Microsoft Office 365


[Editor's Note: What immediately follows is a rundown of the latest developments and features Microsoft has added to Office 365 since this review was last updated.]

April 2018

  • Microsoft’s latest financial results revealed that Office 365’s commercial revenue increased by 42% year-on-year, with the suite now having 30.6 million consumer subscribers.
  • Microsoft has brought Sets to the preview version of Office 365, allowing for the use of tabs to keep things better organized in the productivity suite’s apps.
  • Office 365 users are getting real-time link checking in Word, Excel and PowerPoint later this year, which will automatically check links in documents for malicious content.
  • And in a further security move, Office 365 gained the ability to detect ransomware attacks, and help the user restore their files on OneDrive to a time before they were compromised.

March 2018

  • Microsoft introduced new data types for Excel, allowing the spreadsheet program to recognize rich data types beyond numbers and text, starting with stocks and geography.
  • The online version of Excel also got some neat features from the desktop software, including the ability to insert Pivot Tables and images from local storage.
  • A new personalized search experience which provides tailored results based on your work patterns is now being rolled out to all Office 365 subscribers.
  • Microsoft Teams celebrated the anniversary of its launch a year ago, and the software giant revealed that over 200,000 companies worldwide now use the Slack challenger.
  • Microsoft also introduced enterprise-grade calling features in Teams (such as call delegation), and revealed that Cortana integration is planned for the future.

February 2018

  • In the face of GDPR, Microsoft 365 is gaining powers to help protect sensitive data, including a Compliance Manager for Office 365 Business and Enterprise users in public clouds.
  • Resume Assistant arrived in Office 365, allowing Word users to leverage the power of LinkedIn in order to craft a better CV.
  • Microsoft Planner gained some new features including a Schedule View which makes it easier to plan ahead, along with Group and Filter options to help with meeting deadlines.
  • Not strictly Office 365 news, but it emerged that Microsoft is making Office 2019 a Windows 10-only affair – showing the firm is still pushing folks towards its subscription offering.
  • Office 365 Education received a new learning tool, Dictation in Office, which allows students to write using their voice across Word, PowerPoint, Outlook Desktop, OneNote for Windows 10, and Word/OneNote Online.

January 2018

  • Microsoft Teams saw some extensive work, including the ability to use interactive cards pulled from third-party apps directly in conversations as easily as you might drop in a GIF.
  • Microsoft made an important move for iOS and Mac users, with the introduction of seamless co-authoring across Word, PowerPoint, and Excel.
  • Mac for Office 365 subscribers got another new feature: AutoSave in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, facilitating automatic saving for files stored in the cloud (OneDrive and SharePoint).
  • Yammer users benefited from improvements to the mobile app which allow them to post announcements to groups, as well as adding animated GIFs, and more besides.
  • OneDrive for Business users received the ability to easily restore files to any point in the last 30 days, a feature which will hopefully be coming to consumer accounts soon.

December 2017

  • Outlook’s mobile app got smarter with the arrival of Cortana’s ‘time to leave’ feature which lets the user know when to depart for a meeting, taking into account things like traffic jams.
  • Microsoft Word received a new feature which uses machine learning to identify commonly-used acronyms across an organization, and automatically surfaces definitions for them.
  • Excel was bolstered with a preview of Insights in the spreadsheet app, which automatically highlights patterns and trends in data using AI (the firm is currently on a big drive with AI).
  • OneDrive and SharePoint were graced with the ability to automatically pull out searchable text from images (like receipts) for Office 365 commercial subscribers.
  • Microsoft rolled out its Whiteboard Preview app which the company describes as a ‘freeform digital canvas’ where people can collaborate creatively.

November 2017

  • It’s worth noting that Office Android apps have arrived for Chromebooks which are capable of running software from Google’s Play store.
  • Resume Assistant was announced for Microsoft Word, a feature which helps Office 365 users put together a sparkling resume/CV with personalized insights drawn from LinkedIn.
  • Three new apps arrived for Office 365 Business Premium, as well as Microsoft 365 Business, namely: Microsoft Connections, Microsoft Listings and Microsoft Invoicing.
  • Microsoft 365 Business – which comprises of Office 365, Windows 10 plus various security and MDM features – moved out of testing this month, and into general availability, 

October 2017

  • Microsoft powered up Word’s translation tools, allowing for the translation of entire documents across some 60 languages.
  • Microsoft brought premium Outlook.com features to Office 365 Home and Personal subscribers, including an inbox storage capacity of 50GB, and no more adverts.
  • Microsoft announced that Office 365 now has 28 million consumer subscribers (up from 24 million this time last year), and 120 million commercial users (up from 85 million).
  • Microsoft To-Do, the company’s task management app, began rolling out across the Office 365 user base.
  • Outlook for iOS and Android got some smart new features including the ability to sync shared calendars to your phone, and added capabilities for managing events.
  • Microsoft ended support for Office 2007 and Outlook 2007, meaning no more security patches, with the company pushing for users to upgrade to either to Office 365 or 2016.

September 2017

  • Microsoft revealed that Office 2019 will be out next year, so the company will continue to cater for those who don’t want (or aren’t ready) to move to the cloud with Office 365.
  • Skype for Business has reached the end of the road, with Microsoft set to roll the service into Microsoft Teams – with audio conferencing capabilities already in preview.
  • The Office.com website has been redesigned, and Office 365 app launcher simplified to help users open the apps they need swiftly, and to easily switch between them.
  • Microsoft kicked off a new program called ‘Windows Insider Lab for Enterprise’ which allows IT pros to try out Office 365 and other services for free, with a view to upgrading.
  • Microsoft Teams was improved by the rollout of guest access for Office 365 commercial and education subscribers, allowing guests to join a team and subsequent meetings.

