Microsoft Viva Sales: Aims to provide seamless integration from any CRM into Office 365 and Teams.

With the annoucement the Viva Sales platform, Microsoft aims to help organisations harness the power of their existing CRM platform and seamless expose this within and across Microsoft Teams and Office 365 without third party apps, plug-ins, or data exchange tools. Microsoft’s goal is a native, common and familiar experience regardless of an organisations choice of CRM system.

Viva Sales will connect customer data across from any CRM into Teams and Office.
Image: (c) Microsoft

This approach is not unique to Microsoft. Salesforce’s acquisition of Slack last year was in part to enable them to ramp up their communications tools for sales teams. Microsoft, however, is not looking to compete directly with Salesforce or any specific CRM vendor. Microsoft’s goal here is more around “filling gaps” left behind by legacy and traditional CRM systems that done provides the “smarts” that systems like Salesforce and Dynamics 365 provide for example.

In the official announcement of Viva Sales, Microsoft said:

We definitely think people benefit from a CRM system, the difficulty is, a lot of what’s happening between a customer and a salesperson is actually never recorded in the CRM system, because it’s just too tedious.”.

Jared Spataro | Corporate VP for Microsoft 365

What does Viva Sales do?

Due for release in Q4 2022, Viva Sales will allow sales and marketing teams to automatically synchronise data between any, and all, of their communications applications such as Microsoft Teams and Outlook, and their CRM system which does not have to be Dynamics 365 either. This is like the Salesforce’s Sales Cloud and Slack integration, and what Microsoft have done natively with Dynamics 365 and Teams.

In their official blog, Microsoft describe Viva Sales as a intelligent service which enables sellers to capture insights from across Microsoft 365 and Teams, eliminate manual data entry, and receive AI-driven recommendations and reminders – while staying in the flow of work. Viva Sales promises to streamline the seller experience by surfacing the insights with the right context within tools people already use, without them needed to dip in and out of their CRM therefore saving time and ensuring that the CRM becomes part fo the core workflow without compromise on the productivity tools the teams use across the wider organisation.

Microsoft say that Viva Sales will work with any CRM to automate data entry and brings AI-powered intelligence to sellers in Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams.

The key benefit for organisations using Viva Sales is that is that Viva is already (naturally) integrated with Microsoft Teams and Outlook which are used and adopted.

The launch of Viva Sales isn’t just about sales however. What!!!?, Well, Microsoft has a much broader vision with Viva to provide a layer of intelligence across its entire Office 365 suite and Teams. This strategy is demonstrated by the incredible reach and integration available through the Microsoft Graph – a major part of strategy for moving beyond the underlying enterprise resource planning tools and more towards the type of workflow play displayed and respected by the likes of ServiceNow.

A Change of Approach

This approach is a strategic shift for Microsoft. In the past, Microsoft’s go-to-market strategy was to require their customers to choose their products such as Teams and Dynamics 365 over the say WebEx, Zoom and then Salesforce or HubSpot. With Viva Sales, this is now about choosing what products work for you and then leveraging the intelligence services through Viva and the Microsoft Graph to bridge them together and provide data intelligence on top.

“The most significant thing about this announcement is we are saying … choose whatever you want to choose — what we actually think will be most valuable over time will be the layer of intelligence that binds it all together.”.

Microsoft

Microsoft have compared the enterprise software industry to that of a city, where it is built from the ground up. For example, If Azure, AWS and GCP are the city’s foundations, then SaaS applications and workflow are its roads and buildings.

“People will keep putting money into sewers and roads and stuff like that,” he said, “but a lot more money goes into the hardware put on top.”

What do you think?

What do you think of the announcement? Is this a good move for Microsoft or are sellers better off just working in their native CRM?




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Microsoft ends support for their once-dominant web browser Internet Explorer.

Today (June 15th 2022), what was once the “king of the web browsers” has officially retired after 27 years, marking the end of an era. As of now Internet Explorer is officially “end of life”.

Bill Gates and Microsoft Internet Explorer Logo
Bill Gates – Showcases Internet Explorer (c)

Microsoft Internet Explorer was released in 1995 and quickly became the dominant browser, almost instantly wiping out the previous dominant player Netscape. Internet Explorer was the dominant web-browser for more than a decade as it was bundled with the Windows operating system (similar to how Edge is today) that came pre-installed on billions of computers.

What does “End-of-life” mean?

In short, just that – it’s dead. Officially, “End of life” refers to the point in time when an application is no longer supported by the software company that makes it. In this case, Microsoft’s end of life for Internet Explorer means continued use of the browser after today is still allowed, but Microsoft will no longer update it, patch it or support it if something goes wrong.

This is important since new computer viruses, malware, and ransomware attacks are developed daily, and the web-browser is a major window into many of the apps that employees, customers, consumers use every day. Users should therefore stop using Internet Explorer use their modern Chromium-based Edge browser (or other 3rd party choice) since no more security updates will be provided by Microsoft as of now.

It has been a while coming

This has been a while coming, ever since Internet Explorer’s market share continued to be dominated by Google Chrome and others and Microsoft announced, and launched it’s new Edge Browser which built on the open source Chromium framework which Google uses within it’s Chrome browser.

Microsoft had already ended support for Internet Explorer for their Teams web app back in 2020, shortly followed by removing support across their other key web apps and services including OneDrive, Dynamnics, PowerApps, Outlook and Office from August 2021.

“Internet Explorer 11 desktop application will be retired and go out of support on June 15, 2022, for certain versions of Windows 10,”

Microsoft

Microsoft will continue to be supported in very few situations including with customers running the Windows 10 long term services branch (ltsb).

The Future is Edge

Microsoft Edge, was released in 2015 and was upgraded in 2019 to include the Chromium open-source code which Microsoft is now a major contributor along side Google and others. The move was done to compete with more popular browsers like Google Chrome, which has (and still does in part) dominated the market.

Microsoft Edge is a modern open-source browser and offers improved compatibility, streamlined productivity, and hugely better browser security.

