to actually sending the files are:

  • Large files don’t have to move in email necessarily, thereby reducing the chances of emails bouncing off email servers which don’t accept attachments above a certain size.
  • If this is a file which can be edited online (for example, Office apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint which can be co-edited in Office Online), it does not have multiple versions floating across multiple people’s emails.
  • Permissions can be revoked at any time by the person sharing the file. This way, if a project is done and one does not want the rest of the team to have access to that file anymore, they can go to OneDrive for Business or OneDrive and remove that person’s email address from the list.

How it works: Outlook Web App

The way it works on Outlook Web App is as follows: start an email as always, and under the file attachment area, use the “attachments or OneDrive files” option. After a file is selected from OneDrive for Business, it creates a link to the file in the email as well as applies the appropriate permissions to everyone in the To and CC list. By default, everyone on To and CC get permissions to edit the file, but each file’s access can be edited after attaching, so certain people can be limited to read-only vs edit.

Insert attachments from OneDrive
Insert attachments from OneDrive

 

Insert files from OneDrive for Business
Insert files from OneDrive for Business

 

Attachment from OneDrive or local PC choice
Attachment from OneDrive or local PC choice

 

If one chooses a file on the local PC instead of from OneDrive for Business, the file is first uploaded to OneDrive for Business and then a link is generated to the file as above.

 

Outlook Web App attachment from OneDrive
Outlook Web App attachment from OneDrive
Outlook Web App attachment permission edit
Outlook Web App attachment permission edit
OneDrive attachment manage permissions
OneDrive attachment manage permissions

 

In addition, this functionality is also available on the OWA apps on iPhone, iPad and Android.

 

Outlook Web App for iPad
Outlook Web App for iPad
Outlook Web App for iPhone
Outlook Web App for iPhone

 

Co-authoring

Another feature to note here is that when someone gets an attachment in this way, and they open the file, it opens the file in co-author mode. This way, multiple people can edit the documents at the same time, keeping a single version of the file.

 

Outlook Web App attachment editing
Outlook Web App attachment editing
Outlook Web App co-authoring
Outlook Web App co-authoring
Outlook Web App Side-by-Side view
Outlook Web App Side-by-Side view

 

How it works: Outlook.com

Much like how it works with Outlook Web App, when you insert an attachment from OneDrive in the Outlook.com web app, it will send the file as a link. In both Outlook Web App and Outlook.com, the recipients will see the attachments almost the same as how they see normal attachments. The recipients will see a cloud icon on the icon of the attachment, and text which says that the file is on OneDrive.

 

OneDrive attached file in other email clients
OneDrive attached file in other email clients
OneDrive attached file in Outlook Web App
OneDrive attached file in Outlook Web App


This is a neat idea and I do hope we move away from email attachment overload, it’s just that we are so used to physical attachments, it is going to be a hard change to see through. However, with more and more cloud storage being offered by the key players in the platforms space (Google, Apple and Microsoft), I do see a future where many of us will make cloud storage our primary document repository. If that happens, I am hoping the email attachment culture will reduce and we move to link-sharing.

How do you send large attachments? Let us know in the comments below!

OneDrive iOS App Update: PIN, TouchID, Sorting, iPhone 6 Support

The OneDrive app for iOS is updated and available in the iTunes App Store as of October 8. Given the iterative nature of app updates at Microsoft, this update brings a bunch of unrelated updates to the app, described below.

PIN and TouchID

Given that as customers start trusting the cloud storage service more, and start putting more stuff there, there is bound to be cases where they store information that they wouldn’t want others to see mistakenly. In order to protect the contents of OneDrive, the app now supports adding a PIN so that even if someone is able to steal the phone and get access to the phone itself, they would need another level of security to access the app’s contents.

In addition, on those devices that support TouchID, the OneDrive app now allows the PIN to be entered via TouchID. The TouchID access to third party apps is a feature introduced in iOS 8, so in addition to the device being able to support TouchID, it will also need to be updated to iOS 8 in order to get access to this feature.

OneDrive iOS App: TouchID
OneDrive iOS App: TouchID

 

Sorting

Now it is possible to sort the contents in OneDrive app in a variety of ways. This helps in getting to the latest or the oldest files quickly.

OneDrive iOS App: Sorting
OneDrive iOS App: Sorting

 

Large Screen Support

Also, the app now supports larger screens on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which means one can see more files and folders on the larger screens.

I am personally happy to see the PIN support because I have now uploaded all my documents, music and many videos to OneDrive, given that I have 1TB of cloud storage (via Office 365 Home subscription). I immediately set up a PIN and enabled TouchID and it is working well.

What would you like to see added to the app next? (You know that they have a uservoice site for making your voice heard, right?

Microsoft and Adobe: Productivity and Platforms Companies Partner Closely

At Adobe’s Adobe MAX conference in Los Angeles on October 6, officials announced a host of updates across their entire product line, and several new creative-focused apps and SDK.

One of the several themes in the conference was Adobe working hard to make their products work across all devices. In making this point, they demonstrated several products using iPhone, iPad and Surface Pro 3. The demo on Surface Pro 3 showed the full Illustrator application, not a scaled down touch app, working very well with touch and stylus while keeping the mouse functionality intact.

In a surprise, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella joined in the keynote, and in his company, Adobe demonstrated how well their applications worked with touch, vision and speech on a Surface Pro 3. The final demo was on a Perceptive Pixel display where they were able to show how multiple people can physically collaborate and work on a digital product together. This includes multi-hand, multi-touch manipulation of information on the large display.

Nadella’s presence was to drive home the point that Adobe is committed to making their software work on a variety of devices, enabling the creative professionals to be unshackled from the physical hardware they are working on, including 2-in-1 devices like Surface as well as large displays like the Perceptive Pixels. Narayen also made the point that Adobe wants to make sure their software works well by partnering with hardware and software makers and especially working very closely with companies like Microsoft.

Satya Nadells and Shantanu Narayen at Adobe MAX
Satya Nadells and Shantanu Narayen at Adobe MAX

From Microsoft’s perspective, Nadella focused on his four key mantras: mobile-first and cloud-first mentality in building software, along with the core philosophy at Microsoft which is to be the platform maker upon which others build as well as being at the forefront of productivity. For the audience at Adobe MAX, Nadella talked about how creative professionals can build upon the platform created by Adobe with enhanced productivity that a device like Surface Pro 3 provides in the form of native support of touch screen and stylus.

Adobe Illustrator on Surface Pro 3
Adobe Illustrator on Surface Pro 3
Adobe Photoshop on Surface Pro 3
Adobe Photoshop on Surface Pro 3

 

The collaboration between Microsoft and Adobe is very interesting because for the longest time, it seemed like Adobe would be a good acquisition target for Microsoft which builds platforms for developers and IT pros but lack a suite for the creative folks. However, it does seem like the two companies are ok working very closely with each other (building Adobe Flash into Metro Internet Explorer was another unrelated collaboration) rather than be part of one company. Perhaps Microsoft realized that Adobe is the leader across a variety of software catered to creative professionals and it is best to court them and work closely with them.

Finally, in an Oprah moment, Nadella announced that all the attendees at Adobe MAX would be receiving a Surface Pro 3 along with Office 365 which includes 1TB of cloud storage. Surprisingly, this announcement received a standing ovation!