August 2017

  • Microsoft brought co-authoring to Excel, along with an auto-save function for Word, Excel or PowerPoint files being worked on in OneDrive or SharePoint Online.
  • Security firm Barracuda has warned about an ongoing series of phishing attacks aiming to steal the login credentials of Office 365 users. As ever, be cautious about links in emails.
  • Microsoft released a new preview of Office for Windows PCs introducing in-line chat functionality to Word, Excel and PowerPoint, along with new ink effects.
  • A redesigned Outlook.com began rolling out in beta this month, with a number of touches to make your inbox smarter, and the webmail service more responsive in general.
  • Microsoft added new features for Office 365 users to the OneDrive app for iOS, including the ability to take folders offline for access, and scan multiple pages into a single PDF.

July 2017

  • With its latest quarterly financial results, Microsoft announced that Office 365 revenue surpassed traditional Office licenses for the first time ever.
  • The Outlook apps for iOS and Android have benefited from a redesigned navigation and conversation experience, and new intelligent search capabilities are promised soon.
  • Three new apps are coming to Office 365 Business Premium: Microsoft Connections (email marketing), Microsoft Listings (managing online listings) and Microsoft Invoicing.
  • Microsoft 365 was revealed, a new offering which combines Office 365 and Windows 10 in a single streamlined package, with additional security and management features.
  • Microsoft launched Workplace Analytics as an add-on for Office 365 enterprise customers, a system which uses behavioural metrics in an attempt to boost employee productivity.

June 2017

  • Microsoft Teams got new classroom experiences, allowing Office 365 for Education customers to benefit from virtual classroom environments with rich chat capabilities.
  • Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection received improved reporting on malicious emails which have been blocked, and a new Safe Links policy was introduced.
  • Microsoft Forms, a web tool for creating surveys, is rolling out for commercial customers, entering public preview for these users (previously it was only available to education customers).
  • Microsoft Stream was introduced for Office 365 commercial customers, an intelligent video service which allows users to share videos and benefit from speech-to-text transcription.
  • Microsoft pushed out iOS and Android apps for Microsoft Planner, allowing Office 365 users to update their plans while they’re on the move.

May 2017

April 2017

  • Microsoft used another tactic to push folks towards Office 365, announcing that those with a standalone version of Office will eventually lose access to OneDrive and Skype for Business.
  • It was confirmed that Windows will have twice-yearly major updates to align with Office 365 ProPlus’ update schedule, with said upgrades coming in September and March.
  • Outlook Customer Manager, which is designed to make it easy for SMBs to track and manage customer relationships, is now rolling out worldwide.
  • The PowerPoint app for iPad was improved with the introduction of Designer, which gives you quick and easy ideas for designing and laying out slides.
  • Microsoft revealed that Wunderlist – which is available as an add-on to Office 365 subscribers using Outlook 2013/2016, and on the web – will be replaced by To-Do.

March 2017

February 2017

  • Microsoft has updated Visio Pro for Office 365 with a database reverse engineering tool that allows you to easily create a visual representation directly from source data.
  • Office 365 benefited from the introduction of a security analytics tool which rates your current security configuration, and makes suggestions on possible improvements.
  • The Office team announced that the OneNote REST API now supports application-level permissions.
  • Excel got new features based on Power Query technology, including support for the percentage data type, along with a new OLE DB connector.
  • Microsoft released Office Training Roadmaps which help businesses keep track of training programmes for the various productivity apps.

January 2017

  • Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection got several new features for tighter email security, namely URL Detonation and Dynamic Delivery.
  • Microsoft graced Office 365 with a new Setup section on the navigation menu, which provides convenient and easy access to all setup-related settings in one location.
  • Office 365 was crowned king of all productivity apps by Okta, outdoing second-place Salesforce.com by a factor of 1.3 to 1 as 2016 came to a close.
  • Microsoft brought in a raft of new courses from LinkedIn Learning to the Office Training Centre, with over 20 offerings on working with Word and PowerPoint.
  • StaffHub, a nifty new app which allows for the management of shifts for deskless workers, became available for Office 365 users with a K1, E1, E3 or E5 plan.

December 2016

  • A new OneDrive for Business admin centre began rolling out to release customers, with general availability promised for early 2017.
  • Microsoft laid out its grand vision of how the firm intends to integrate Teams (its Slack rival) with Microsoft Planner so working across the two is a seamless affair.
  • Microsoft made the Accessibility Checker more easily found across all Office 365 apps, and introduced automated alternate text descriptions in Word and PowerPoint.
  • An official guide on the ‘preferred deployment practices’ for Office 365 ProPlus was released, including advice on preparing the ground, and maintenance afterwards.
  • New statistics emerged from data protection firm Bitglass showing that Office 365 is twice as popular as Google’s G Suite.

November 2016

  • Office 365 users got the benefit of real-time co-authoring in PowerPoint, as well as in the Word app.
  • Office Lens received a couple of new features, including the full integration of Immersive Reader, and a new tool called Frame Guide to help the visually impaired.
  • Outlook Customer Manager arrived in Office 365, enabling businesses to track and manage – and hopefully grow – their customer relationships.
  • Microsoft reintroduced Access, its heavyweight database software, to Office 365 Business and Business Premium customers.
  • Microsoft officially took the wraps off Teams, the firm’s Slack rival that leverages the whole gamut of Office 365’s apps and services.