As new apps and software products are released onto the market by other companies, old software versions can’t keep up. Microsoft Edge Chromium-based browser can now support a wider variety of platforms, which makes it more useful for the modern era. IE 11, in comparison, held limitations preventing it from updating alongside newer technologies.

What about legacy web apps and sites?

For older websites and services, Microsoft Edge provides a built-in “Internet Explorer mode”, making the use of using older web browsers like Internet Explorer unnecessary.

Microsoft recognise that many larger organisations “may have a surprisingly large set of legacy Internet Explorer-based websites and apps, built up over many years.” As such Microsoft have promised to support legacy web apps via it’s Internet Explorer mode until at least 2029, which gives web developers 8 full years to modernise their legacy apps and eventually remove the need for IE mode.

Legacy Support and Help is available

Users shifting from Internet Explorer to Edge can easily transition their passwords, favourite websites, and other browsing data from to Edge.

Microsoft recommends that any organisation that still has concerns or needs to support Internet Explorer (and therefore need legacy support) do the following.


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Microsoft’s One Outlook is now available to preview for Office Insiders

The new (beta version) of the One Outlook experience is available to paying Microsoft 365 or Office 365 Business and Education customers enrolled on the Office Insiders Beta Channel.

One Outlook is a new “unified email experience”, which will bring together the various versions and experiences from across their platforms into a single unified and consistent experience. This means it will eventually replace the existing Win32 and UWP apps on Windows, Outlook Web Access, and the Apple macOS versions. Microsoft will also be using it to host their Outlook for Web on browsers.

Microsoft’s longer-term goal is to also to replace the built-in Windows 11 Mail & Calendar apps with this version of the client – but this is likely to be someway off, but Windows Insiders are hoping to be able to start testing it in coming week meaning it might make its way into an early 2023 build of Windows 11.

One Outlook takes most of its inspiration and design from the Outlook web version, matching it closely in terms of design, features, and functionality – though there are still more things to come.

“Today, we are taking our next step by sharing a preview of the new Outlook for Windows, designed to bring consistency across our Windows and web codebases to help you be more productive and stay in control of your inbox.”

Microsoft Office Insider Team

Main Differences and Features

The new Outlook is built well and runs super quick (old outlook was a bit heavy on resources). The UX has some really clean lines though out the design too – it looks modern and fresh, and the design overall is a much more minimalistic and feels less cluttered.

New One Outlook Beta Experience

This One Outlook also adds a few new things not found in the Win32 version including: –

  • New look and feel aligned to the Outlook on the Web experience which adds a single view for calendar, email, and to-do items
  • Message reminders which use “AI” to automatically remind users about missed messages that need attention – these reminders appear at the top of the inbox until the user dismisses them,
  • Microsoft Loop components (which was previously confined to just Teams chat)
  • @mention for files – providing the ability to more easily share files using the “@thenameofthefile” convention to more quickly attach files and documents saved in the cloud to email messages without having to browse for the files.
  • New Outlook RSVP feature designed for hybrid work. This allows users to RSVP but also clarify whether they will be attending a meeting in-person or online.

Let’s quickly cover Microsoft Loop…

So I love ‘loop compoents’. Why? Loop will IMO, soon transform (again) modern co-authoring and Collaboration. With Loop, rather than collaborating on a whole documents, you can edit/author in real time components like lists, tables, paragraphs etc.   With this now in Outlook, it should hopefully start to end the endless reply-to-all storms since loop compoents can be edited and changed in real time. I covered loop in a previous blog.

There are some important things missing for Enterprise

Firstly, of course, this is a preview, which means it is not the final version. This is only currently available on the Insiders Beta Channel and as such there are some features (some small and some big) key features missing. The key ones missing for me (which I think will reduce the number of users willing or able to test it) are:

  • Multi-account support
  • Offline / Cached Mode support.
  • Search Folders,
  • Quick Steps
  • Support for Personal accounts & third-party services (like Gmail) – but that’s coming

In addition, this beta release lacks some of the legacy Outlook extensions that many power users need in enterprise environments including older add-ins and COM object support. I suspect some of this is on purpose to get a better feel of what add-ins and extension organisations actually need and use.

Thumbs Up and Thumbs Downs

  • The new design (while missing some features) is really nice
  • Outlook RSVP (though expect to come to the “old” version too)
  • Loop Components – these are awesome
  • @filementions for easy sharing of cloud files

Thumbs up
👍 The new design (while missing some features) is really nice
👍Outlook RSVP (though expect to come to the “old” version too)
👍Support for Microsoft Loop Components – these are awesome
👍@filementions for easy sharing of cloud files

Thumbs Down
👎Menu layout freaks you out a little – and no file menu – this will put people off
👎No Offline use (yet), which in a hybrid world – almost makes it unusable for now

How to get it and test it

To get and test drive the new Outlook experience, your need to be enrolled in the Office Insider Beta builds, ensure you have a minimum Office beta build of 15225.20000 and then enable the “Try the New Outlook” toggle button.

Switching to the new One Outlook preview

Remember, as with anything new or different, user feedback is critical and as Office Insiders Microsoft are expecting feedback (good and bad from its testers). As such it is important (if you are an Office Insider) to provide constructive and useful feedback about things you like that you think are missing or that you love.


If you are a tester, want to shape it’s future (and you can) – go test it and feedback to Microsoft on your experience.

Viva Goals promises to bring ‘purpose and alignment’ to the employee experience

Microsoft Viva Goals has just been annouced and has entered a closed private preview. It will be included in the current Microsoft Viva suite subscription from Q3.

What will this bring?

Viva Goals is based heavily upon Microsoft’s 2021 aquisition Ally.io, who are a world leader in the realm of objectives and key results (OKR) platform which will find its way into Viva and gradually across the rest of Microsoft 365 and Teams. Viva Goals promises to help aligns teams to an organisation’s strategic priorities and will bring them together around an organisations’ company mission and purpose and values.

