“Application Guard” for Office Desktop Apps enters public preview

Image of Office Application Splash Screen

Microsoft has released a new security feature for Microsoft 365 into Public Preview. This new feature, known as “application guard“, has been designed to help prevent risky, malicious, or untrusted files from accessing your trusted resources.

This feature is turned off by default, and it’s currently only available to organisations that have Microsoft 365 E5 or Microsoft 365 E5 Security licenses.

When enabled however, files from the internet and other potentially unsafe (not yet scanned or trusted) locations can contain viruses, worms, or other kinds of malware that can attempt to infect or harm users’ devices and data, in the case of malware, spread to other areas.

With the new Application Guard feature enabled, Office apps will open files from potentially unsafe locations in Application Guard, which is a secure container (in memory) that is isolated and shielded from other applications, device hardware, processes, and system memory through hardware-based virtualisation.

When enabled, users will see a change to the standard Office splash screen on the first launch of an untrusted office document that indicates that Application Guard for Office has been enabled, and that the file is being opened in a secure environment. In addition, the application will also display a visual indicator, such as a callout in the ribbon and the taskbar icon, to inform the user that the Application Guard is running.

Screenshot showing Office Application GuardImage of Office Application Splash Screen

What is nice about this new feature is that unlick the previous “protected mode” which limited editing functions for example and prevented some aspects of the document or excel macros from running, with Application Guard, users do NOT get a compromised experience, meaning they can securely read, edit, print, and save those files without having to re-open files outside the “safe” container.

As I said at the start, this feature is off by default and needs to be enabled by IT admin using a group policy or a CSP entry in your MDM . Details on how to enable Application Guard are provided by Microsoft here

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/security/office-365-security/install-app-guard?view=o365-worldwide

 

 

Review: Lenovo ThinkSmart View for Microsoft Teams

Now, I don’t need to tell you just how fast #MicrosoftTeams is being adopted across organisations globally, but one thing we are seeing is the shire explosion of new form factor devices by leading (and new) manufacturers into the Teams Collaboration space. Some of these new devices fits into the new category of Microsoft Teams Displays.

Microsoft Teams Displays – are a new category of all-in-one dedicated Teams devices featuring an ambient touchscreen, and a hands-free / touch-free experience “powered by Cortana” (though this is currently only available in the US only at this point). 

One of these vendors is Lenovo, who are no means a “new kid on the block” when it comes to end user devices such as tablets, laptops, and desktops, but they are kind of new in the Teams Collaboration Device Space. Interestingly, Lenovo are now also supplying the “PC” component of, not only their new Teams Rooms Systems, but also that of Poly!

Introducing the Lenovo ThinkSmart View

The all new ThinkSmart View is a dedicated personal business communications device for conducting Microsoft Teams audio and video calls which can be managed by their ThinkSmart Manager software, a proprietary software application built for IT departments to easily manage their fleet of ThinkSmart devices.

Image of Lenovo ThinkSmart View

Designed and certified exclusively for Microsoft Teams, Lenovo calls this a “…collaborative smart device that works from an individual’s workspace…”  – it’s a collaboration device really designed for execs or those with a pop-up home office who want to be “free from their laptop or tablet” but still need a video rich and audio rich endpoint. 

Lenovo are attempting to “reimagine the personal workspace” with Microsoft Teams displays by integrating the Teams collaboration and communication experience into the home and workplace with high fidelity audio and video.

So, what can you use it for?

Meetings – and it’s really good at them too!

Most of what the device can do is set out by, and limited by what Microsoft allows the device to do since the collaboration device is powered by the Microsoft Teams Android client that runs on the device. 

Today (August 2020) the following features are supported:

  • Teams Call / Video Meetings with full phone UX for Calls, Meetings & Voicemail
  • Live Captions / Subtitles
  • Full video calling, screen sharing / viewing
  • Common Area Phone features
  • Hot Desking Support 

Coming “soon” – September 2020 

  • Ambient display support – for notifications, and activity views
  • Raise hand support
  • Support for navigating and interacting with Chat and Teams
  • Access and Share recent Files
  • Better Together for Calling & Meeting
  • Leaving a note in meeting

What’s in the box?

This is really simple.  The ThinkSmart View device and a plug.

What’s the Price?