October 2016

  • Excel 2016 got new features based on Power Query tech, including an improved web connector and enhanced Query Editor, as well as Query Parameters support.
  • Microsoft introduced the ability to create (and collaborate on) Office documents from within a Yammer group.
  • In an earnings report, Microsoft announced Office 365 user numbers: 85 million active commercial users, and 24 million consumers.
  • A batch of new apps were revealed for Office, including an app for invoicing, and tracking expenses, along with one for keeping tabs on your business’ web presence.

September 2016

If you want to see older news and developments pertaining to Office 365, then check out the Archives page at the end of this review.

Otherwise, now move on to Page 2 for our full review and detailed look at what Office 365 offers, and how it can help you become more productive.

Darren Allan contributed to this article

It's been a long time since Office just meant Word, Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint (plus Access – remember that?). In fact, there's a confusingly wide range of tools and services under the Office umbrella.

In the last few years, Office 365 has established itself as the definitive business cloud service bringing together those familiar productivity services, plus an ongoing range of new features.

Apps

There are personal and business versions of Office 365 – home users get the latest version of the Office desktop and mobile applications plus email with Outlook.com and extra cloud storage with OneDrive, along with free Skype minutes every month. If you want to edit documents in Office on your iPad, or using the mobile Office apps on a Windows 10 PC, you need an Office 365 subscription.

Office 365 Personal is for a single user and allows one download of Office. Office 365 Home Premium costs $99.99 per year (£79.99, AU$119.99) for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access and Publisher.

That's good value if you share it with the family; up to five people in the same household can have their own installations of Office on their PC or Mac at the same time (for the Office programs that run on a Mac).

When the next version of Office comes out, you'll get it on the same subscription, and you'll get new features as they become available. If you're at college or university (or you teach at one) you're eligible for Office 365 University on a four-year subscription for $79.99 (£60, AU$99) that you can use on up to two PCs or Macs.

Office 365 for business

Microsoft offers three tiers for businesses with less than 300 seats. Office 365 Business Essentials allows you to use online Office apps only (no desktop applications) plus 1TB of online storage per user and a 50GB Outlook inbox with email, calendar and contacts for £3.10 ($5, AU$5.50) per month per user on an annual contract.

Licence

Office 365 Business offers Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, Publisher and Lync, with a subscription licence for each user to run them on up to five PCs or Macs at once. You still get the online storage but no email services. Office 365 Business Premium combines Office 365 Business and Business Essentials; all the applications, plus email and storage.

Download Office

Enterprise business users get a full collaboration service with Exchange email, SharePoint document storage, Skype for Business unified communications, OneDrive for Business storage sync and sharing, Yammer enterprise social networking, Delve for tracking what your colleagues are working on, and Groups for ad hoc collaboration.

All that, alongside an increasing list of new services like GigJam (for sharing just parts of documents so you can have the right information available in a meeting) and Planner (a simple planning tool for groups), plus a subscription to the Office 2016 desktop and mobile applications, which includes early access to new features.

Delve

There are several different plans, depending on what mix of services you need. The E5 plan, for example, includes rights management services for encrypting documents and choosing who can see them and how long they’re available for, Delve Analytics for tracking how people are spending their time, Power BI for graphical data analysis and business intelligence, and the Office 365 video portal for publishing video inside your company.

In the year since Office 2016 was released, Microsoft has continued to add new features to both the Office 365 service (which you expect in a cloud service) and the Office 2016 applications (which you might not), as well as the mobile versions of the apps for iOS, Android and Windows, new apps like Sway for ‘digital storytelling’ (that’s somewhere between making a mobile app and designing a website), and the Office Online web apps.

That includes new admin features like the new look portal, customising sign-in pages, improved encryption controls, self-service password reset, plus a deal to use Wix to build websites after SharePoint public websites were removed.

New features arriving

The Office Online apps get regular updates, including new features plus integration with other cloud services like Skype and Dropbox – Word and PowerPoint now have the Format Painter for transferring formatting from one section to another, and Excel Online has more number formats, more features in Pivot tables and a high contrast view for accessibility.

Office Online updates

The mobile apps keep adding features like Find and Morph transitions in PowerPoint, or ink annotations in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. You can record audio in OneNote for iOS and on the web; that’s better than OneNote on Windows 10 Mobile where audio recordings cut off after a minute.

Because Office 365 is a subscription service, the familiar desktop applications get new features. Word is about to get a spelling and grammar checker that uses machine learning to understand your writing, and a Researcher tool for easier searching for facts and quotes.

PowerPoint has gained several new transitions, a Designer tool that comes up with new looks for your presentation (very much like Sway) and a way to summarise your presentation with Zoom. Excel has new functions and charts and shape recognition when you draw on-screen, plus many more connectors for getting data into Power Query, while Outlook lets you ‘@ mention’ people in email the way you would on Facebook or Twitter.

Office Online

But the changes also include removing some useful features. Changing the Save As options in Office 2016 has been particularly painful, and Office 365 no longer allows you to temporarily stream Office 2016 to a PC that you want to work on, if the Office Online versions don’t have the features you need. Desktop Outlook is going to get the Focused Inbox that’s so popular in Outlook for iOS and Android – but it will replace the Clutter feature in Exchange Online that files emails you’re not likely to be interested in. Clutter worked in every client that you can read Exchange email in, including on older devices (especially Windows Phone 8.1), whereas Focused Inbox will only work in the latest versions of Outlook.