According to Microsoft’s latest work trend index report, more than half of all managers say they feel leadership is ‘out of touch’ with employee expectations around work life, hybrid work, and workload commitments. This new Viva Goals module is designed to address this by bringing purpose and alignment into Viva alongside the other core purposes the focus on culture and communications, wellbeing and engagement, growth and development, as well as knowledge and expertise.

Viva Goals (image (c) Microsoft

“Viva Goals brings business goals into the flow of everyday work, making it easier to stay up to date with connected data and automated reminders as well as to share OKRs and their progress across the organization with customized dashboards and quick links. It integrates with Microsoft Teams, Azure DevOps, etc.—and has more integrations to come with Microsoft Viva, Power BI, and other Microsoft 365 apps and services”.

Vetri Vellore |Corporate VP |Microsoft Viva Goals

Vellore states that (according to the work trend index report) 77% of employees say it’s important or very important for their employer to provide a sense of purpose and meaning at work, and 69% say its important or very important to be rewarded for impact instead of hours worked.

Want to see Viva Goals in action

Viva Goals is Private Preview, but to learn more about the wider Microsoft Viva suite, visit the Microsoft Viva website and check out the video below.

Viva Goals in action (YouTube)

New Office 365 updates to improve hybrid work experiences.

Microsoft announced a number of key new features to the core apps across Office 365 aimed to further improve the working from home and working hybrid scenarios, easier and more productive.

Whiteboard

The much loved Whiteboard app is getting a chunk of new features too, which includes 50 new templates, new collaboration cursors, and will finally support Whiteboard collaboration in Teams Meetings with external people (yay).

Teams

Teams is no stranger to regular updates; these new updates are centred around the hybrid Meeting Room Experience.

  • A new companion device experience will prompt you to turn on your video when you enter a room, and will hide your video from the front-of-room screen as well as from the gallery view of other people also joining from companion devices within in the room
  • A new front row meeting layout, will bring remote meeting members into a spevial “front row” at the bottom of the screen. This will also include additional meeting info including  chat, raised hands, and live reactions. Front row is now available in preview.

Outlook

Outlook will soon receive a new feature to meetings RSVPs, allowing you to indicate whether you’ll be attending the meeting in person or remotely to help meeting organisers plan and coordinate meetings effectively.

PowerPoint

PowerPoint is getting a big update (available in the Office Insider build today) designed to make remote and pre recorded sessions better.

PowerPoint cameo is an experience that brings your camera(s) directly into your PowerPoint presentation, and recording studio, which lets you easily record your  presentation and deliver it later “on demand” with your embedded video. With cameo, you can seamlessly create and produce your presentations, decide how and where you want your video to appear on your slides with cameo, and then record yourself speaking to any slide with recording studio.

Viva

Finally, the Viva Insight app within Teams will soon receive a new Inspiration library feature that will give “thought leadership” tips, advice and best practices from sources including Microsoft and the Harvard Business Review.

What was new to Teams and Webex in Feb 2022

Logo showing what is new to Teams and Webex in Feb 2022

Following on from a packed January of new features, the slew of updates and enhancements  to Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex isn’t slowing down. Here’s my pick of the new features for Feb 2022 across the two big collaboration, meetings and calling platforms.

Microsoft Teams

Like most of the platforms, focus in Feb would adding some love to existing features and enhancing others. Main ones include enhancing the hybrid meeting experience, big updates to Teams Room devices on Android and bringing intelligence and convenience settings to physical meetings with the new “knock knock features”.

General Updates and New Features

Mute Notifications in Meetings

Subtle but vital, it’s now possible to mute notifications during meetings, so you can better focus. In addition to this, you can also now see the user’s “local time” allowing you to be more considerate of your colleague’s/customers/partners availability. Finally, the last general feature to hit the general release is the ability to pin chat messages, change chat density, and also respond to group approvals requests within Teams Approvals.

Meeting Experiences

Companion.gif
New mobile meeting experiences on iOS

In line with what was already supported on Android, it’s now also possible to join a Teams meeting with a single tap on both your Apple iOS device and Microsoft Teams Rooms using the companion feature. With this feature on, audio on your device will be automatically turned off to ensure echo does not happen. The “landing” experience on your iOS device will be optimised for engagement activities to make it easier to raise a hand or react, chat, see all participants, and access Microsoft Whiteboard. In addition to simply joining a meeting, Microsoft have also made it easy to access meeting and device controls, which includes the ability to cast a PowerPoint, control room cameras and more.

Microsoft have also made it possible to pin to the meeting stage or hide your own video in meetings. This allows you to see your own video in the increased size on your screen or to hide your own video (for you) during a meetings. This is designed to reduce distractions during calls and meetings while still having your video available for other participants to see. This is done by clicking on the ellipsis (…) in your video feed and selecting Pin for me or Hide for me.

Pin or Hide Video.png

Word Cloud Poll – adds support for open-text question polls in Teams meetings.
When using polls in meetings, this new option is great for more open engagement with attendees, since it allows you to collect attendees’ open-ended responses before, during, or after a meeting, with the results being automatically aggregated and displayed as a word cloud.

Poll.png
“Word Cloud” Poll

Teams Walkie Talkie on Phones

Microsoft added the addition of Walkie Talkie function already available on mobile, to Teams phones devices which allows users to use instant push to talk to speak to colleagues or other departments. Walkie Talkie on Teams phone devices can only be used to communicate with colleagues that are part of the same Teams channel so think of it like a silo’d communications group. Walkie Talkie can be added to the App Set up Policy and assigned to Teams Phones devices from the Teams admin center.

New to Teams Devices

Teams Rooms, can now be configure to automatically release reserved conference rooms that are not being used. In addition there is also a new featured known as a “check-in knock-knock” notification on the Teams Room front room display, which will alert over-running meeting dwellers that their meeting is over and people are waiting to come into the room.

