Outlook updates

It has been a while since our last retrospection of Outlook clients, so it’s time for another article listing noteworthy updates from the past few months. As before, we will break them per client, starting with OWA.

New OWA experience is GA

Announced over an year ago as a Preview, the new OWA experience has now matured to GA status. This milestone brings a bunch of missing features, such as support for managing groups and Voice mail, a somewhat polished Dark mode, Favorites and Categories, and more. Web chat support for Skype (for Outlook.com accounts) or Skype for Business is now available, or redirect to Teams, depending on the co-existence mode configured.

Sadly, some important features such as being able to access the GAL or Address Lists are still missing, while others such as add-in management have been obfuscated. Those have provoked some lengthy discussions over at the Microsoft Tech Community and complaints on UserVoice, and Microsoft is already working on bringing improvements. Like it or hate it, the new OWA experience is here to stay, and tenants that are switched to First Release no longer have the option to switch back.

Speaking of UserVoice, another new addition is the integrated feedback experience, which you can get to by pressing the small Help (“?”) button on top. “Integrated” refers not only to the fact that the feedback experience is part of OWA, but also the fact that it’s powered by UserVoice. In the initial view of the feedback pane you can see some of the latest trending items or search for specific keywords. You can review item descriptions and vote them directly from within OWA, or you can click on any item to be taken to the corresponding UserVoice page. If no matching items are returned from the search, you can use the New feedback button to create a new UserVoice item, without leaving OWA. If you don’t want your users to be able to use this new experience, you can toggle the UserVoiceEnabled property of the corresponding OWA mailbox policy.

The rollout of the new To-do powered tasks experience is also underway. As with many other rollouts across Office 365 lately, there’s a bit of a disconnect in terms of functionality and the overall look and feel, as the new experience doesn’t support Dark mode, the What’s new pane, Web chat and more. Interestingly enough, the “New Outlook” toggle is still visible in the To-do experience, even though my tenant has already been switched over to it completely, as part of the First release program.

New Outlook toggle

The new OWA experience also introduces the My day feature, exposed as a button on the top right. Pressing the button will open the My day pane, allowing you to get quick access to your Calendar and Tasks from any OWA page. It only exposes the primary Calendar though, while for Tasks we are able to select additional tasks folders/lists. Neither the new To-do based task experience, nor the My day Tasks pane will display emails that you have previously flagged, and the corresponding Flagged email list/Flagged emails view will only list newly flagged messages. Another obvious improvement would be to provide us with a unified/overlaid view of all the different tasks, appointments and meetings, whereas currently it takes multiple clicks to go over the full list.

In our previous article we detailed some of the settings that control the attachment experience, and more specifically attaching files from sources such as OneDrive or third-party storage providers. Now, Microsoft has deprecated the OneDriveAttachmentsEnabled and ThirdPartyFileProvidersEnabled parameters and replaced them with a single one, named AdditionalStorageProvidersAvailable, turned on by default. The current list of enabled third-party storage providers includes personal OneDrive, Box, Egnyte and Dropbox, with support for Google Drive and Facebook to follow in the future.

Outlook storage accounts

The screenshot above showcases the new settings menu for Storage accounts, which you can find under the Attachments section or access directly via: https://outlook.office.com/mail/options/mail/attachments.

Shared mailbox access is coming to Outlook mobile

The last article we did on Outlook updates featured the introduction of Shared calendars as a center piece. Six months down the line, this gets expanded beyond just Calendar access, with the Add Shared mailbox feature coming to Outlook mobile. This functionality has been the number one ask for years, and the main reason why the old “OWA for devices” apps remained so popular even after the release of the mobile Outlook app. Now, with the advent of the new “Microsoft sync technology”, Microsoft is finally ready to tackle this challenge.