The enterprise Office 365 service is also where Microsoft tries out new features that will appear in the on-premise server products, like the new SharePoint 2016. Exchange Server 2016 is based on the latest version of Exchange Online, which has been available on Office 365 for some time (and you can buy some Exchange Online features to use with your own Exchange Server, like Exchange Online Protection spam and malware filtering).

Service health

SharePoint 2016 catches up with existing Office 365 features like chatting while you’re collaborating on documents stored in OneDrive for Business, and will get newer features gradually. Improvements like the new document library experience, and the suggestions in the new iOS SharePoint app of what sites you should look at, are already showing up in SharePoint Online and will appear on premises once they’ve been tested in the cloud.

In the past, Skype for Business hasn’t had the full unified communications features of the on-premise version because PABX integration is harder in the cloud, but Microsoft has been signing up partners like BT to offer voice services for Office 365, as well as creating cloud-only features like Skype for Business broadcast meetings for very large numbers of users (which will soon include real-time live translation and captions).

As you’d expect, you manage Office 365 mainly through the browser (although you can use PowerShell commands if you need to change settings in bulk). The admin portal is getting a major redesign that will soon become the standard way to manage the service.

Admin Centre

The previous interface had a minimalist, low-contrast, ‘Metro’ style that wasn’t particularly efficient, with key tools relegated to a list of links at the side of the page and a dashboard that always showed the setup features even when you’d been running the service for years.

Extras

Now there’s an expanding menu on the left with ten sections for managing and monitoring the Office 365 service, each of which expands to let you click straight into the specific area you need. This also makes room for features like Groups that have been added to the service over the years, which show up in their logical place (along with the traditional role-based groups).

As you navigate through the different sections, the tools are also grouped logically, and when you click on the details for a user or a group, all the information pops up in a window, with the most common commands (like resetting a password or deleting the user) at the top.

Dashboard

The home screen that replaces the former dashboard is far more useful – and you can even customise it. There are ‘cards’ for common tasks, from managing users to downloading the Office clients, and you can rearrange them, delete any you don’t need quick access to, and add others.

Edit admin centre

The admin interfaces for Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Skype for Business and Yammer are now much easier to find as well; they have their own section on the menu, which also links to the new Security and Compliance centre, and to Azure Active Directory (even if you don’t buy any of the premium AAD services, using Office 365 automatically creates an Azure AD for your business, but in the past it hasn’t been obvious how to get to it in order to carry out any management).

You’d expect Azure AD to open as a separate site, because it’s a separate service. It’s slightly more confusing that the Security and Compliance centre opens in its own browser tab, but has the same design as the Office 365 admin centre.

Security and compliance

This new portal brings together all the security tools for the service, from assigning permissions to admin users, to managing devices, setting up alerts for user and admin behaviour and choosing how spam and malware in email are handled. All that sits alongside the tools for setting retention policies, running ediscovery searches and archiving content, and details of how Microsoft secures the different Office 365 services.

And it’s downright annoying that all the admin portals for the Office 365 services still open in different tabs. Plus they still have the white-space-heavy, hard to navigate interfaces that are basic rather than simple, in which it can be hard to find the tools you need quickly (and Yammer has its own design again). We’d like to see them move to the new portal design too; the current mix of interfaces feels fragmented and confusing.

Yammer

It might even make sense for more of the settings to move to themed admin portals the way the security and compliance options have, rather than matching the admin options for the separate on-premise Office servers. Key settings from the Exchange, Skype for Business and SharePoint services are already duplicated in the new admin portal; if they’re all you need, you’ll never need to use the full service portals at all.

Rooms and equipment

Getting started

Setting up Office 365 is fast – provisioning an E3 or E5 tenant takes only a few minutes – and it’s straightforward for a small company, especially if you’re migrating from Exchange Online. You can start the wizard to walk you through setup – including connecting to the domain you’re using for email addresses, or buying one if you don’t already have one – straight from the purchase screen, or you can come back and work through the individual steps later.

You can set up users by connecting to your on-premise Active Directory by importing details (from a CSV file, for example) or by creating users one at a time (that’s most suited to a small business); and when you create individual users you can assign licences as you go. If you want to pick and choose who gets which features, you can allocate licences individually for Office 2016, Office Web Apps, SharePoint, Skype for Business, Exchange and any other services.

There are other settings that you can change if you want, but not so many that things get confusing. You can customise the Office 365 theme, set the password expiry policy, choose whether you get new features when they’re generally released or try them as soon as they’re in preview (and that can apply to all users or just the more advanced users that you pick individually), turn on multi-factor authentication, set the policies for Azure Rights Management if your plan includes this document encryption service, and choose whether users can search Office 365 content using Cortana, or use Office Online to work with files in other cloud storage services like Box.

Groups

There’s more work to do if you have email accounts on other services that you need to import data from (there’s an import option where you can upload data or even ship drives to Microsoft if that would take too long), and if you’re a large business that needs to mix on-premise servers with Office 365 you’ll need to plan which users have accounts where and how you sync between your AD and the cloud service. But you don’t have to be an expert to get a small business online with Office 365.