Microsoft also more added support for content sharing on Teams Rooms for Android, as well as increasing the number of video feeds displayed. HDMI ingest sharing, also makes it way to more Android Room devices as does far-end camera control for remote meeting attendees. Android Teams Room devices also now support adaptive dual screen display whereby the videos of remote participants span both screens (in meeting rooms with dual screens) when content is not being shared.

Dual Screen.png
Teams Rooms on Android
Ingest.png
HDMI Ingest on Android Rooms

Cisco Webex

Updated to Webex are also coming thick and fast and Feb 2022 is all focussed on innovations that make hybrid work even better. In Feb’s updates, these including voice optimisations for all voices, a new Webex App integration within HubSpot (which joins app integrations from Zoom and Teams), new Socio capabilities that aim to unify the physical and virtual event experiences. There’s also welcomed changes to Cisco’s flagship Room Panorama devices.

New “All voices” audio optimisation

Aimed to “give all meeting attendees an equal voice”, Webex has added “optimise for all voices” to their intelligent audio capability. This enhancement will allow users to be able to hear anyone in the meeting, no matter where they are in the room at the same volume level. For example, if there are a few people sitting away from the microphone, their voices will still be heard loud and clear by all remote meeting participants.

Realtime translation and transcription expanded with 13 new languages

Webex now makes it easier to create a more inclusive, collaborative and accessible experience in meetings and webinars with attendees from around the world, as well as those with hearing disabilities, with real-time translation. This month Webex have added 13 new spoken languages taking the total to over 100 caption languages in the Webex app.

Webex Live Captions and Translation

Redesigned Sildo “poll” experience

Cisco released a redesigned Slido experience in meetings to make it easier to create engaging real-time polls, quizzes, and also to host Q&As. Silo was integrated into Webex last year following an acquisition and provides a simple to use, adaptive and extensive experience.

Cisco Slido Polls in Webex

Webex Room Panorama

Aimed to bridge the gap between hyrid meeting experiences, Cisco Webex can now bring a full immersive experience with panoramic view to cloud registered Webex Room Panorama devices. Webex now supports up to 9 point-to-point calls with exceptional live video feed of far end participants, including control of remote meeting rooms, on the two 82” screens which make up the Panorama. Shared content is displayed on the 65” top screen.

Cisco Webex Room Panorama

Room Panorama features directional, stereo audio, intelligent table microphone array, HD content sharing to provide even more flexibility, better replicate in-person experiences, and to bring the full panoramic experience to boardrooms and executive meetings rooms.


Cisco becomes first SD-WAN vendor to leverage Microsoft Informed Networking Routing to optimise performance of Microsoft Teams and SharePoint

Cisco Cloud On-Ramp

Cisco has released an updated version of their SD-WAN software which now supports the optimal routing of Microsoft SaaS apps including Microsoft SharePoint, OneDrive, and Teams on their SD-WAN. Cisco’s Vipella SD-WAN solution is the first SD-WAN solution to be certified for this.

Note: At time of writing, this feature applies to Cisco’s Viptela SD-WAN solution and is not currently supported in the Cisco Meraki SD-WAN portfolio. This may change.

With this update to the Cloud OnRamp feature, Cisco SD-WAN “further integrates Cisco’s support for Microsoft’s Informed Network Routing technology that lets organisations share Microsoft 365 app feedback telemetry with networking vendors and to receive network link telemetry from them”, according to Jeevan Sharma, Manager, Product Management, Enterprise Cloud & SD-WAN group at Cisco in a blog about the enhancements.

Known as Cloud OnRamp for Microsoft 365, it uses “proactive and continuous link probing to assess the best performing path at any point in time. It also allows network admin to utilize Microsoft URL categories granularity for categorizing the Microsoft 365 apps into Optimize, Allow and Default categories, while active link probing makes sure that the best performing path is always selected”.

How it works

This latest update to Cisco’s SD-WAN software, which continually monitors and controls the connectivity, management, and services between data users (remote or office based) and cloud and data centre services, now includes support for more Microsoft SaaS applications specifically SharePoint (and OneDrive) and Microsoft Teams.

Cisco SD-WAN customers can leverage Cisco’s Cloud OnRamp to intelligently route Microsoft 365 traffic, to provide the fastest, most secure, and most reliable end-user experience. This is done by ensuring that all connectivity paths to Microsoft 365 from each WAN / Internet connection at the branch, office, regional hub and/or data center is monitored continuously for performance, and application traffic is then dynamically routed to the best-performing path without requiring human intervention. Cisco Cloud OnRamp also provides real-time and historical visibility into SaaS application performance.

“I am excited to announce that the integration between Cisco SD-WAN and Microsoft Informed Network Routing now includes support for Microsoft Teams and SharePoint app telemetry. This update will help us deliver an improved end-user experience through enhanced cloud connectivity. The partnership between Microsoft 365 and Cisco SD-WAN further enhances your Microsoft Teams and SharePoint experience by optimizing routing and path selection beyond traditional network telemetry probes”

Jeff Mealiffe | Principal Architect | Microsoft 365 Core Networking | Cisco

Microsoft and Cisco Partnership

Cisco SD-WAN is Microsoft Network Partner Program (NPP) certified and is also a Microsoft 365 networking partner. As part of this program, Cisco SD-WAN aligns with the Microsoft’s Connectivity Principles aimed at helping Microsoft 365 customers achieve optimal end-user experience.

What is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN technology is available from leading network and vendors such as Cisco, Palo Alto etc, and typically include routers and switches or virtualised customer-premises equipment (vCPE). They run together using a connected software stack that handles things like policy, security, networking functions, and other management and security functions.

Cisco SD-WAN technology enables enterprises to build a scalable and carrier-neutral WAN infrastructure, allowing them to reduce WAN transport costs and network operational expenses. Cisco SD-WAN enables IT to apply business-centric, application-aware, and differentiated routing policies – providing end users at the remote offices, branch direct connectivity to performance-intensive trusted app, such as Microsoft 365, while routing generic Internet traffic via SWGs, CASBs, or the customer’s VPN connected data center.