The feature is coupled with Delegate support, allowing you to assign permission and share your mailbox with another person directly form within the mobile app. At the time of writing this article, the feature is still available for most customers, despite what the What’s new in Office 365 site or the Office 365 Roadmap tells us. The last update we have is that the rollout is currently paused until Microsoft addresses few issues, identified by customers who already got access to the feature. Users of the iOS version that are part of the Testflight program do have access to the feature and you can read Tony Redmond’s first impression here.

The Microsoft sync technology mentioned above is a new protocol that Microsoft uses for direct data access between the Outlook app and user’s mailbox. This new protocol eliminates the middle tier services that were in use previously, bringing simplicity and performance improvements and extending the reach of the Outlook app to additional Office 365 instances. Most importantly, it enables new features such as accessing shared mailboxes, or the support for S/MIME and Microsoft Information Protection, which are now in development. Microsoft completed the migration to the new protocol for all Office 365 tenants by the end of June 2019. If you are the curious type, you can use the following cmdlet to list any device using the new protocol:

Get-MobileDevice -Filter {ClientType -eq "Outlook"}

The Calendaring team hasn’t been idling, and we’ve received several new features. Those include support for colors/categories for Calendar items (screenshot below), time to leave notifications, the ability to schedule Teams meetings and the Join meeting button support for Teams meetings, and more. Another set of updates came out of the strategic partnership between Microsoft and Samsung. Most notably those include the support for POP3 protocol and enhanced user experience for tablet devices.

Outlook mobile calendars

The last few features we want to mention are support for actionable messages and the ability to limit app notifications to Favorited contacts only.

Outlook desktop UI changes and calendar improvements

The desktop client has also received a facelift, which probably isn’t news to anyone using the Monthly channel builds. The new look features polished and scalable Ribbon icons and has been rolled out to the Semi-annual channel now. As expected, even though there’s practically no change in functionality, the changed icons have caused some stir across the user base, which just goes to show that you can never please everyone. Things will probably get more interesting with the next feature release, which is supposed to bring the new and simplified Ribbon. And speaking of UI changes, Dark mode was just announced and should soon hit the Monthly channel.

Aesthetics aside, the July feature update brought us a horde of Calendaring improvements. While most of those changes can be considered minor, they bring noticeable improvements to the end user experience. Examples include the option to automatically dismiss reminders for past events, as shown on the screenshot below, or the newly added Join Online button for Teams meetings.

Automatically dismiss reminders

People scheduling meetings will now be able to use multiple room lists and switch between them without causing a reset in the room selection. We’ve also gotten a new default suggestions for the span of recurring meetings. While previously recurrence defaulted to “no end date”, now it will try to provide you with a value that makes more sense: monthly meetings get a span of one year, or 12 occurrences; weekly meetings get a span of roughly six months, or 24 occurrences; daily meetings end after 90 occurrences; yearly meetings continue to receive the “no end date” suggested value. Do note that those are simply suggested values, which you can override as needed.

Recurring appointments end date

In addition, organizers can now prevent attendees from forwarding the meeting request to other people. It’s important to understand that the user experience will depend on the client used, so make sure you familiarize with the documentation on the feature first.

These calendaring improvements have been available for Monthly channel builds for a while now, so the info presented above might feel a bit outdated for some readers. For them, we also include some features new to the Monthly channel. Probably the most impactful of these is lifting the 500 folder limit for shared folders, but few others deserve a mention: customizable quick action menu when hovering over messages (screenshot below), improved support for Outlook.com and Gmail accounts that are protected by 2FA, and support for roaming Focused Inbox settings.

Quick actions

Last, but not least, two security/compliance related improvements have made it to the Semi-annual channel. First, we have the Encrypt-only option, powered by Office 365 Message Encryption. While it has been a long time since the encrypt-only feature was first announced, it’s just now that the bulk of Outlook installs is getting it, so we should see its adoption soar in the coming months. And, we also have the native link rendering feature for ATP Safe Links, which make it easier for users to see the original, unmodified URL. The status bar will still show the rewritten URL and of course any click or copy operations will result in that URL being used, not the original and potentially unsafe one.

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