Ever since Exchange 2013, the web version of Outlook has had the same features and interface as the Outlook client – it’s also what the Exchange Online admin centre is built on, and you can just mark a user as an administrator. This removes the need for an Exchange mailbox to administer Exchange, so you don’t have to waste a mail licence and storage quota on a shared mail admin account. You can also give different administrators limited permissions; if someone only needs to use the compliance or discovery tools, they won’t get access to mail flow and user settings.

The admin centre is crammed with features, organised into around a dozen categories. Previously complex tasks, like setting up a federation trust to make free/busy times in user calendars visible or setting up shared mailboxes for call centres, are far simpler and you are guided through important steps (like giving users the right permissions to access the shared mailbox).

Exchange admin

Public folders are still available, by popular demand. Like everything else in the new Exchange Online, they’re simple to set up with helpful error messages that make clear what you’ve done wrong and how to fix it.

There’s also a helpful balance between enforcing policy and users getting work done. The data loss prevention tools in the Enterprise version of Exchange Online let you set up rules to stop people emailing personal information like credit card numbers (with a smart check that employs the same algorithm used to issue credit card numbers, rather than just looking for any 16 numbers in a row).

But users can also override most of these policy warnings by filling in an explanation and confirming they know the message will be logged. The information can be encrypted to keep it safe until the manager approves the explanation.

The tips reminding users of the policy show up in Outlook clients, and Outlook webmail. But if you send a message from your smartphone that breaks a policy, the rule can forward the message to your manager or mail you to confirm that you meant to break the policy.

Malware report

But while the ultra-minimalist, white-space design is well organised, and will be familiar to Exchange Server admins, it doesn’t match the style of the new Office 365 portal. There is also quite a lot of overlap – many tools from the Exchange Online portal also show up as links in the main portal to the auditing, mail flow and information protection tools (spam and malware protection and data leakage policies that block or warn users who are trying to send details like credit card numbers in email). These open the tools in either the Exchange Online or Security and Compliance portals.

Spam report

There are also some settings you might expect to find in Exchange that are in the main Office 365 portal, like choosing whether users can share their calendars with people outside your organisation.

Like Exchange Server, you can use Exchange Online for mobile device management by setting policies that will apply to any smartphone, like forcing the user to turn on encryption and set a PIN, and even setting how often they have to re-enter it.

Office 365 also includes Microsoft’s Intune MDM service which adds extra features like detecting whether devices are jailbroken, and letting you mark emails and documents that can only be opened in approved mobile apps, like Office, and only saved in specific locations. You can also selectively wipe devices, removing business data but not personal photos and information.

MDM

The Exchange tools for managing mobile device access are still in the Exchange Online admin portal, which is where admins who are used to Exchange Server will expect to find them. The Intune MDM features are in the Security and Compliance centre – and yet again, that opens a new browser tab, because it has its own interface.

OAW for device admin

This is the kind of duplication we expect Microsoft to clean up as it continues to improve the Office 365 admin UI, and the disparate interfaces shouldn’t distract from the fact that you’re getting a powerful mail system with all the options you need. And if you don’t need to delve into those options, you can be up and running quickly with a rock solid mail system. Exchange Online remains one of the crown jewels of Office 365.

If you’ve used Office 365 before, you’ll remember the admin portal for the unified communications service formerly known as Lync was distinctly minimal, with very few settings you could change. As Skype for Business gains more features, there are correspondingly more options and controls, but it’s a far cry from the complexity of the on-premise version; this is one of the services where being in the cloud makes unified communications dramatically simpler.

Now that Skype for Business can connect to Skype, you can control that integration, as well as allowing or blocking calls and chats with Skype for Business users outside your company, and choosing whether the Skype Broadcast service is available for creating large public online meetings. Again, the controls for external connections are duplicated in the main Office 365 admin portal – for many businesses, they’re the only settings you might want to change, so you might never need the full admin centre.

Manage skype

You can also set the defaults for notifications and privacy mode and add your own boilerplate to meeting invitations. You can include your company logo, links to support, any legal terms and conditions that apply to meetings, or a few lines of text you wish to be included in all invitations.

Skype for business custom

You can use Skype for Business for dial-in conferencing, with or without toll-free numbers, so your users can phone in rather than using the Skype for Business client – that’s included in the E5 Office 365 plan, or you can buy it as an add-on. You can also use PSTN Calling to call standard phone numbers and receive calls from anyone, not just other Skype for Business users (again, that’s included in some plans but not in others – confusingly, there’s a version of the E5 plan that has it, and another that doesn’t).

Skype IM

You can even use Skype for Business as your PBX – as well as making and receiving calls, you get PBX features like transferring calls, having several phones ring when a call arrives, putting your phone on ‘do not disturb’ except for a few key contacts, playing hold music and handling voicemail. Again, you need the right licences.

The admin centre also includes a handy list of tools for troubleshooting, and a very minimal set of reports.

Lync Online was already an impressive HD videoconferencing system with excellent tools for online meetings. The Skype integration makes it a great choice for letting your customers and partners reach you without the cost of a phone call, and if you add the dial-in conferencing, PSTN calling and PBX tools, it’s close to being a cloud service that offers a full unified communications system. But buying all those options as separate add-ons, some from third-party communications providers, does make everything more complicated than we’d like.

For a while, SharePoint Online was the red-headed stepchild of Office 365. The name didn’t even appear in the list of apps – users just saw links to OneDrive and Sites – and the ribbon-based interface felt dated and out of step with the rest of Office 365.

