Microsoft has just released a Data Loss Prevention Alert “Dashboard”

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) is used by organisations to define and enforce data protection policies that identify and prevent risky or inappropriate sharing, transfer or use of sensitive information across cloud, on-premise and endpoints within an organisation or establishment.

Until now it was possible to configure alerts, as a part of the DLP policy authoring experience which provide an effective way for admins or compliance officers  to get notified whenever a DLP policy is breached.

Microsoft has now announced the General Availability (GA) of their Data Loss Prevention “Alerts Dashboard” . This latest enhancement provides organisations with the ability to easily and holistically visualise and then investigate DLP policy violations across their entire infrastructure including:

New Alerts Dashboard enhances DLP experience

  • On-premises file shares
  • Exchange / Exchange Online
  • Teams
  • OneDrive
  • Other non msft cloud apps and SaaS apps
  • Devices (where endpoint DLP is used).

The alerts dashboard provides a list view of all of the DLP alerts. The relevant details can then be investigated by simply clicking on an alert. APIs of course exist to allow you to call these alerts from other event management platforms and SEIM products like Azure Sentinel for example.

Microsoft DLP dashboard (April 2021)

Microsoft DLP is of course just part of the comprehensive set of Gartner Magic Quadrant leading Information Protection, Compliance and Governance solutions that are part of the Microsoft 365 E5 (and Microsoft 365 Compliance stack).

Customers can easily sign up for a trial of Microsoft 365 E5 via the admin centre, or by speaking to your Microsoft Partner (like the company I work for at https://www.cisilion.com/microsoft) to get more information, arrange a demo or run a PoC.

More information on this with can be found on the Microsoft 365 blogs here.

Surface Laptop 4 launches with new work from home accessories for business.

SurfaceLaptop4

Today (Tuesday 13th April 2021), Microsoft officially unveiled the 2021 Surface Laptop 4.

Surface Laptop, in my opinion, has always been the best “looking” Surface device since it was first released back in 2017. Not only that but Microsoft say the Surface Laptop has the highest level of customer satisfaction across all its Surface devices. 

Speeds and Feeds

Let’s cut to the basics, Microsoft claim that Surface Laptop 4 is up to 70% faster, has significantly longer battery life (with up to 19 hours of battery life on the 13.5” AMD variant), updated colours, 11th Gen Intel Chipsets and Dolby Atmos Audio. Retains USB C and USB-A.

Surface Laptop 4

Above all this Surface Laptop and updated/new accessories has been designed for the hybrid worker which seems set to be the default for most post COVID-19.

Oh…new Surface Headphones “for Business” too

Along with the launch of Surface Laptop 4, Microsoft also announced new Surface Headphones 2+ for Business which have been designed for Microsoft Teams. In addition, the Surface Headphones 2+ battery is rated to 15 hours of voice use and includes 13 levels of adjustable noise cancellation. Microsoft have also included a USB dongle which has a LED indicator to show when the microphone is muted. 

These ship with a dongle (needed for Teams certification). Pricing is $299. Shipping now.

Oh…and Surface branded Webcam and USB-Speaker. 

Yep – you heard it right.  If you have your own home office and don’t need to rely on headphones or ear pods, then Microsoft has now launched their very own Surface branded Webcam and USB-C Speaker.  Pricing was confirmed at $99.99 and available from June.

Microsoft Teams Speaker

Next up, Microsoft announced the Surface webcam which offers true 1080p video resolution video (which beats the built in 720p camera) and provides a 78-degree field of view, support for HDR, and an integrated privacy shutter.  Cost is $69 and ships in June.

SurfaceWebCam

Both of these are important accessories to ensure calls are crisp and clear when working from home. Many still use cheap headsets or non-Teams certified devices so it’s great to see Microsoft release their own Surface branded accessories for their devices. 

Pre orders available now. 

 

 

 

Poly Sync20+ “Teams Edition “- Hands-on Review

Released at the end of 2020, the Poly Sync 20 and Sync 20 + are personal Bluetooth and USB speakerphones designed for use with Microsoft Teams. Whilst nothing new in terms of form-factor – as other vendors such as Yealink, Jabra, Lenovo etc., all have similar form factor speakers, the quality design and easy to use features make the Sync 20 a great device for home workers, hybrid workers or anyone looking for a stylish, Bluetooth / smart portable speakerphone solution that has been “designed” for Microsoft Teams.

Poly Sync 20 on Desk
The Poly Sync-20

 

The Poly Sync 20 was the first in Poly’s new Sync range of USB and Bluetooth speakerphones. The Sync 20 has two bigger brothers – the Sync 40 and the Sync 60 which are aimed more for use in huddle spaces and smaller to medium sized meeting rooms – The Sync 20 and Sync 40 are available “now” and the Sync 60 is “coming “soon”. This review just looks at the Sync 20.

