Microsoft Updates Office 365, Enhances SkyDrive

Over 30 updates to Office 365; SkyDrive gets "app-centric"

Microsoft has announced major updates to Office 365 and SkyDrive, two of the company's services in the cloud.

Microsoft launched Office 365 -- a cloud-based productivity suite with hosted versions of Office, Lync, Exchange, and SharePoint -- in June of this year and has been updated with minor fixes twice since then.  The update announced today is Office 365's "first major service update," Microsoft noted in its press release.

In a prepared statement, Kurt DelBene, president of Microsoft's Office Division, pointed to the rapid growth of the product, claiming an adoption rate eight times faster than that of Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS).

"[T]he solution is on track to become one of our fastest-growing offers in Microsoft history," DelBene explained. "We are also seeing great traction with small businesses, with more than 90 percent of our early Office 365 customers coming from small businesses."

In all, Office 365 will get more than 30 new updates, one of which, promised in October's SharePoint Conference, is support for Business Connectivity Services (BCS) in SharePoint Online. BCS lets users access line-of-business applications and other external data sources within SharePoint. In an interview during the SharePoint Conference, Microsoft's Jared Spataro, a senior director of SharePoint product management, said that "The easiest way to think of it is that it is a mapping between an interface -- a 'list' is what it is, actually, in SharePoint -- and data that lives someplace else, and it allows you to have a read-write connection between the lists in SharePoint and the data that sits in the back."

Other new features in Office 365 include support for Windows Phone 7.5 in SharePoint Online, support for Lync for Mac and the Mac OS X Lion operatingsystem, and the ability for administrators to reset their passwords by e-mail or SMS text message.  

A list of all of the new Office 365 updates is available here.

In addition, Microsoft announced that it has expanded the availability of Office 365 trial versions to 22 more countries, including Taiwan, South Africa, Argentina, and Indonesia (the complete list is available in this Office 365 Community blog post). Also, full commerce versions are now available in South Korea, Russia and Brazil.

For SkyDrive, Sharing Gets "App-Centric"

Microsoft also unveiled an overhaul of SkyDrive, its consumer-oriented cloud storage and file-sharing service.

According to this Inside Windows Live blog post by SkyDrive Group Program Manager Omar Shahine, the changes are meant to address issues raised by users. "While not all of the feedback we've received is addressed, we feel that this release is a big step forward -- especially for the growing number of customers using SkyDrive to share and access Office documents," he explained.

The update features simpler and more "app-centric" sharing. For example, Shahine said that users working on a document in Word Web App can now share that file without having to exit the app. "This is possible since SkyDrive now lets you share or [assign] permission individual files within a folder," he said. Previously, users had to exit the app before sharing a file in order to set permissions or to move the file to a different folder with the appropriate permissions.

Sharing files to social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as with people without a Hotmail or Windows Live account, is also easier.

In addition, the update streamlines several actions that users had complained were "cumbersome." Users can now perform more functions inline, including creating and renaming folders. Right-clicking on documents and photos immediately shows what actions users can take, and moving or deleting multiple files and folders is faster. Sign-on to the service may now be up to 50 percent faster.

Other features include drag-and-drop uploading for HTML 5-enabled browsers, improved photo slideshows, and support for .PDF and .RAW file formats.

About the Author

Gladys Rama (@GladysRama3) is the editorial director of Converge360.

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