New “Compact” Chat Mode coming to Microsoft Teams

The Microsoft Teams desktop app will soon be getting a new “Compact” Chat mode that will let you see 50% more messages on screen. Compact mode will only work on chat messages initially and wont apply to Channel messages.

Microsoft have said that this new Compact mode will start rolling out in the Teams desktop app this month and once it’s available, the option will appear in Settings > General > Chat Density where you will be able to choose between “Comfy” (the current experience) and “Compact.” as shown below.

New Chat Density Options in Microsoft Teams

Enabling the Compact Mode will reframe the message to show 50% more chat messages than the default/current view which Microsoft call “comfy”. This new setting can be enabled now for anyone in the “preview” channel for Microsoft Team and you can see the difference in the two images below.

Screenshot showing Compact Mode vs Comfy mode in Microsoft Teams
Compact Mode vs Comfy Mode

This will start rolling out to all users later this month (Feb 2022).

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 “Hands on” Review

SurfaceDuo

Santa was kind this year and allowed me to get my hands on a Surface Duo 2. Before I drive into the formal review, I’d like to summarise by saying that Surface Duo 2, whilst very much similar and samey is much better and more refined better than the original Duo. Whilst a Dual Screen may not be for everyone, it’s different and is great once you to adapt to it.

IMO, having two screens available will (once you get used to it) leave you wondering how you ever made do with just one before. It’s a convenience and multitasking experience that once you get used to is hard to let go of.

The Duo certainly get’s attention and is simply an awesome blend of Surface and Android then this device is worth every penny or cent.

The original Surface Duo was released in 2020 and whilst a thing of beauty (it looked gorgeous, was pretty responsive and a real “wow piece”, it lacked (for most) some key things such as NFC, and decent cameras which stopped me for replacing my daily driver (a Samsung S20) for the Duo.

The Surface Duo 2

Surface Duo 2 is simply the most beautiful bit of mobile technology I have ever set eyes on. It is a work of art, the Picasso of devices, and you just want to touch it and use it. The original Duo only came in a white (Glacier) , but the Duo 2 adds another colour option of black (called Obsidian) which is also stunning.

As I said in the intro, having two screens available to you (once you get used to it) will leave you wondering how you ever made do with just one before. It’s a convenience and multitasking experience that once you get used to is hard to let go of.

Surface Duo 2 is simply the most beautiful bit of mobile technology I have ever set eyes on.

Under the hood, Microsoft have given us a flagship mobile chipset (the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888), 2 beautiful screens, NFC, fast charging, the latest Bluetooth, 8GB of RAM and updated cameras (both on the front and in a new 3-camera cluster on the rear). There’s also a glance bar on the sides to see notifications. These hardware improvements have enabled me to use the Surface Duo 2 as my day-to-day device, which the original Duo fell short of.

Yes it is bigger than my “old” Samsung S20 Ultra, but it does feel ok in my pocket (now that my Surface Bumpers have arrived).  Unlike the original, the Surface Duo 2 arrived with Android 11 waiting to be installed which, combined with the updated guts makes it feel super fast and responsive with no noticeable lag. 

One week in and I haven’t experienced any major quirks, and my only annoyance is that the battery is still not as good as I would have hoped (more on that later) but then I have been using it (ok, showing it off) a lot and of course the Duo has to power two screens.

Design and Feel

The Surface Duo 2 feels more polished than the Surface Duo does. It still looks every bit Surface Duo, Microsoft have clearly listened to feedback and made a number of key refinements over the first generation.

Surface Duo 2 (left) vs Surface Duo (right)

One of the most noticeable changes (you can’t miss it), is the camera bump on the back of the device. Microsoft have added a powerful triple-lens camera setup (there was no rear camera in the original Duo), which means the cameras do protrude from the back of the device (like with most phones). This was a slight concern to me when I first started using the device, mainly because it’s so noticeable compared to the original Duo!  The cameras are surrounded with a tough plastic material, which extends beyond the glass back of the camera. This means that camera lenses are not in direct contact with the back of the left side of the device when it closes. Its does stick out though and you can’t help think “I hope I dont damage it”.

With Duo 2, Microsoft has also addressed one of the most annoying things about the original Duo which was that you had to open the device just to check the time or see if you had any notifications – a problem you don’t get with single screen phones. Surface Duo 2 has notification displays (called the Glance bar) that wraps around the edge of the device and are activated with a simple tap of the unlock button to show the time or a missed notification.

The Screen(s)

Like the original Surface Duo, the Duo 2’s selling point and USP is centred around the dual-screen design.

Two screens make every day tasks so much easier. Everything from reading an eBook across two screens feels more natural, whilst being on. Teams Call and making notes in OneNote on another is simple a fluid. Another great example is when you are reading and email or on a web page with links. With dual screens, clicking a link means these can open on the second screen to read later. As I have said a few times now, having two screens at your disposal massively changes the ways in which you can multitasking on your device.

The displays themselves are simply beautiful and clear. Like many other aspects of the Surface Duo 2, the screens have been upgraded too. The original Duo had two 5.6-inch AMOLED displays with a 1,350 x 1,800 resolution, which “combined” into an equivalent single 8.1 display with a 1,800 x 2,700 resolution.

With Surface Duo 2, there are two 5.8-inch displays, which open up to a “combined” 8.3 inch single screen. Each display gives 1,344 x 1,899, which with a combined resolution of 2,688 x 1,892.

Each display on the Duo 2 has a 90Hz refresh rate and up to 800 nits of brightness. Duo 2 can also deliver over 87% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut which is actually slightly better than the Surface Laptop Studio, a device designed specifically for art and graphics focussed tasks.

Gesture support for the Surface Duo 2 is unchanged from the original. This is good becuase it works well, allowing for example, for you to swipe up and drag towards the middle of the two displays to have an app span both screens. Additionally, most Microsoft apps (and a few third party ones), take full advantage of the dual displays on the Surface Duo. I find apps like Outlook most useful on a dual screen whereby you can have your email list and your current emails side by side which makes scanning through and responding to email much easier and similar to what you’d expect on a Windows/Mac desktop app.