Poly SYnc Family of Devices

These device types are designed for those people that travel or are on the road often (outside of current COVID restrictions of course) and needing to join Teams Meetings / conference calls either alone or with one or two other people – or as a permanent set-up at the home office.  These personal speakers are great to ensure you have the best audio experience and that those on the other-end can also hear you well – certainly beats using a phone on “speaker phone” – please don’t do that!! 

Speeds and Feeds

The Poly 20 Sync costs circa £160 and measures 34mm x 95mm x 182mm so easily fits in your laptop/Surface bag or pouch.  Like many of its competition, it includes a rechargeable battery that gives about 20 hours of talk time (according to Poly – I didn’t test that) between charges and takes just 4 hours to charge using the attached USB A cable. One nifty thing about the Poly Sync 20, compared to most other similar devices in this category, is that it also doubles up as a portable battery charger allowing you to plug your smart phone or headphones into the Sync 20 to keep your other gadgets charged when working remotely. 

  • Bluetooth / USB Speakerphone
  • Portable Battery Charger
  • Windows 10 Dongle (Sync 20 + version only)

Look and Feel 

The Poly 20 Sync measures 34mm x 95mm x 182mm so easily fits in your laptop/Surface bag or pouch.

As you’d expect from Poly, the Poly Sync 20 is a good-looking device. As you can see from the images above, it has a silver bezel and a high-quality fabric mesh speaker cover. The device is also IP64 rated (meaning it is dust and water-resistant) and comes with its own equally stylish case for storage and protection against scratches etc.

Poly Sync-20 Close Up

On the front of the device, there are familiar buttons for call controls as well as a programmable button that you can use to open a voice assistant, check status, play / pause music etc., (this requires installing the Poly Customisation Software). Since this is a Teams certified device, there is also a dedicated Teams button on the device for instant access to the Teams app, joining a meeting etc.  There’s also a large call status light on the front.

Usability

As expected, the Sync 20 is incredibly easy to get going. I chose to plug mine into my Surface via the USB port. The Sync-20 was instantly recognised by Windows 10 and also showed up in Teams along with the recognition that this was a Teams Certified device.

Screenshot showing Teams recognising a teams Certified device

Pairing to my Samsung phone was also quick and easy and by using the PLT Hub app I could then simply configure the device and was even able to change the voice to British English! 

Performance and Quality

Sound Quality was tested by using my Surface (wired) and phone (via Bluetooth) to play some Spotify hits and some movie content (yes, Star Wars from Disney Plus!). Sound quality was crisp and clear. There was no distortion even with the volume “pumped” all the way up to maximum.  I am no audio expert, but for a portable device – it was loud enough for use in a meeting room, home office / hotel room. 

Bluetooth connectivity works as expected on my mobile device (I didn’t bother pairing it to my Surface since I used the USB-A cable for this and “hate” using a dongle which is needed to use the device as a Teams Certified speaker). 

USB Charging – is a nice to have and it does mean I don’t have to carry multiple devices about – Using the device as a Bluetooth speaker on my Samsung phone, I was able to charge my phone from 54% to 100% whilst playing music from it in less than an hour. 

Summary and Close

In all a great device if you are in the market for a high-quality, Teams certified small portable smart speaker to use with your mobile or laptop/tablet then you won’t be disappointed by the Sync-20. The built-in battery charger is a definite plus point too when working remotely – though there’s not enough power in the USB to charge my Surface Go. 

At ~£160 it’s on par with similar devices in its class and has fantastic build quality. Like most devices, firmware is upgradable via the Poly management apps, but the real test will of course be when I finally return to some form of going out and working in different places. 

The biggest announcements from MSFT Ignite 2021

So, it wouldn’t be a Microsoft event (#MSIgnite) without a handful of “wow” demos, updates, and new products announcement both in preview and GA across Teams, the wider Microsoft 365 platform, Azure, Windows 10 and Power Platform, but without doubt the biggest “thing” to happen at Ignite this year was Mcirosoft Mesh.  Anyway, here’s my 

As in previous years), Microsoft have published their “encyclopaedia” if you like, of Ignite (the #BookOfIgnite ) which covers all the announcements in detail along with links to blogs and tech articles.

This post, on the other hand is a summary of my personal “top 3” announcements across each of the core solution areas. Of course, depending on your role, line of business and priorities, and interests, you will have your own favourites so feel free to let me know yours in the comments.

 

Microsoft Mesh

This stole the show from the moment the keynote started and was without question the biggest news of Ignite 2021. Much of the keynote and later sessions were available to watch live AltSpace VR in both Mixed and Virtual Reality. Mesh is Microsoft’s new Mixed Reality Platform which is designed to allow people who are in physically various locations to join collaborative and shared holographic experiences across many kinds of devices.

The business case for Mesh builds upon the success of HoloLens 2 and is designed (and was highlighted) for organisations to let their teams joined shared virtual spaces for collaborative meetings, where everyone will appear as virtual avatars (reminds me of the holograms in the StarWars). Microsoft say that their target audience is both enterprise and commercial customers. Microsoft Mesh can be accessed through an updated version of AltSpace VR, which is Microsoft’s VR platform. Microsoft Mesh will be coming to HoloLens via a dedicated app and solutions built through Mesh by developers will also be able to be tailored/supported to Windows Mixed Reality, PCs, Macs, Smart Phones, and headsets like Oculus.