The retail for these is £281 plus VAT – so I definitely put them into the affordable gadget category for most managers/exec that work at home or need a dedicated Teams Video endpoint in their office.

Lenovo are also offering a 45 day try-or-buy on this so speak to your partner about this if you are interested.

What’s the Spec?

As I said – think of this as a giant Teams Phone. Its runs the same native Teams Mobile app but is perfect as a Teams On-the-go collaboration device – as long as you have a power-plug to power it up as it doesn’t have a built in battery. With this device you get:

  • 5MP wide angle (720p) with a physical camera shutter to cover it for privacy.
  • Built in microphone with mute switch to temporarily cut the audio.
  • 1.75″ 10W full-range speaker
  • Bluetooth® 4.2 (LE) – pairing allows use with a headset and support auto device lock.
  • 8″ HD (1200 x 800) IPS touchscreen with auto rotate for landscape / portrait mode

Lenovo ThinkSmart View in portrait mode

Usage

The ThinkSmart View is an interesting form factor device from Lenovo. It’s not immediately clear as to its best use case, however…. 

This could fill the need for a dedicated video collab device that a user can walk up to and start using on the desk on in a breakout area / small meeting room and it does support the “hot desk mode” – the lack of a handset makes it a bit in practical for a common area but you can pair it with a headset (again – great to dedicated use, no so much for common area use).

I think for anyone working at home, this is much better than having a Teams Phone on your desk and it’s actually something that would be great in another room (or area) of your home/office, but of course it’s limited to use within #MicrosoftTeams which probably limits that – there’s certainly no danger in your kids or other family members using it for WhatsApp calls for example – though they might inadvertently video call your boss via Teams!

My opinion – ideally suited for the millennial executive / manager desk as a communication endpoint for Teams that can break you away from your PC/Laptop/Tablet or device.

Competition

This a new(ish) form factor, though not entirely unique to Lenovo. The other Teams Collaboration device manufacturer in this space today is Yealink. I’ve not yet had the pleasure of testing one of these so I can’t do a review or comparison of yet

Summary

As you’d expect from Lenovo, build quality is excellent and at <£300 it’s a great device to buy a few of and see how users get on with them.

This is really nice and very simple to use device – it does Teams meetings as Microsoft intended – click join and enjoy!! The ThinkSmart View is excellent quality, looks great on the desk and works really well – what’s not to love for under £300 and if you need convincing (or need to convince others), there’s the try or buy offer too remember!

Click here to visit the Lenovo Website

Will I keep it/Buy it?

I’m not sure yet – but probably!!!!

I’m going to put it through its paces for a week or so as I’m only a day in so far and I really hope the new software updates make thier way to my loan device before the end of my two-week trial!

Surface Duo (aka Surface Phone) launched

Late last night (UK time), Microsoft officially “launched” the next milestone in their Surface Journey with a new form-factor device under the prestigious brand of “Surface”. 

What is Surface Duo?

Surface Duo brings mobile productivity to a new level – powered by a new mobile form-factor, two screens and powered by a customised Android OS and Microsoft 365 apps and services.
Image of Surface DuoSomeone holding a Surface Duo
Surface Duo (images courtesy of Microsoft)

Surface Duo promises to deliver the easiest and most natural way to multitask on the go, bringing together the power of Microsoft 365 apps, services and experiences with the full ecosystem of Android mobile apps all of which can be fully managed, configured and protected with Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Defender ATP.

Of course, this is a Surface – not just a device running Android OS! One of the incredible capabilities of this new Surface is its ability to natively connecting to a full Windows 10 experience in the cloud with Windows Virtual Desktop, making Surface Duo perfectly aligned to its vision and enablement of the modern workplace – for execs, for first line workers or as the perfect companion device to everything else!

Running Windows Virtual Desktop on Surface let’s not only allow you to run Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) on a Surface Duo but it will fully support the native device experience and Windows 10 – supporting touch, pen, ink, and biometric authentication in across both the physical device and virtual environments seamlessly. 

When is it Available?

Surface Duo will begin shipping on September 10, 2020 and according to Microsoft, “represents the next wave of mobile productivity, inspiring people to rethink what is possible with the device in their pocket“. 

What’s the Spec?

