5 cool changes coming for OWA, Office 365, Exchange, and Outlook

Microsoft's cloud-first strategy for Exchange includes smarter filtering, a unified user experience, and wider platform support

The Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) is the place for serious Exchange admins to gather and share techniques, gain insights, and get a deeper understanding of the Microsoft Exchange platform. For me, it's a must-attend event, both as a speaker and a member of the audience. In the spirit of MEC's educational mission, I'm sharing with you the five cool things I learned at MEC 2014 this week, including from an interview with Steve Chew, a technical product manager on Microsoft's Exchange team.

1. Microsoft isn't abandoning on-premises Exchange

Contrary to rumors, Microsoft remains committed to providing on-premises Exchange, including the upcoming Exchange 2015. Microsoft isn't looking to make Exchange cloud-only (such as via Office 365) but cloud-first. That means Office 365's Exchange will get new features first, via Office Web Apps (OWA), but many will trickle down to the on-premises Exchange version and Outlook client at some point.

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2. Microsoft is pushing more relevance technology into its products

Although not Exchange-specific, Microsoft used its keynote to promote its forthcoming Office Graph and Oslo technologies, introduced earlier this month. Office Graph uses machine-learning techniques to connect you to what it determines to be relevant documents, conversations, and people. Oslo works with Office Graph to create a Pinterest-like trending view based on what you're working on. They both watch what you do, what interests you, and what you treat as important to provide a personalized experienced around your workflow.

3. Using Office Graph, OWA will filter not-quite-junk mail

Microsoft demonstrated a feature in development for OWA called Clutter. We all receive email that we may have signed up for (such as a newsletter); that email is not junk, but you probably don't consider it very important. Clutter uses the intelligence of Office Graph to see how important (or unimportant) email is to you. It learns over time your levels of importance, then uses that analysis to separate the clutter from other inbox items. You can quickly scan the clutter, mark individual items as "not clutter," and take action on the rest of it, such as deleting it all. Of course, if you don't like the feature, you can turn it off.

4. OWA will integrate OneDrive and Yammer

Many people complain that they need to use Outlook or OWA for email, open Yammer in a browser window, peruse linked files in OneDrive, and deal with attachments in Office -- meaning they have to move among multiple apps to stay current. Microsoft will unify the experience in OWA (and probably later in Outlook). By default, if you send a message with an attachment that is uploaded to OneDrive, the recipient will be able to view and edit it directly via Office 365, including via the Web version when working in OWA in your browser. (You can make files view-only to prevent unauthorized document editing.) Microsoft has shown some images of Clutter in action on its marketing page; scroll down that page to see the images.

Likewise, Yammer is being integrated into the OWA messages view so that you can participate in Yammer conversations without having to open up another browser window. That's a smart move because making Yammer part of my email view is the only way you'll get me using Yammer. But it means it'll be harder to avoid those office-cooler Yammer conversations -- hopefully, Clutter will take of that! Microsoft is also applying the Groups concept in Yammer to Office 365, as well as enabling public conversations and shared calendars there.

5. OWA is coming to Android

The "new" Microsoft under new CEO Satya Nadella seems serious about providing Microsoft clients to non-Windows devices in a cloud-first way. Last week, it debuted Office for iPad. Microsoft now plans to release OWA for Android, joining the existing OWA apps for the iPhone and the iPad to bring a native Microsoft experience to those platforms -- if you're using Office 365, that is.

This story, "5 cool changes coming for OWA, Office 365, Exchange, and Outlook," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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