Microsoft Teams

Teams Ignite Features
Highlight of new Teams Meeting Features

 

Always needing its very own category, my top 3 in this category are:

1. Improvements for Teams Meetings and Live Events.

    • Teams can now be used to create and run fully interactive webinars for up to 1,000 attendees and will also support webinars with up to 20,000 attendees from later this month. This will also be included for any customer with Office 365 E3 and more without any additional licenses or cost.
    • Dynamic View for Teams meetings will be released next month and is all about ensuring more inclusive and natural meetings for remote/hybrid meetings making them more engaging. Dynamic view uses AI to adjust elements of the meeting to allow for display different modes such as charts, chats, etc next to video feeds as well as an overlay of presenter video and presentation space.
    • Improved privacy and security in meetings – with meeting-only meeting controls and end-to-end encryption in one-to-one calls.
    • PowerPoint Live in Teams is available now. The much-requested feature combines slides, notes, and meeting chat in a single view to help make presentations easier for speakers and presenters and to make them more engaging for attendees.

2. Teams Connect

A new channel-sharing feature coming to Teams “later” this calendar year. This will enable users to share channels with anyone, internal or external. Unlike guest access, the shared channel will appear within a user’s primary Teams tenant, alongside other Teams channels meaning that “multiple organisations can share a single channel” that all members can then access from their own Teams environments. Channel sharing seems is great for scenarios where multiple organisations are collaborating on a specific project for example. Guest Access isn’t going anywhere and is still relevant as this is more suited to situations where an external organisation or person needs broad access to data, meetings, and information, beyond just a specific channel. This is currently in “private preview”.

3. Teams Calling Updates

  1. Direct Routing and Survivable Brach Appliances: With the explosion of customers enabling and migrating to PSTN calling in Teams from traditional IP PBXs, the use of Direct Routing grown 8-fold, Microsoft announced several new certified Session Border Controllers (SBC) for Direct Routing, with 6 new SBCs completing certification in just the past 3 months. Additionally, to add resiliency to the most critical locations, Survivable Branch Appliance (SBAs) are now generally available, enabling PSTN calling in the event an outage does not allow the Teams client to directly connect to Microsoft 365 global services.

  2. Operator Connect Conferencing brings an “operator-managed service” that provides “bring your own operator” for conferencing, meaning customers can keep their preferred operator contracts in place as they migrate their PSTN infrastructure to the cloud. This also allows additional geographic dial-in coverage, enhanced support, and reliability with locally agreed technical support and SLAs. This enters private preview from June, with the initial wave of qualified partners, including BT, Deutsche Telekom, Intrado, NTT, Orange Business Services, and Telenor.

  3. New Cloud Calling Plan Countries were also announced, with Microsoft native calling plans coming to 8 new markets from April 2021 including New Zealand, Singapore, Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Finland, Norway, and Slovakia, bringing native Microsoft Teams Calling Plans to 26 markets across the globe.

    Teams Calling Countries - April 2021

Identity, Security & Compliance

1. Identity

Focusing on helping organisations deliver on their Zero Trust strategy including, 

    1. Password-less authentication which is now “generally available” for cloud and hybrid environments meaning customers can move towards a truly password-less world leveraging multi-factor authentication and risk based conditional access to provide just in time, assume breach, challenge everything approach to identify and access management without the need for passwords.

    2. Azure AD Conditional Access now uses authentication context to enforce more granular policies based on user actions across the applications they are using or the sensitivity of data they’re trying to access.

    3. Azure AD verifiable credentials will be in public preview later this month. Verifiable credentials allow organisations to confirm information without collecting or storing personal data, improving security and privacy.

2. Security announcements

A wealth of announcements here as well, all of which will further strengthen, Microsoft’s commitment to deliver the absolute best security protection, detection, and response for all clouds and all platforms:

    1. Azure Sentinel now seamlessly integrates with Microsoft 365 Defender with shared incidents, schema, and user experiences to simplify investigations for a totally aligned view and remediation surface.
    2. Endpoint and Office 365 defender capabilities are now also integrated into the Microsoft 365 Defender portal.

    3. New Threat Analytics experience within the Microsoft 365 Defender portal provides a set of reports from expert Microsoft security researchers designed to help customers understand, prevent, and mitigate active threats, like the recent Solorigate / SolarWinds attacks.

    4. The Secure-core services that are now build into Surface devices (and other leading Windows 10 devices) is also coming to Windows Server and Azure edge devices to help minimise risk from firmware vulnerabilities, attacks, and advanced malware in IoT and hybrid cloud environments.

