Last week Microsoft rolled out the much anticipated “Service Upgrade” for Office 365 and Office 365 for education. Despite its rather pedestrian name, the “Service Upgrade” significantly enhances the Office 365 user experience and marks the transition to the 2013 versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync Online. This is especially true for SharePoint which now emphasizes a personalized, user centric experience providing ready access to the topics, documents and sites that are most important and relevant to the user. The overall effect is that SharePoint has transformed from merely a collection of team sites to a seamless and organic extension to the personalized email, calendaring and messaging experience provided by Exchange and Lync. This shift promises to make rich document management, collaboration, and social networking capabilities of SharePoint Online more accessible, valuable and familiar for students, faculty and staff.
In the pre-upgrade SharePoint Online environment, users were provided their own small corner they could call “home.” These My Sites allowed students and teachers to store and share personal documents, maintain their personal profile, post to a community newsfeed and even maintain a personal blog if they were so inclined. However, as powerful as My Sites are they lived in a separate site collection with no obvious links in the primary SharePoint interface so were difficult to find and use. As a result use of personal storage and participation in the social aspects of SharePoint were limited.
The Service Upgrade changes all this by making the My Site features not only more prominent but the entry point for the rest of SharePoint. When a user logs into Office 365 they no longer see a single link to Team Sites but are instead greeted with six primary tabs. The first three, Outlook, Calendar and People provide access to the Exchange based features while the last three, Newsfeed, SkyDrive and Sites present users with the SharePoint functions that were previously contained in My Sites. Combined these new links make it much easier for users to take full advantage of all SharePoint has to offer.
The Newsfeed will be a familiar and comfortable experience for anyone who has used Facebook, Twitter or similar services. That is to say, it should be a comfortable and familiar experience for everyone especially students and teachers. The Newsfeed combines the community message board / microblog with updates on the various topics, people, sites and documents that the user has decided to follow. Users can share their experiences in short posts complete with Twitter style markup such as hash tags for indicating keywords and mentioning other users with a leading @ symbol. When an important document, site or list is updated, this will also show up in the user’s feed. SharePoint will even suggest that a user follow specific topics or documents based on interests highlighted in the profile.
A primary purpose of My Sites is to provide users a centralized place to store, access and share personal documents. The upgraded Office 365 experience introduces the concept of SkyDrive Pro which provides 7 gigabytes of personal storage to every user.
Live@edu and Hotmail users may already be familiar with the consumer SkyDrive which provides similar functionality as part of Microsoft Live services. SkyDrive Pro however is integrated with the SharePoint experience and affords organization IT staff better management capabilities. Microsoft also provides a desktop synchronization client aptly named “SkyDrive Pro 2013” which makes working with SharePoint stored documents as simple as working with local files. SkyDrive Pro is especially useful in education where shared computing in computer labs and libraries is common place. Students can easily drag and drop files to their SkyDrive Pro rather than saving locally and access them from any internet connected device even mobile phones and tablets.
Microsoft also provides a desktop synchronization client aptly named “SkyDrive Pro 2013” which makes working with SharePoint stored documents as simple as working with local files. SkyDrive Pro is especially useful in education where shared computing in computer labs and libraries is common place. Students can easily drag and drop files to their SkyDrive Pro rather than saving locally and access them from any internet connected device even mobile phones and tablets.
Much like the “Team Sites” link available prior to the Service Upgrade, Sites provides access to the collaborative workspaces that most users think of when they hear SharePoint. However, the old link simply dropped the user off at the top level site for their organization or school leaving it up to the user to find the site they want. The new “Sites” tab provides a personalized experience and displays an intelligent list of sites the user belongs to or has opted to follow. If a student needs to access the site for their math class, the site is immediately available in the list saving precious time that would be wasted navigating through the hierarchy of other sites.
This personalization of the SharePoint Online experience is just one of the many improvements in the new Office 365 Service Upgrade. New Office 365 subscribers who are setting up a tenant after the time of this posting will be provided the upgraded experience immediately. Existing Office 365 schools including those transitioning from Live@edu may have to wait as Microsoft rolls out the update to existing tenants but should be upgraded over the next few months and definitely before the end of the calendar year. We believe that users will find the wait well worth it once they start using the new upgraded service.
B2B Technologies has helped more than 60 schools adopt Microsoft Office 365 and Live@edu and would love to speak with you about your institution’s plans. Our team can assist with all aspects of the transition to the cloud from email migration to identity management to custom deployments of SharePoint sites, design and branding. Please contact David Norris,
firstname.lastname@example.org, to set up a conversation with our team.