Surface Duo 2 (left) vs Surface Duo (right)

Microsoft Teams is another app that leverages the full potential of the dual screen capability of the Surface Duo. With Teams on a Surface Duo, you can have chat open on one display, with your video call open on the other which makes the  mobile Teams experience much more aligned to how we tend to use apps and multitask in a Teams meeting. The Amazon Kindle app is good example of a non Microsoft app that has also been optimised for dual screen devices.

The launcher screen (which is the home screen  UI) even allows you to group and launch apps side by side as I have shown in the example below from my original Surface Duo device.

App grouping on Surface Duo

The hinge mechanism on the Surface Duo 2 is the same as on the original Duo. It’s slick and smooth with just enough resistance to prevent it opening by accident and once open, it stays open and in place.

The Camera(s)

When you are paying this kind of money for a flagship phone, you expect decent cameras, and this was one area the original Surface Duo fell short. Whilst I’d day that Surface Duo is not really aimed at the average iPhone or Samsung S series customer, if you are going to use it as your primary device (whether that is work, personal or both), you don’t want to have to carry a second camera around just to be able to take good photos.

The Surface Duo 2 has two cameras, a 12MP front facing camera, and a triple-lens camera on the back which encompasses a 12MP wide lens, a 12 MP telephoto lens and a 16MP Ultra-Wide angle lens.

The camera bump does mean, however that you can no longer fold the device back completely but it’s a small price to pay for awesome cameras.

The image below is one I took while visiting Kew Gardens in London over the Xmas break.

Image Captured With Surface Duo 2

If you’ve seen or used the original Duo, you will notice the photo quality is a huge improvement from the original and was one my biggest disappointments.

Specifications and Performance

With Surface Duo 2, Microsoft have put a decent flagship chipset inside. The original device, while  an innovative bit of technology, struggled IMO to grab the attention needed because the chipset components used weren’t at the specification the device or the price-tag commanded.

This time, Microsoft have got it right – and includes the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset, a leap ahead of the Snapdragon 855 which makes up the guts of the original model. RAM in the Surface Duo 2, has increased from 6GB to 8GB, but this is lower in comparison to what other vendors are heading for with their top end devices. Highend Samsung devices for example, now ship with 12GB.

Does it matter? Well, it may not be a RAM related  thing,  but I’ve read reviews from others seeing performance issues with Duo 2 where the phone gets “stuck” in a the camera app when taking lots of photos, or more precisely when switching from camera to another app and back again. I have not seen this myself yet but it’s something I’ll be on the look out for.

So far though, from my week of use, the Surface Duo 2 works and performs extremely well. I am comparing most of the day to day use with my previous daily device (the Samsung Galaxy S20) and it is at least on par with this, but far more fun to use. 

Battery Life

Like all mobile phone makers, battery life gets close attention, and the published numbers are never (in true day-to-day life) accurate.

Microsoft claim “up to 15.5 hours of video playback and 28 hours of talk time”, which definitely sounds impressive. Here’s how the Duo 2 performed for me over Christmas Day and Boxing day….

Though out these two days, I took lots of photos and videos of the kids, family and friends, did a fair bit of web browsing, WhatsApp messaging and general “showing off” of the device, and it did fall short of Microsoft’s claims but faired better than I actually thought it would…

The Surface Duo 2 lasted 11.5hrs before the battery got to the critical 10% level. I didn’t try it with single screen only (why would I), but in essence I’d say it performed about as well as my 1 year old Samsung S20. I think I will still need to bring a battery charger with me for a full day out (fortunately the Duo 2 does support fast charging).

Gaming…..

Another big use case of the Duo is gaming, after all this is a device made by the same company that built the Xbox and of course they have recently just released their Xbox Cloud Gaming service. With Surface Duo, You can play games using the second screen as a controller or you can stream console games using an Xbox controller.

Pricing

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 is available to buy (at time of writing) from £1,349 – which gets you the base/standard configuration with the Snapdragon 888 chipset, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. For another £150 you can get the 256GB version and there’s also a version with 512GB RAM if you really need that much!

Unlike the original device, Surface Duo 2 doesn’t come with the Bumper case that is designed to protect it from falls and knocks – the first thing I did was spend another £38 on one in an attempt to keep it looking new and shiny. Many may not see this as a big deal, as the sides of the Surface Duo 2 are a more rugged plastic this time but its an expensive device so the bumper is the least it deserves to keep it looking pretty.

Yes, Surface Duo 2 is an expensive device, but it’s more competitive with the phones around it. As an example, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 costs £1,599, which is slightly more expensive than the same spec Surface Duo 2.

Any annoyances?

Just a few…

  1. The Microsoft Launcher needs updating. It’s far out of date compared to the Standalone version you can run on any other android phone and other a couple of dual app launching shortcuts, lacks features of the standalone launcher.
  2. The size of the camera bump (mainly its noticeable since the device is so thin) is overwhelming at first but when you use it you soon forget how good the cameras are (especially compared to the Duo 1).
  3. Touch response is an issue at times on the Surface Duo 2 as it was on the original and an area of the software that Microsoft really needs to work on. Hopefully the upcoming Android 12 update and promised updates will address this.
  4. Apps optimised for dual screens are few and far between. It’s a shame that not nearly enough app developers take advantage of the capabilities and flexibility of using dual screen technology effectively. This is not limited to Surface Duo of course – there simply aren’t that many of these type of devices in the market today.

Would I recommend?

In short Yes

Being a Surface Fan and Windows MVP, I am always going to say yes!!! but in all honestly, the Surface Duo 2 is a truly unique and beautiful device that delivers a really solid solution for IT professionals, senior managers or tech enthusiasts.

Surface Duo 2 addresses all the short comings of the original and is a device that allows you to replace your daily driver.