3. Compliance announcements

    1. Co-authoring of Microsoft Information Protection-protected documents will be available in “public preview” from this week. This in my experience the number one blocker of being able to properly deploy organisational wide information protect across SharePoint sites, Teams, and individual documents since currently (well, prior to this announcement) it was not possible to co-author docs that were encrypted which makes most of the power of Modern Office 365 and co-authoring useless. This feature helps significantly close the gap between security and productivity.

    2. Microsoft Azure Purview was announced in more detail. Purview provides new cross-platform support and deeper insight into data classification and protection across structured and un-structured data across on-premises, data bases, Microsoft Cloud and third-party services including Google and AWS – it’s Azure Information Protection on steroids!

    3. Microsoft 365 data loss prevention (DLP) now supports Google Chrome browsers and on-premises file shares and SharePoint Server as well as SharePoint Online and of course Microsoft’s Edge (Chromium based) browser.

    4. Microsoft 365 Insider Risk Management Analytics was released into public preview.

Power Platform

1. Power Automate Desktop was made free!

This is really really big news for any organisation that is looking, using, or intending to use Robotic Process Automation (RPA).  Power Automate Desktop is a an “attended Robotic Process Automation” solution which is a macro recorder on steroids. You can download it now if you want to try it. It will be available first for #WindowsInsiders to try (built into Windows 10), however it will eventually be rolled out to Windows 10 as a core product (most likely as an optional feature). Until now, a per user for month for the tool would cost about £12 a month. Power Automate currently has circa 400 actions to help build flows across different applications and the best part is that it enables you to build your own scripts to automate time consuming repetitive tasks which saves time and money. Microsoft’s goal here is to “democratise the development for everybody with Power Platform” by making no-code/low-code accessible to everyone not just developers.

2. PowerFX (a new low code programming language) was announced.

PowerFx is a low code programming language that is based on the foundation of the Microsoft Power Apps canvas. What’s great is that since Power Fx is based on Microsoft Excel, it will naturally be a great fit for a wide range of people since it will leverage skills, they “many” already know and becomes a common ground for business users and professional developers alike to express logic and solve problems. Microsoft also said they were planning make Power Fx, open source, making the language available for open contribution by the broader community on GitHub.

3. Dynamics 365 now seamlessly integrates with Microsoft Teams

This ensures conversations, calls, meetings, and chat will be available across dynamics 365 – within opportunities, sales, marketing, finance, and operations.

Windows 10

Windows 10 usually gets a backseat at Microsoft Ignite (as it typically focusses on cloud services and new things), but this year, there were some things which resonated.

1. Power Automate Desktop

As discussed above, Power Automate Desktop was announced and will be free for all Windows 10 users including Windows 10 Home and Pro and not just to Enterprise users. You can read more about this above.

2. Windows 10 in Cloud 

Simply put, cloud configuration is a Microsoft-recommended device configuration for Windows 10, cloud-optimised for users with specific workflow needs. IT admins use Microsoft Endpoint Manager to apply a standard, cloud-based, easy-to-manage configuration of Windows 10 to a selected set of new or existing devices. The configuration works on devices running Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Enterprise and may be appropriate for workers who only need a limited number of IT-curated and approved applications to meet their targeted workflow needs. User accounts are registered in Azure Active Directory and devices are enrolled for cloud management in Intune, so they are automatically updated with continuous product and security updates.

Microsoft announced that the newly announced Windows 10 in Cloud has now been integrated into Microsoft Endpoint Manager, which will make it even easier to provide a secure device configuration regardless of the type of worker. Microsoft also made a full “Windows 10 in cloud configuration overview and setup guide” available which is designed to help solution integrators, partners, and internal IT teams to apply a uniform, secure and easy-to-manage cloud-based configuration of Windows 10 Professional or Enterprise devices.

3. New version of Windows 10 Perhaps?

Well maybe! During a Fireside chat session at Ignite, Surface and Windows Lead, Panos Panay “teased” of some major updates and design changes coming to Windows. Windows 10 Insider LogoThese were very much hints and teases than any firm commitments but talked a lot about the fact that Microsoft has not “talked about the next generation of Windows for a while” and that he was “so pumped” for it – ending with “it’s going to be a massive year for Windows.”


Written: 05 March 2021

Windows 10 v21H1 available “now” if you want to try it early.

Microsoft last night shared all the details about Windows 10 version 21H1, which is the, the next version / ok update to Windows 10 which will be formerly released at sometime late spring.

As expected, this update is another minor update just like 20H2 was back in October 2020 and this will actually be the first time since Microsoft shifted to a bi-annual release cycle that the “Spring” update for Windows 10 is a just a minor one. This means there won’t be any new major feature additions (as the October 2020 Update was the previous year).

If you are a WindowsInsider in the beta channel, you can get Windows 10 version 21H1 today.

How to download it

To download it, you’ll need to go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update and then choose to download and install the 21H1, which is build number 19043.844 (KB4601382). The installation process is quick (my Surface Go took about 15 minutes) and its a similar upgrade path/patch experience from version 2004 to 20H2.

Getting Windows 10 21H1 from Windows Update

What will 21H1 bring?