But cloud competition like Box and Dropbox hasn’t killed off SharePoint, and even though the personal cloud storage of OneDrive for Business is still part of Office 365, Microsoft has just given SharePoint itself a major refresh that updates the key features for document sharing and collaboration, and adds far better mobile support.

SharePoint Online also connects to the new services Microsoft has been adding to Office 365 like Groups and Planner, making the collaboration options feel more coherent.

SharePoint new

Sites for personal and shared team use and document libraries are still at the heart of SharePoint – document collections can now be as large as 25TB, and there’s a new document library experience that looks much more like OneDrive, or a blog.

Team Site

Team sites automatically show popular documents and details of who in the team has been working on what, and there are new tools for creating pages on the site as if you were writing and publishing a blog – so you don’t need to create HTML or use a separate publishing tool any more. Just pick web parts – images, events, links, videos, Yammer feeds – and drag them into place.

SharePoint Team Sites

Some Office 365 plans include the SharePoint Video service, for uploading and streaming videos. This is going to be replaced by the Azure Streams video service, though not until the new service has all the same features as the existing one.

Office video formats

All the existing options for customising SharePoint are still available. You can include language translation services for sites and documents, and for structured tasks you can add workflows designed in Visual Studio and have them hosted on Azure, or you can create a Flow or a PowerApp on Azure that lets you configure workflows that connect other services – like Salesforce or Dynamics – to SharePoint.

If you need the same kind of full-trust managed .NET code that lets you customise SharePoint on your own server, you can put that on Azure. As a multi-tenant cloud service, SharePoint Online has to protect users from each other’s potentially performance-hogging code, so this is a sensible approach. But many of the features you’d once have built that way are available as apps written in HTML and CSS that run on SharePoint: you can get blogging tools, mapping tools, address checking tools and more – and admins can choose which apps are available in the SharePoint Store and who is allowed to buy more.

Plus SharePoint 2016 adds a new extension framework based on common JavaScript frameworks like React and Angular, where the code runs on the client device, not on the server. That’s still in development, but it brings SharePoint up to date with the latest web development technologies.

SharePoint Home

SharePoint also has a new way of controlling access. Admins can still grant and block access to SharePoint sites, but team sites work with the new, self-service Groups feature in Office 365. Anyone can create a group of colleagues and the group automatically gets a team site with a document library, a shared calendar and inbox, a Skype for Business chat room that you can also get as email, along with a OneNote notebook, an always-on Skype conversation you can drop in and out of, and the new Planner task management tool.

It works the other way round, as well; make a team site or add colleagues to Planner and you create a group.

Planner is like a simple version of Trello – you create a card for each task, assign it to someone and save it into different ‘buckets’ that you use to organise your plan. It doesn’t have much in the way of notifications yet, but Microsoft is adding features quickly.

Groups 2

Groups also have the kind of connectors you might have seen in Slack. You can connect a Twitter feed or a variety of services like GitHub, Trello and ZenDesk to a group to get alerts – so you could follow the hashtag for the product your team works on, or see customer support issues in the group.

You can search across all the sites you have access to and when you find a useful document, you can follow it as if it was a friend on Facebook. Results include automatic recommendations based on what the people you’re connected to are working on, and your previous behaviour. That’s based on the Delve feature, which analyses what documents your colleagues are working on that are relevant to you – you can see that in the Delve service but the information will now show up in SharePoint too.

Search is smart: search for ‘marketing deck’ and results will include PowerPoint presentations (that don’t have the word ‘deck’ anywhere in the contents), with particularly relevant slides highlighted in the results.

The SharePoint newsfeed is still available if you want to use that to keep track of what’s going on. This looks very much like Facebook or Twitter – you can follow people, sites, projects, hashtags, documents and events, and you’ll see in the activity stream when someone does something new or makes a change (you can filter the stream to make it more manageable). You can also preview documents and videos straight from the Newsfeed, or turn any item into an action that becomes part of your task list.

Customise SharePoint portal

You use Twitter-style @ names to mention people and you can see when other people have mentioned you (you get an email as well as seeing it on the Newsfeed, so you don’t have to update feverishly to stay on top of work). Also, you can post your own updates to everyone or just the team you’re working with.

Customise SharePoint portal 2

But now that the Yammer social network service is available to all Office 365 customers, you can switch to using that instead. It’s a much more powerful tool for collaboration that’s getting regular updates – and again, it’s going to integrate with Groups soon, so a team can choose to collaborate through Yammer or the other Groups tools.

Yammer design

You can view and edit documents in the Office Online web apps, and you can preview file types you can’t edit, like Visio. Sharing documents – with colleagues or up to 10,000 external partners and customers who don’t need to have SharePoint themselves – is also much simpler. Click on the sharing icon and type in names or email addresses, choose whether they can view or edit – or copy an obfuscated URL you can send in an instant message or put in a blog post.

Shared documents are marked by an icon you can click to see who you’re sharing with (and you can stop sharing a document when you’re done collaborating). Many Office 365 plans include Azure Rights Management Services, so you can control not just who can see a document but what they can do with it, turning off the printing and copying functions for confidential information.

SharePoint started out as a way to share document libraries and create workflows. It’s now a flexible collaboration tool for ad hoc groups as well as a formal, centralised information store, with mobile apps as well as simple web publishing.

The SharePoint Online admin centre reflects that. There’s a long list of settings that lets you control apps, connections, rights management, collaboration and whether users get new features and the new OneDrive for Business interface.