Just like the Surface line up for business, Surface Duo 2 hits the professional market spot well. If you are an IT enthusiast, love the Surface Brand and want a device that stands out from the crowd, delivers a powerful and unique experience over the run-of-the-mill iPhone or Samsung devices out there then this a device that will not disappoint.

2022 will celebrate 10 years of Surface

2022 will see Microsoft celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Surface. The first device launching in October 2012 with the Surface RT followed shortly after by the Surface Pro (I still have a working one in my office somewhere too).

Microsoft Teams gets support for “Loop components

Teams Loop Components

Microsoft has rolled out an update for Microsoft Teams that brings the first set of “fluid” Loop Components. This has the ability to further innovate and disrupt the way people collaborate with their colleagues and perform daily tasks.

The update now introduces functionality from Microsoft Loop, a new set of fluid controls designed to further streamline the way people collaborate and cooperate on tasks in real-time. Loop brings about “portable components” that synchronise across the various aspects of the Microsoft 365 ecosystem.

As per this new blog post, “Loop components have now arrived for Microsoft Teams, unlocking a variety of opportunities to streamline workflows, as well as minimizing the number of apps workers are required to juggle“.

With Loop components, rather than share an entire document for co-authoring and collaboration through Office 365, users can instead post a specific paragraph, data table or list of actions into a Teams channel, where all members are able to view, edit and manipulate the content and see any changes and interaction in real-time. With Loop components, this content remains up-to-date wherever else the components have been deployed – which may be within a Loop page, Word document or PowerPoint presentation.

GIF showing Loop Components in Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Loop Components within Microsoft Teams

What is Loop?

Loop was first unveiled at Microsoft’s annual Ignite conference in November, and is made up of three elements: components, pages and workspaces.

Loop workspaces are shared spaces that contain everything relevant to a specific project. Loop pages, meanwhile, are described as “flexible canvases” where users can organise their various loop components and draw in files, links or data.

At the announcement, Microsoft said that “For years, the established patterns of work were clear. Communication took place via email and content creation was mostly documents, spreadsheets and presentations,”

In the last 18 months, the world has changed, and we have adapted to a new working environment where people had to complement traditional communication tools and in-person collaboration with alternative solutions. But we need to go further. That is why we are reimagining Office, adding new apps to respond to new opportunities, and making Office a universal, interactive canvas.”

Loop components have the potential to change the way remote and hybrid workers collaborate with their teams, and colleagues in a significant way. Microsoft say that additional components are expected to be announced at Microsoft Build next year by both Microsoft and third party application providers which will provide more seamless and collaborative ways to collaborate across the apps and services.


I wrote a blog on the Loop announcement previously, which you can read here.

Microsoft Teams Phone System SLAs is now 99.99% and financially backed

Microsoft has updated the SLAs for Teams Calling Plans, Phone System, and PSTN Audio Conferencing to four nines / 99.99%.

This reflects the continuous work Microsoft are doing in the background to provide the very best quality, reliability, availability and calling experiences. Microsoft say in their blog that “while it’s natural to do a simple comparison of SLAs throughout the industry, there’s richer story about the new SLAs for Teams Phone that goes beyond the nines”.

SLA goes beyond just phone systen

The Microsoft Teams SLA is actually made up of multiple Microsoft Teams components which are defined separately in the SLA;

  • Microsoft Teams (the core service) that includes chat, calling, meetings etc.
  • Calling Plans, Phone System, auto attendant service and PSTN Audio Conferencing
  • Voice Quality (if impacted by Microsoft network and not your own LAN/WiFi)

In this update, Calling Plans, Phone System, and Audio Conferencing have risen from the previous 99.9% to 99.99%. Voice quality SLA remains at 99.9% (which is about 44 minutes a year) and in line with the core Microsoft 365 SLA.

Financially Backed

When any of these metrics fall below 99.99% in a given month, Microsoft calculates the total downtime and pay-out service credit based on length of incident (in minutes) multiplied by the number of users potentially impacted by the incident or outage and provide monthly service credit back at up to 100%.

Here’s how Microsoft calculates SLA’s for Teams Voice:

Note; This SLA does not cover outages caused by a failure of third-party software, equipment, or services not controlled by Microsoft, or Microsoft software not being run by Microsoft as part of the service (e.g. third-party PBX solutions integrated into Teams). This also excludes Carrier Connect services so its important to check the SLAs with your provider (if you have one).

Read the full SLA

https://www.microsoft.com/licensing/docs/view/Service-Level-Agreements-SLA-for-Online-Services?s=09

Microsoft sets it target on ChromeOS with Windows 11SE devices from just $249

Microsoft has launched a new edition of Windows 11 designed specifically for schools.

Windows 11 SE (built for education)

Windows 11 SE will ship exclusively on low-cost laptops that are built for the classroom which currently have good popularity with adoption of low cost Chromebooks, particuarly in the US.

It’s OK.. It’s not another Windows “S Mode”

Windows 11 SE has been designed for schools and is more akinned to the abandoned Windows 10X than it is Windows S Mode, which didn’t do well in education due to the limitations of only being able to install apps from the Microsoft Store.

Windows 11 SE will only be available on new low-cost devices and only for schools and education customers. As you’d expect, Windows 11 SE has been naturally, optimised for the core lifeblood Microsoft apps like Edge, Teams, Office, and their cloud-based services, but does allow use of any app including services and apps like Zoom, Google Chrome etc.

Windows 11 SE also supports third-party apps, including Zoom and Chrome, because we want to give schools the choice to use what works best for them,” says Paige Johnson, head of Microsoft’s education marketing.

Paige Johnson | Head of Microsoft Marketing Edu

Management and Apps

IT will be in control of what apps get installed by default and what can be installed and devices can be managed to silently update outside of schools hours. Device management and control is naturally provided by Microsoft Device Manager (formerly Intune).

Windows 11 SE doesn’t allow access to the  Microsoft Store, since it will be down to IT to decide which apps get installed on Windows 11 SE devices. Microsoft will share a list of all supported popular school apps (which I haven’t seen published as yet).