Windows 10, version 21H1 brings with it a new set of features that are designed to improve security, remote access and quality. “The are focused on the core experiences that customers have told us they’re relying on most right now,” explained John Cable, Vice President, Program Management, Windows Servicing and Delivery.

New features in Windows 10 version 21H1 include multi-camera support for Windows Hello, which allows users of PC/laptop with an integrated camera to use an external camera (hello certified) for authentication and sign-in. This update also brings performance improvements for Windows Defender Application Guard as well as Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) Group Policy Service (GPSVC) updating, the latter getting support for more remote work scenarios.

There’s also a usual long list of big fixes and minor cosmetic updates as you’d expect.

Windows 10 version 21H1 will be available for non-insiders “later in the first half of this calendar year,” John Cable said , and we should get a final release date in the next week or so.

You can get this today of you are a WindowsInsider in the Beta channel. It is optional.

Windows 10 animated Gif (why not)

Updated Review: Lenovo ThinkSmart View for Teams

Lenovo ThinkSmart Display

 

Updated: December 2020

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!

You may ask why, when employees have access to laptops, web browsers, smart phones and tablets, all more than capable of running Microsoft Teams, so we need a dedicated Teams Collaboration Display….

Introducing the Lenovo ThinkSmart View

The Lenovo ThinkSmart View is a dedicated personal business communications device for hosting and taking part in Microsoft Teams audio and video calls – the devices of which can be managed by the Lenovo ThinkSmart Manager software, a proprietary software application built for IT departments to easily manage their fleet of ThinkSmart devices.

Lenovo ThinkSmart Display
Picture of Lenovo ThinkSmart display for Teams

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 and a price point that really appeals.

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. Initially, and when first reviewed the device earlier this year, the device was really just for joining meetings and for Teams Phone features, however the update in September 2020 brought the FULL Teams Mobile features to the device including:

  • Phone
    • Teams Call / Video Meetings with full phone UX for Calls, Meetings & Voicemail
    • Common Area and Personal Phone Support
    • Hot Desking Support
  • Meetings
    • Support Live Captions / Subtitles
    • Full video calling, screen sharing / viewing
    • Ambient display support – for notifications, and activity views
    • Raise hand support
    • Better Together for Calling & Meeting
  • IM and Chat
    • Full support for starting, participating, navigating and interacting with Chat 
  • Files
    • Full access to your recent files and full access to your OneDrive
  • Organisational View
    • View your Team and company org chart

My other favourite is the ability for colleagues (or most likely, your kids to leave you a message, voice memo or video memo) on the device if you are away from your desk (more likely..in the loo or getting a coffee!)

What’s in the box?

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

What’s the Price?

The retail for these is £229 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.

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.
  • Supports software background blur in Teams meetings
  • 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 the audience it has been designed for. I think initially it’s designed for the exec or manager’s office – but with the 2020 being the year of “remote working”, this is ideally suited as a second / dedicated Teams end-point… 

Audio is surprising good – rather than the often tinny sounds you get from laptop speakers, the 10-Watt full-range speaker in the ThinkSmart View has 2 passive tweeters allowing it to produce loud, crisp and clear audio, and testing on the receiving end (yes, I called my self), the audio picked up by the 360-degree microphone array was also “room system” quality in my opinion. Audio is important…. with virtual meetings, the spoken voice is the most important aspect of the call/meeting and while video is king, now more than ever, you can more easily forgive poor quality video as long as audio is sharp and clear.

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!

Within the “office environment”, the Lenovo ThinkSmart display can also fill the need for a “walk up and use” video collab device which can be placed in a small focus space or breakout area  – especially as it supports “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!

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 – who’s device is due to launch early 2021 and is rumoured to have a battery as well as being mains powered which is the main thing missing from the Lenovo in my opinion. 

Summary

As you’d expect from Lenovo, build quality is excellent. There is a premium feel to the device and its weighted on one-side, presumably to prevent accidental movement or repositioning. Its not heavy though – no heavier than a Bluetooth speaker the weight just helps with positioning and premium feel. 

At just over £200 (RRP is £240 as of Dec 2020), it’s a great device to buy a handful of, to test out the use case within your organisation – a few of the clients I work with have done just this. 

Click here to visit the Lenovo Website

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go Review -Much better than you might think..

Surface Devices

Introduction

Anyone that reads my blogs/ramblings will know I’m a huge fan of Windows 10 and Surface and I have reviewed a fair few of them over the past 18 months.

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go is a more than capable, great looking, and best of all “affordable” premium laptop from Microsoft that is every bit “Surface”..well almost!

Surface Laptop Go starts at just £549 in the UK (as of Nov 2020) and it’s not often that you can find a “premium device” at this price point that isn’t plasticy, chunky, heavy, and slow (often with several generation old processors) – which is the typical trend around this price point – after all you get what you pay for right!

Here’s my hands on review.