For many smaller businesses, that’s all you need and you can hide the other controls. But if you need them, there’s a full set of configuration options for everything from InfoPath to the taxonomy for how documents are indexed, in an interface that SharePoint Server administrators will find familiar (although it’s going to confuse anyone starting with the new Office 365 admin centre).

OneDrive and OneDrive for Business

Microsoft uses the same name for its business and consumer cloud storage services: OneDrive and OneDrive for Business are now more similar than they used to be – in particular they use the same sync client, which fixes a lot of problems with OneDrive for Business – but they’re still different services.

OneDrive is Microsoft’s consumer cloud storage service, which gives users 5GB of free storage with the option to purchase 50GB for $1.99 a month (£1.99, AU$2), plus Office Web Apps. If you buy Office 365 Home, Personal, or University, you get 1TB of OneDrive space.

OneDrive for Business is the cloud storage service that’s part of the business Office 365 plans (and also available as part of on-premise SharePoint Server), with either 1TB or 5TB of storage per user, depending on which plan you choose.

Office 365 tenants also get SharePoint Online, which includes 10GB of secure cloud storage with an extra 500MB per user, and the option of paying for up to 25TB of storage in total. You can choose how the SharePoint space storage is allocated between users and control how they use it, like limiting who they can share documents with or forcing them to encrypt confidential documents using rights management software.

OneDrive for Business, which is confusingly labelled OneDrive in the Office 365 portal to fit on the ribbon, lets users store their own working documents privately. If you’re familiar with SharePoint, you can think of it as like the storage in My Site – and documents can still have workflows or be checked in and out.

OneDrive in office 2016

Users can also share documents with specific people – inside or outside the company – by clicking the three dots next to the file name and choosing Share, or from the properties and preview pane for the file. This interface has been updated a couple of times but it’s still easy to share documents and see who has access.

Users can choose whether each person they invite can edit or just view the document and whether or not they need to sign in (it’s possible to choose whether to enforce sign in globally). It’s very clear if a document is shared and with whom, and you can stop sharing a document at any point. OneDrive for Business storage is part of SharePoint and you can apply policies to it in the same way.

OneDrive share

If you want to share a document in OneDrive for Business with everyone (including those to whom you give the URL of your OneDrive for Business), you can move it into the Shared with Everyone folder by default.

If you want to make it available only to a specific group of people, you can put a document into the library for a Team Site instead. That uses the SharePoint tenant storage and you can get those files onto a PC by opening them from SharePoint Online, opening the document library in Explorer (from the ribbon on the SharePoint site) or syncing the document library as a list in Outlook. Team mailboxes also save information into the SharePoint library.

Although the range of storage and sharing options in Office 365 sound confusing, in practice they make a lot of sense. Users get the option to stick to SharePoint shared document libraries or use something that looks like popular free cloud storage services – but which gives you control and security.

Sharing documents is simple and users can easily collaborate (they can even edit the same document simultaneously, in the Office desktop applications or the Office Web Apps) but again, you have tools to control this.

When it first came out, Office 2016 had excellent integration with OneDrive, on both Mac and Windows, letting you browse your online folders and see the folders you’d used recently right on the Backstage menu. A recent update stripped that out on Office 2016 for Windows, replacing it with a very slow dialog that doesn’t show any recent folders at all – and doesn’t even show you what the file name will be. It’s a definite step backwards.

All apps

What else is in Office 365?

Depending on which Office 365 plan you choose, you’ll get a range of new apps and services. All the plans include Sway, a new authoring tool that uses machine learning to do a lot of the layout work for you, creating responsive layouts that work on smartphones as well as desktop web browsers.

Business plans include the Planner service, as well as GigJam, a collaboration service that lets you share specific pages inside a document – you can just cross out pages and paragraphs you don’t want colleagues to see. It’s an interesting idea that needs a lot more work to be really useful.

Delve Analytics

The E5 plan includes the Power BI cloud service that lets you visualise information in charts and dashboards, and an extra tool in Delve called Analytics that analyses your working habits to tell you how much time you spend in meetings and email compared to your colleagues, to help you make the most of your time.

There are also related Office services you can add to Office 365, like Project Online, which is a full-fledged portfolio project management system.

Office recent changes

Expect Microsoft to keep adding new services to Office 365 – like the ones it plans to create from LinkedIn.

Office 365 is hands-down the best way to buy Office, whether you’re a consumer user wanting the Office desktop apps with all the latest features, or a business that needs email and collaboration tools without the hassle of running your own servers. Yes, you pay a monthly fee, but you keep getting new features as well as useful cloud services.

We liked

The new Office 365 admin centre is a real improvement, making it easy to find features that used to be tucked away inside specific services

Exchange Online is one of the best business email systems around, and no-one knows how to run it better than Microsoft. Skype for Business has gone from VoIP meetings in the cloud to something that can be a full unified communications service – if you’re prepared to pay for all the conferencing and telephony services you need to make it work. And SharePoint is getting a much needed refresh, plus the formerly infuriating OneDrive for Business is now both usable and reliable, and Groups give teams a simple way of working together on projects.

We disliked

Overall, the Office 365 admin interface remains disparate and disjointed; Microsoft needs to do more work here. In part, that’s due to the overlapping tools, from the formal systems that replicate the server options larger businesses want – especially if they’re migrating to the cloud – to the simpler, ad hoc tools based on Groups that are more approachable but also sometimes lack features. Whatever you need, you can probably do it with Office 365 – if you can find out where and how.