Refined with schools by students and teachers

Microsoft say that they have spent the past 18 months or so working with schools ( teachers and students and IT) to get feedback on what is needed for education. This input and feedback has led to some education specific features such as apps always launching in full screen as well as some of the more advanced layouts and desktop controls like Snap Layouts have also been disabled and replaced instead by a single mode that just let’s students organise apps side by side. Widgets are also off as these were seen distracting to students in testing.

Simple side by side view in Windows 11 SE
(C) Microsoft.

In order to try to convince more schools to use Microsoft Edge over Google Chrome, the option yo accept Chrome extensions will be on by default. Edge is built on chromium which means schools that use Chrome today will be able to continue to use their favourite Chrome extensions in Edge.

Leverages the Power of Microsoft 365

Windows 11 SE uses OneDrive as its default document store and also is configured with offline support to make it easier for students to use Windows 11 SE laptops offline or in areas of the school where they isn’t WiFi for example.

OneNote is also extremely popular and powerful tool and is also installed and configured by default. OneNote for education as some really powerful teacher and student co authoring and class book features so it makes sense that they are putting this in the default build.

Hardware Options

Windows 11 SE will only be available on dedicated low-cost laptops that are sold to schools or education institutions.

This week, Microsoft annouced the launch of its new Surface Laptop SE, which sets the baseline for Windows 11 SE powered devices.

Starting at just $249, the base model ships with an Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of eMMC storage, and an 11.6-inch (1366 x 768) screen.  Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, and other are also planning to launch Windows 11 SE laptops in the coming months.

You can read more about the Surface Laptop SE here.

Cisco’s new Enterprise Agreement is great for partners and customers

I feel I must congratulate Cisco on the annoucement of their new partner and customer centric Enterprise Agreement.

Simple and Inclusive

This looks and feels like one of the simplest yet powerful subscription based licensing programmes in the channel… at a time when “other” major vendors seem to be struggling to get a model right that is fair and offers value to both customer and partners regardless of size.

Consistent across their solution portfolio

When fully available in early 2022, Cisco will make their full portfolio of services available through a single agreement rather than the current multiple EAs with different terms, rules and portals they have today. Instead the EA will cover all five of Cisco’s solution areas – application infrastructure, networking infrastructure, collaboration, security and services.

Helps make it easy for customer to buy solutions across the stack

This new EA will dramatically simplify purchasing and selling as it creates one program and one experience for everything Cisco do and aligned to their product portfolio.

For example, Cisco has been beating the drum hard with the concept of “full stack observability”, which is growing in importance in this multi-cloud centric, highly mobile and hybrid world.

To make this a reality, customers, need to buy products across multiple technology and solution stacks, including services like AppDynamnics, ThousandEyes, Intersight etc., but this new should make it much easier for partners to sell and for customers to buy.

#cisco #collaboration #ciscopartner #security #partners #customers #subscription

Office.com is getting a huge AI powered overhaul

Microsoft are releasing a huge overhaul and new look for the Office.com (and the office app) experience.  This will make it even easier to find all the content associated with you and your teams, simplify and enhance the search experience and bring all your apps, tasks, templates and actions together in one place.

New Office.com experience

AI Overhaul

The main thing you notice first off is how much more simple and intuitive the Office.com pages now look.

Microsoft goal here has been to put you and your most important work at the forefront of the experience. The power of Microsoft 365 will anticipate which files (and people) are most important to your work at a given moment based on your habits and routines, the docs or projects you are working on, the activity happening within them and what you need to do to accomplish your work.

On the left pane, is a familiar navigation pane where users can quickly get to things like the new My Content page and Create Pages making it simple and easy to search for or create new content across Microsoft 365. As new fluid components like Loop (also annouced last week), these will also surface themselves here.

Home page updates includes new or overhauled sections around providing:

  • Recommended Actions
  • Quick Access
  • My Content
  • Creating content

Recommended Actions

Recommended actions analyse and bring together anything that needs (or may need) your attention or action. From here you can jump into your upcoming meeting, add (or complete) a To-Do or Planner task, reply to recent comments in documents, and see potential actions you have discussed in an email.

In addition to the Recommended Actions on the home page, you can also find content actions in line on any of the content lists within Office.com by clicking on the “triple dot” menu.

Quick Access

The Quick Access section let’s your easily collaborate on content by Sharing via Teams or booking time to review content with your team or manger. This section is all about helping you jump into and review content that’s important to you.  This content can be viewed as either a list or adaptive cards for a more visual layout depending on your preference.

Microsoft have made it really easy to filter this content by recently opened content, content you have shared with others, content around a particular topic, or person and group and even your favourite content.

My Content

Here you can view all your content and again view it by recently opened, shared, and favourites or custom filters to find what you need. As with quick access, you can leverage the powerful filters to quickly find the content you need.

As above, you can easily filter by type of document, activity and time and unlike most searches there no need to set a number of results as it the results like just adapts as you scroll.

The power and depth of search filters is very extensive and even contains specific filters like document you are @mentioned in or where an action was assigned.

You also have the ability to browse by People and Meetings. When you click on People for example you can view an easy to digest card view of people and documents that have been shared. When you click on Meetings, you can find all meeting content like recordings, shared documents or adaptive components, notes, and chat from your previous meetings.

Microsoft have also added some cool quick access tools, for example you can convert docs to PDF, Share docs straight into  Teams, Add things to your Calendar, and Add to To Do lists.

Creating content

This update makes it easier than ever to create new content across all the Office suite. As well as being able to create new blank documents, users can so create content using an extensive set of new tools and templates. Everything from surveys and brainstorming sessions, Power BI reporting dashboards, project plans and dynamic presentations. IT can also customise the templates to allow employees to have quick access to templates from your organisations  branded content by having all corporate templates in one place central place.

Availability and Release

At Ignite last week, Microsoft said this new experience would start rolling out in the coming  weeks to insiders and then targeted release channels before making its way to everyone BY January 2022.

You can watch a video from Ignite on the new experience here.