Hands-on Review

What I find funny about Surface is that many analysts/reviewers (I won’t name names) often slate Surface for being an overpriced device when compared to, well, cheaper, non-premium device, but then again Surface is a premium brand, and, like Apple and premium does carry a price tag. What I think everyone who has ever had a Surface (from Surface Pro 4 and upwards) will agree, is that Microsoft do make some pretty awesome, good-looking, powerful and extremely productive devices with ink and touch and the centre of the Surface and Microsoft 365 message…. (more on that later).

If you’ve not experienced Surface before, then I truly think you are missing out.. Its like having a mediocre smart phone and then having never picked up a flagship Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy Phone. You have to try Surface!

Speeds, Feeds and Bolt-ons

Starting at just £549, the Surface Laptop Go package weighs a solid 2.44 lbs and feels every bit as premium as its larger flagship brother- the Surface Laptop. 

The base / entry level features:

  • 12.4-inch 2:3 ratio touch screen with 10-point multi-touch
  • 10th Gen Intel Core i5 processor
  • 64GB of eMMC storage (with upgrade options to 128 GB or 256 GB SSD)
  • 1x USB-C and 1x USB-A port
  • Headphone Jack (yep – still got it)
  • Mid-range Intel UHD graphics
  • 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM (upgradable to 256GB)
  • 720p HD f2.0 front-facing webcam (not Windows Hello)
  • Firmware based TPM chip
  • All day battery (and it really is!).

What is missing?

There is of course “some” compromise in getting a premium device like Surface down to this price point, but thereof this brand and I must admit, I was surprised by two omissions on the Laptop Go (given it’s a sibling of the Surface Go).

  1. No LTE option (one of things that makes the Surface Go so great – you never know they might add an option in early 2021)
  2. No Windows Hello camera – though the high spec models have a Windows Hello finger-print reader. If you are used to Surface like me then you may find this hard to get used to!
  3. Whilst the Surface Laptop Go has a really nice and responsive touch screen, the one thing that really got me was this device does not support ink and pen – which is the first Surface to be released without pen or ink support – this “personally” is a big no no for me…Its a surface…. its a signature feature (ok rant over). 

What Spec did I test?

Microsoft sent me an evaluation unit (my company, Cisilion are Microsoft Gold Partners for Surface), which was a more beefed-up model and had: –

  • 16 GB RAM
  • 256 GB SSD
  • Windows Hello (via Fingerprint Reader)

How did it pan out?

Really well actually.

Screen:
I’ve read a few comments from other reviewers about “poor” screen quality! It’s not – it is just not as higher-resolution as the screen on the Laptop 3 and Surface Pro (as you’d expect for the price). The screen on the Laptop Go is the standard 3:2 ratio and features the much “as standard on Surface” ten-point multi touch. 

Battery: Microsoft claims up to 13 hours of usage, but in the week that I was testing for 50% work (Outlook, Teams, Word, PowerPoint) and 50% social (web, social, Netflix etc) and it managed on average just over 9.5hrs. 

Laptop Go will easily get anyone through a full day without having to charge/top it up which was one of my “issues” with the original Surface Go and while it’s not a big issue, charging is limited to the Surface charger cable – and it’s a shame for such a mobile device that charging isn’t supported via USB-C.

Performance: Ok so I was actually really impressed by just how well this little gem performed. I’ve been using “my” Laptop Go for a full week as main daily driver (my usual device is a Surface Book 2) and had none, absolutely none, performance issues at all. I has this connected to a Surface Dock (1st gen), driving a second screen and running every thing I need – Teams, Office Apps, PowerBI, Web Apps, CRM – everything. 

Noise: What? What a funny category to add Rob! So I added this category because, whilst the Laptop Go is silent most of the time, when you dial up the performance and drive a second screen, the Fan was on, almost continuously. Dial it back to “Better Performance” the fan turned off though with lots of apps open and the device on mains power, I favour “Best Performance Mode”. 

The Crux of it – Would I recommend and for what?

In short – yes!!

Building on the success of Surface Laptop the new Laptop Go is great device for anyone (home or business) that needs a light, good looking, mid-range laptop that is still a beautiful looking device – which this is.

The question of course is who’s it good for and when. Again I think there some great use cases

  • Education – DEFINATELY (all day battery, light, powerful)
  • Most Workers – DEFINATELY either as a second device or a primary device if you don’t need a powerhouse
  • Developers/Power Users – NOPE.
  • Home Use – DEFINATELY

I cant comment on the entry level version of course, but from what I have seen and experienced from a battery, processor performance these are great devices. Laptop Go is the ideal choice for the school (its a Windows device too so no application compromises) and the 10th Gen Intel Core i5 is meaty enough to get through any classroom task!

My Advice

  • For business – get a couple try them out – you’ll be surprised
  • For home – If you are buying a new laptop for home – don’t by  cheap clunky heap of plastic. Buy this – you’ll love it, your kids will love it. They are great.