Surface Duo will represent the thinnest foldable mobile device on the market with an 8.1″ PixelSense Fusion display connected by a revolutionary 360-degree hinge, allowing the user to view and interact with each 5.6″ display individually or together, across a variety of modes with native support already available across a wide range of Microsoft, and other applications including OneNote, Microsoft Teams and Outlook.

While the full specs haven’t been released, the core specs that have been shared are quite impressive and include:

  • Less than 5mm thick (so very thin) and only 9.6mm when folded/closed
  • Two 5.6″ high-res (1,800 x 1,350) Gorilla Glass covered 5.6” AMOLED displays that fold out into an impressive 8.1”, 401 dpi screen
  • Unique 360-degree hinge design 
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SOC
  • Single USB-C 
  • Wi-Fi and 4G (yes, no 5G on initial launch)
  • 11MP Camera (but don’t let the low res get you down as this is Surface so will be a high-quality sensor with excellent low light (F-Stop) support – though I haven’t seen the actual spec on this as yet!

Someone holding a Surface Duo in folded configuration

The specs aren’t really the focus – its more about what and how the device helps embrace modern working. Microsoft’s Surface (and now Windows) lead, Panos Panay, and team, don’t really focus on speeds and feeds as the target market for this isn’t the consumer, it’s their loyal Surface and Microsoft 365 customers. 

Enterprise Security from Chip to Cloud

There has been a huge focus, on Security (as you’d expect from Microsoft) and Surface Duo has protection built in at every layer with deeply integrated hardware, firmware, and software to keep your devices, identities, and data secure.

Microsoft have taken their custom engineered Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), used across the Surface range and embedded this into Duo too, which enables full control over firmware components. Microsoft have released a detailed document on exactly how they will do this here:

How much does it cost and when can I get it!

Surface Duo pricing starts at $1,399 (US) – no UK pricing yet and not “currently” available for pre-order but expect this to change very soon!

What do you think?

I’ll certainly be getting one as soon as they are available and will provide a full hand-on review once I have my hands on one!

Keen on your initial thoughts on this. 

 

Skype for Business (3PIP) phone support extended beyond original 2023 end date

Image of 3PIP phones

Great news for any organisations using Skype for Business and moving to Teams, was announced yesterday.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced that they were extending support for their 3PIP gateway service (which was originally supported until 2023). Skype for Business Online is end of life from July 2021 and the 3PIP service provides support for any legacy Skype for Business Phone. By extending the support for the 3PIP gateway service, organisations will be able to leverage their existing Skype for Business phones for longer – saving money and giving them longer to invest in #MicrosoftTeams certified phones.

Image of 3PIP phones

We realise that being able to use existing hardware can provide important cost savings when moving to a new phone system.” Microsoft said in a blog post yesterday. “Today, we are announcing extended support for Skype for Business (3PIP) phones beyond 2023, so you can continue to use your existing Skype for Business phones as you move to Teams”.

Support for Standard SIP Phones

Microsoft also confirmed that they will be supporting core calling features on standard SIP-based phones from Cisco, Yealink, Polycom, and others with Microsoft Teams. Microsoft said this support will be available in the first half of 2021.

More Teams phones with “Buttons”

Microsoft also said yesterday that, due to customer demand, the leading Teams phone vendors including Yealink and Audiocodes will be launching new Teams certified phones with physical buttons.

It seems Microsoft’s plans to include Calling minutes in E5 have now been cancelled.

A few weeks ago we hear that Microsoft were going to include 120mins calling minutes within many of their ‘E5’ subscriptions (see previous post).

Thanks to Will for spotting and letting me know on my blog the official post by Microsoft has now been updated, which states that “The Enterprise Voice and E5 and A5 with Calling Minutes launch has been canceled.”

Hold on… What?

Yep you heard right, and if you check out the updated version of the Microsoft release you’ll see that they go on to say:
We will not be launching Enterprise Voice Plan 1 and 2 and the accompanying inclusion of domestic calling minutes in the E5 and A5 plans, as was previously planned for August 1, 2020. The launch has been placed on hold indefinitely.”

I personally think this is a really wierd move.. I’m sure there more that we haven’t been told yet, but so many of our customers were excited by this announcement and had started to make plans to accelerate their move to Microsoft Cloud Calling now that minutes were going to be included..

As soon as I hear any more I’ll update you all. In the mean time what’s your thoughts on this…? Were you looking at advancing your Microsoft Cloud Calling due to this announcement.?