Monday, October 29, 2012

Office 365 Service Update for October

Three significant Office 365 updates were announced in Microsoft's latest revision notice released on Wednesday of last week.  If you don't receive the update, one of the items is pretty exciting... something that people have been asking for for a very long time...

Update #1: Password Policies!
You can now set your password expiration policy for Office 365 through the web admin portal!

As you can see in the screenshot above,  a new option has appeared on the Office 365 Users management page.  When you click the link a new window pops up:

Update #2: Third Party Single Sign On
Another important but slightly less exciting feature was released this cycle as well: interoperability with third-party identity providers for single sign-on.  Yes, that's right, there's an alternative to Active Directory Federation Services!

For larger enterprises ADFS 2.0 is still far and away the best solution.  It gives you identity federation using your own Active Directory and will work with many services, internal, external, custom and box solutions.  This is possible due to Microsoft's WS-Federation and WS-Trust protocols and the recent SAML & Shibboleth authentication support.

Microsoft announced two initial solutions and tested federation with them successfully:
I've been tracking a couple other identity management solutions that promise SSO functionality for Office 365 as well:
I have not tried any of these solutions as of yet but may evaluate each and come up with a comparison - time permitting.  Most of these hosted identity management providers use a web page for initial login to their account and then their account is federated with the services of your choice.  In addition, some of the providers will synchronize your Active Directory objects (using a locally installed agent generally) to their service.  Some will even let you use your Active Directory password to log in to their service.

What I haven't verified is whether any of the solutions have a locally installed program that provides single-sign on across multiple applications (or just with your network login).  When I have more information I will report back.

By the way... none of these is supported by Microsoft really... they're just officially allowing the integration.  You'll need to work with the provider for any assistance.

Update #3: Directory Synchronization Scoping & Filtering
You could do this before... it was unsupported though.  Maybe that has changed?  They announced this like it was a new feature, but the link provided in the announcement didn't work for me.

To make these changes now requires a dive in to the DirSync back-end, Federated Identify Management (FIM).

I'm hoping this update means that the actual DirSync tool is getting an update or that Office 365 will have a configuration option in the web interface to scope and filter objects.  If this is just Microsoft acknowledging that we can use the FIM tools I'm going to be disappointed.

I'll post an update when I learn more.
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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Google Thinks its Time to Ditch Microsoft Office, Customers Say They're Wrong

Image representing Google Apps as depicted in ...
Image via CrunchBase
In September, Google announced that Google Apps would cease exporting to the older Microsoft Office document formats: .doc, .xls and .ppt.  The change was to take effect October 1st.  Google Apps would still be able to export to the newer open .docx, xlsx and .pptx file formats, but only Microsoft Office 2003 and newer can open those files without conversion.

On Wednesday of this week after many complaints from its users, Google backpedaled and delayed the deadline to January 31 of 2013.  It shouldn't be a surprise that Google wants to discontinue supporting these older Office formats, Microsoft has been trying to retire older versions of Office for years and will probably accelerate that process even more as Office 2013 nears release.  I'm sure Google would love to have customers remain in and share from Google Apps and stop supporting Microsoft Office exports altogether.

Why you should be concerned...
  1. The Google announcement was made with only 4 business days (announcement on 9/26 of the feature change on 10/1) to prepare, and thousands of users and businesses that depend on Google Apps to interact with customers on older versions of Microsoft Office would have been left in the lurch, with no way to collaborate and exchange files.
  2. Google provided no transition period and offered little in the way of guidance on alternatives.  They did recommend Microsoft's conversion utility, the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack, that enables newer versions of Microsoft Office to read and save to the older file formats.  While this utility could be used to enable conversion for those left in the lurch by Google's change it would require installation of the tool on many computers.

Microsoft gives notice month's ahead of time when it makes changes to applications and then as a matter of routine offers an extended and unsupported time period before a product, format or feature is officially "retired."  As a matter of fact, Microsoft just released Office 2013 compatibility content for the Office Resource Kit... including a nice easy poster (see below) that talks about how to retain compatibility with older Office versions even as Microsoft releases Office 2013.

This is yet another demonstration for why organizations should take a long hard look before depending on Google, a service that was developed by a search company organized to create advertising revenue, to keep and protect their business data and reliably provide critical cloud infrastructure services.

What other Microsoft products could you be using that Google plans to stop supporting?  Internet Explorer 8!

The alternative cloud service from Microsoft, Office 365, continues to gain traction in large and small organizations around the world, announcing new enterprise customers almost daily.  Office 365 provides many more options for customers with packages ranging from some that include features similar to Google Apps all the way up to a suite that comes with a full desktop version of Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010.

With Microsoft releasing new versions of both Office 365 and Microsoft Office (2013) in the next few months, the gap between the features that Google includes in its Apps product and what Microsoft provides should widen even more.  For organizations that demand the state of the art in productivity software there is still only one viable choice in the market, Microsoft.

Similarly to Google Apps, Microsoft's Office 365 is a pay-as-you-go subscription billed monthly and by the number of users.  For a flat monthly fee, users gain access to features including e-mail, a company intranet and instant messaging features among others.  All of the applications are designed specifically for business, not for home users like Google Apps was (see Gmail).  With a history that began with writing software for customers, not selling advertising, Microsoft has a credibility that Google can only wish for.

To try Office 365 visit Microsoft at  To preview the latest upcoming changes with both Office 365 and Office 2013 you can sign up for the preview trial at
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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Microsoft Surface and Office 365

As we move through October and toward the end of the year we hear more and more about Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.  Microsoft has recently made a bunch of announcements surrounding the Surface tablet, so here I am... jumping on the bandwagon.

We learned that the Surface will have an RT version that will compete with the iPad and Android tablets and that there will be a Pro version that will provide the full Windows experience and more of the business features. 

There will be 32 and 64 GB versions and you can get the devices with and without those cool keyboards.  We've also been told more recently that the full version of Microsoft Office 2013 that is included on the RT Surface is not licensed for use by businesses.

This means that if you want to use your Surface RT at work you'll need an Office 2013 Pro license at work.  You shouldn't need to reinstall software (don't quote me on that), but to be compliant you'll need to be covered with an Office 2013 business license.  If you're in the Microsoft Volume license program and have a work computer with Office 2013 you may have a multiple device license already... in which case you should be covered.  Talk to your Microsoft reseller or Partner for more about that.

Another tidbit... Microsoft is opening a number of new temporary stores for the holidays this year... which should make it even easier to get your new copy of Windows 8 or to score a Surface tablet!  Check out the Microsoft Store locations, including the holiday stores here.

Here's where Office 365 comes in... if you have one of the new Office 365 subscriptions being released early next year you'll also be covered for Office 2013... since it is included with your subscription.
So, there's yet another good reason to look at Office 365.  And, I just learned today that if your company has an Enterprise Agreement with Microsoft for licensing and you add Office 365 to your EA that you may be able to get a MAJOR discount on the per-seat cost of migrating to Office 365.  Talk to your Microsoft Partner for more information about the various incentives that are available to you.

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