Microsoft announces refreshed Surface Pro X and new Surface Laptop Go

1st October 2020 and Microsoft has officially announced the 2020 line up of new Surface devices. Here’s a quick summary of the new devices that were announced:

New Surface Laptop Go

A new baby is born – a 12.5-inch Surface Laptop Go starting at just under £499, and like the Surface Go, brings the features most loved by Surface Laptop customers to a smaller, more affordable design and is the “lightest, most affordable Surface laptop yet“.

  • Surface Laptop Go – has a 12.4″ touchscreen display, large precision trackpad and a full-size keyboard. This comes in comes in three lightweight metal finishes: Ice Blue, Sandstone and Platinum and has secure sign-in options including Windows Hello and optional Fingerprint Power Button with One Touch sign-in through Windows Hello. The new Surface Laptop Go has an Intel’s 10th Gen i5 Quad-Core processor under the hood with up to 16GB RAM and 256GB storage. So much more of a power horse than the Surface Go and Go 2. 

Updated Surface Pro X

An updated version of last year’s Surface Pro X featuring a new Microsoft SQ 2 processor, which like last year’s SQ1 processor was built by Microsoft and Qualcomm and is stated to be “the fastest processor in its class” and claims to be able to deliver 15 hrs of battery life. This is available to order now and starts shipping on October 13th.

  • This new Microsoft SQ 2 processor for the Surface Pro X will be coupled with a more powerful Adreno 690 GPU and will be available in the new top end Surface Pro X with 16GB of RAM and will be around £1,400. The Surface Pro X with the existing SQ1 processor will keep its £900 starting price, and Microsoft also announced that they are adding a new Platinum finish as an alternative to the original Matte black colour in the Surface Pro X. 

Both Surface Pro Xs retain the same great look and design with 13” PixelSense Display, and ports as the original model with the SQ 1 processor, though the new chip is promised to deliver significant performance improvements over last year’s already supper fast Surface Pro X.  Both models come with the Qualcomm Snapdragon X24 LTE modem that supports Gigabit LTE speeds – no news on a 5G model yet (unless I missed that bit of the announcement).

 

What’s the future of ARM on Windows 10?

Good question – Microsoft also announced just yesterday that more native apps will soon be coming to the ARM for Windows 10 platform including a native ARM64 version of Microsoft Teams which is well overdue.

Microsoft also said that from November, Microsoft will be testing support for x64 emulation with Windows Insiders, which should really help to fix the app compatibility issues on Windows 10 on ARM and should also see better performance for apps. 

The Surface Pro X is still Microsoft’s thinnest ever Surface Pro tablet, and it’s also the first Surface tablet to ship with two USB-C ports, a removable SSD, and above all a Firmware TPM chip for enterprise security. 

The 2020 Surface Family Portrait – the family keeps growing

Surface Family 2020
2020 Surface Line up (C) Microsoft.

Microsoft Ignite ‘flooded’ with these incredible new #MicrosoftTeams enhancements

Day one of Ignite yesterday (Sept 22 2020), was full of many new announcements across Microsoft 365, Azure and Power Platform but day 1 was certainly dominated by a new stack of updates coming now or very soon to Microsoft Teams, with the list including well-being tools for employees, calling enhancements, new webinar features and breakout rooms and a whole lot more.

Here’s my review of the key new features. There’s also a quick video I recorded from the main Teams session…

Virtual Commute

With the virtual commute feature, Teams users will be able to schedule a virtual commute to structure their day so they can have a productive start in the morning and mindfully disconnect in the evening.

As part of Virtual Commute, Microsoft has partnered with Headspace to bring a curated set of mindfulness experiences and science-backed meditations into Teams based on the user’s day, and how busy their day appears from their activity across Teams and Office 365. This is designed to help make it easier for employees to find time to relax and recover and therefore better focus.

There’s a lot of activity happening in Teams, we can see that. We also hear people telling us that there are adverse effects and that leads us to product strategy and what you’re seeing at Ignite,” said Microsoft executive Jared Spataro.

The sudden transition to working from home during the pandemic has completely upended the lives of workers around the world.”

While many employees used to use their morning commute as a chance to relax or reflect on the day ahead of them, the switch to remote working has taken this personal time from them. To make matters worse, many organisations now expect their workers to begin their jobs right at the start of the day since they no longer need to travel to and from the office.

According to a study from Microsoft Research, commutes can serve as meaningful transitions at the beginning and end of the workday and in fact, the reflection done during this time can increase productivity by 12 to 15 percent.

New Well-being tools

New Insights in Teams powered by MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics

With rollout starting in October and with new enhancements coming over the new few months, is a new set of well-being features and productivity insights for Microsoft Teams.

This will be powered by a combination of MyAnalytics and a new Workplace Analytics experience designed for Teams, Microsoft said that this aims to will gives individuals, managers, and business leaders powerful insights which are personalised about their roles and their teams within work and to ensure employees and employers can focus more effort and energy into their people (the heart of their business) helping everyone to focus on their work, and be their best.

Teams users will see recommended actions to help them  make changing their work habits and improving their productivity and well-being easier. Examples include suggested tasks for the day, reminders to have breaks and taking time away from the screen which will be delivered to your Outlook inbox.

