Office 365 road map: A big step in the right direction

The Office 365 team has announced its intent to provide more information, sooner, about key changes in its product

Jake Zborowski, writing on the Office Blog, made a tremendous announcement -- two announcements, really. First comes a pledge to actively advise Office 365 customers about future changes to Office 365 -- a road map -- before they happen. Second is a program called First Release that lets users opt in to advance releases of new versions. Both hold promise for (finally!) helping Office 365 customers see what's coming up and giving some advance warning to prepare for deltas on the user desktop.

The Office 365 for Business road map breaks announcements into four categories:

  • Launched Features that have gone out the door; this road map lists 13 of them, from generic Top Level Domain admin settings to a minor Lync for Mac update to sign-in page branding for Office 365 users.
  • Rolling Out Features coming at an undefined but RSN point in the future. There are 10 listed, including the announcement for First Release for Office 365 and browser reports for Office 365 admins.
  • In Development What's in the mill. This list of 35 items was the most interesting above the bunch. First on the list, Apps for Office for Excel Online, promises that "Excel Online will support adding Apps for Office similar to the Excel desktop client." To my mind, anyway, that's important news and a tremendous goal. There's Codename Oslo and Office Graph, Document Collaboration in Outlook Web App, Groups for Office 365, an increase in the limit of OneDrive for Business Storage to 1TB, customizing the Word Online ribbon, and many others. 
  • Cancelled Presumably the features from In Development that got the axe.

There's also a list called Previous Releases, which appears to be an aging-out bit bucket for previously posted items.

I'll readily admit that the first time I saw that list, I double-checked to make sure it was on a Microsoft site (it is) and it wasn't somebody's idea of a hoax.

Here's the latest on First Release, from Zborowski:

Over the past week we began the rollout of the First Release opt-in. If your organization is interested in opting into the release group, an Office 365 admin can log into the admin portal and select First Release under service settings. Go to Admin > Service settings > Updates.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding, and we won't know how well it's working until we've had a chance to digest several rounds of updates. It'll be particularly interesting to see how Microsoft handles unveiling the next version of Office, which is due to hit beta this summer. I have hope.

This story, "Office 365 road map: A big step in the right direction," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.