In addition, a new stay connected experience will also help individuals strengthen relationships with their colleagues by making it easy to praise top collaborators for key achievements and to schedule one-on-ones to catch up.

Finally, there will be new insights tab in Teams that allow leaders to ask natural questions like, “Are employees at risk for burnout? Are people maintaining strong internal connections? Are relationships with customers being maintained?”

Webinar Registration and reporting

For more structured meetings and events such as customer webinars, meeting and event organisers will soon be able to use powerful event registration with automated emails to make it easier to manage attendance. Ater the meeting, you’ll be able view a detailed reporting dashboard that will help understand attendee engagement. These new features are expected to begin to roll out by end of 2020 – and i suspect the Advanced Communications license will be needed to use these features (just a hunch).

News Teams Webinar Experience – Coming Q4 2020

Teams Templates

Teams templates, which are now in the rollout phase, are designed to help teams get started faster and be more effective. Teams owners can now choose from common business scenarios, such as event management or crisis response, and industry-specific templates, like a hospital ward or bank branch. Each template comes with pre-defined channels, apps, and guidance and admins can create their own for your organisation.

New Teams Templates – Rolling out now

New backgrounds for Together mode

New Backgrounds to Together Mode coming Q4 2020

Promised between now and the end of 2020, Together Mode feature will see some improvements with new Together mode scenes which will include conference rooms and a coffee shop and later, the ability to add your own such as meetings rooms from your own office. Microsoft hopes these features can help people feel connected and engaged from anywhere and reduce fatigue caused by regular grid view meetings.

With these improvements, like custom backgrounds in video chats, presenters will soon be able to select a scene from the gallery as the default scene for all together mode meeting attendees. Microsoft said they will also be enhancing the feature further to automatically scale and center participants in their virtual seats, regardless of how close or far they are from their camera.

Additionally, custom layouts in Teams meeting (not just Together mode) will allow presenters to customise how meeting content is displayed for participants during the meeting.

Similar to a weather forecast or the news, participants will be able to see the presenter’s video feed transposed onto the foreground of the content being presented on screen making for a more professional presentation.

Breakout Rooms

New Breakout Rooms – Coming October 2020

Already in preview for education, Teams meetings is getting a much-anticipated breakout room feature.

This highly requested feature will allow meeting organisers to split participants into smaller groups (manually or automatically) so they can have their own discussions. It’s ideal for brainstorming and workgroup discussions or for running event with multiple streams or optional sessions for example.

This means presenters will then be able to hop between different breakout rooms and make announcements to all breakout rooms, and close the rooms to return everyone to the main meeting room. Participants will still be able to access the notes, chat, files and whiteboards from the breakout session after the breakout rooms close.

Collaborative Calling

Starting rollout from the end of this month, is a new set of calling improvements for Teams.

One of these is Collaborative Calling, which enables users better collaborate and share information from within the channel while taking calls from employees or their customers in the queue.

Also included are a host of improvements to transcription, live captions, recording, and the ability to transfer between Teams mobile and desktop apps when doing one-on-one calls seemlessly.

Microsoft also said that their new  live captions with speaker attribution is now generally available (though I don’t see it yet). This provides a live and recap service for the meeting which includes the recording, an online transcript, chat, shared files, and more.

New Microsoft Teams panels

As employees begin to return to the office, part time, occasionally or permanently, meeting rooms will provide a welcome change to their work from home setups and will likely be at a premium.

To make it easier for workers to know when a meeting room is occupied, Microsoft has unveiled a new category of devices called Microsoft Teams panels that can be mounted outside of a meeting space.

These devices are essentially small tablets that can also use information from other connected certified Teams devices such as cameras to show room capacity information and help workers follow their organisation’s social distancing guidelines.

OK.. There is more…

In addition to these main announcements yesterday, Microsoft also announced several new smaller enhancements to Teams which include:

  1. New Search Experience
  2. Ability to create tasks directly from a team’s chat or channel
  3. New Cortana powered hands-free meeting controls in Teams Rooms

Let me know what I missed….

6 new countries added to Microsoft Cloud Calling Plans

Microsoft made a big announcement today as it announced an additional 6 countries that it is adding to its coverage of Microsoft provided calling plans which will be available from the 1st October 2020.

This is big news seeing Microsoft has not added a country since May 2018 so adding 6 countries is a big deal!

What countries are being added?

  • Austria
  • Denmark
  • Italy
  • Portugal
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

The addition of these 6 countries in to the already available list of countries that support the Calling Plans Microsoft increases the total number of counties to 16, with the total list now being

  • Austria
  • Australia (via local telco)
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan (via local telco)
  • Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Puerto Rico
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Microsoft is adding the following countries to its list of countries in which customers can consume callimg plans directly from Microsoft or their license/CSP partners.

Direct Routing is also an option for customers wishing to keep their own SBCs, their own SIP provider/carriers or where callings plans are not available is specific counties.

Official notice on the Microsoft 365 Public roadmap