If you want the latest features and improvements, you need to opt-in to try previews – but that can mean losing useful options as well, like the confusing changes that make the Save As dialog slow and unwieldy in Office 2016. If you don’t get features in preview, it can still take a long time for them to reach all the Office 365 tenants once they’re supposed to be available.

Final verdict

Office 365 is a reliable service that integrates email, document sharing and conferencing almost seamlessly with the latest desktop versions of the Office software – which now get regular updates and extra features – and is evolving new cloud tools and services like Sway and Planner.

It’s simple enough for small businesses and also has powerful options for larger companies, who will find that the savings from putting commodity IT in the cloud, while still being able to integrate with on-premise servers through Active Directory and hybrid Exchange deployments, make the combined subscriptions for server and desktop products very attractive.

You do need to pick the right plan though – there’s a confusing number of them, all with slightly different features. This means you don’t have to pay for services you don’t need, but it also makes it hard to point at Office 365 and know exactly what you’ll get.

Microsoft has officially released Office 2016 for Windows and it is available for consumer customers (Office 365 Home and Personal) immediately for download. Mac users have already been able to download Office 2016 for a few weeks already.

Office 365 will likely keep its name and could be joined by Windows 365 as Microsoft will apparently add a subscription option to Windows 10, and it has trademarked that name. Amongst the flurry of features added to Office 365 in recent times, the ones worth highlighting are:

Microsoft acquired Sunrise, a popular calendaring app for touch devices, which is likely to be incorporated into Office 365. Calendaring has been one of the areas where Microsoft hasn’t devoted as much resources as many would have expected especially with the rise of mobility.

Microsoft also bought Acompli (which it almost immediately turned to Outlook), LiveLoop for to prep ip PowerPoint and 6Wunderkinder for its popular to-do-list application.

The company also announced that it was giving away 100GB of free storage for a year to existing Dropbox users to lure them away from the popular cloud storage provider – which incidentally is a close Microsoft ally.

That bonus is on top of a 100GB giveaway of OneDrive storage for two years if you subscribe to its Bing Rewards scheme. Your files will be read only after the subscription ends unless you buy a top-up and if you want to get a cheap one, Ebay seems to be the place to go with plenty of deals available for Microsoft Office 365 Personal available for less than £40.

Okay, let’s move on to the most recent developments over the past couple of months. Microsoft recently announced that it has updated Office 365 for Exchange Online, so that users will no longer have their emails automatically deleted after a period of 30 days. Previously, deleted items were shifted into the Deleted folder before disappearing from there after 30 days, but the new update allows the system admin to change this period to a different length, or simply to set all emails to be kept indefinitely.

Also on the email front, Microsoft has just updated Office 365 to allow users to send email attachments which are far, far bigger than was previously possible. In fact, attachments can now be six times as large, with the new size limit being 150MB (whereas Office 365 users were limited to 25MB before – that said, note that the 25MB limit will remain in place unless the administrator actually changes things).

Video content is an arena Redmond is moving to cover with its subscription Office suite, as well, with the creation of the Office 365 Video portal that allows businesses to distribute videos internally. This is a free additional service which is currently in the process of rolling out globally for Office 365 enterprise users, in order to provide a fully integrated solution for video sharing within an organisation with security in mind. Office 365 Video employs an HTML5 player so it can work across all devices from mobiles to desktop computers, although Microsoft is also producing an app for iPhone users.

Furthermore, Redmond has bolstered Office 365 with the addition of mobile device management (MDM) again free of charge, at least for those on commercial plans. System admins will be able to use these features to manage access to data over a range of devices and platforms, from smartphones upwards and on Windows Phone, Android and iOS.

This will put in place measures such as the detection of jailbroken devices, and will allow for security policies to be set up to ensure that certain business emails or documents can only be accessed on approved devices. A selective wipe feature will strip corporate data off a device running Office 365, without touching any personal data on said piece of hardware.

Another major move on the security front which has only just happened is Microsoft and Samsung’s announcement of an agreement, following settling their legal arguments over Android, whereby a version of the Office 365 suite will come to Samsung’s Knox. In other words, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, OneNote and OneDrive for Business will be included wrapped up in the Knox container.

Redmond has also just changed things with Office 365 so that documents can now be exported in the Open Document Format (ODF), to bring the suite in line with UK government guidelines on document sharing.

OneDrive

Recent news

The following is a list of updates to the Office 365 suite going back from August to the beginning of 2016:

August 2016

  • Microsoft is going to more tightly integrate Office 365 and Windows 10 by implementing an ‘Office Hub’that offers easy access to your documents from within Windows.
  • Office 365 saw the introduction of a Service Assurance Dashboard which provides a range of details on privacy, security and compliance controls, including third-party auditing.
  • Microsoft said that the rollout of the overhaul of Outlook.com, which brings fresh Office 365 features to users of the webmail service, has been further delayed.
  • Office 365 Education introduced a raft of new features including Microsoft Classroom, School Data Sync, Microsoft Forms, and Learning Tools.
  • Microsoft brought some new ink effects to OneNote, and also the ability for the app not just to convert a handwritten equation to text, but also to teach you how to solve it.
  • Two new Visio apps popped up: Visio Online Preview which allows users to view and share Visio diagrams with only a browser, and the Visio for iPad app.
  • Various accessibility updates were applied across Office 365, including tweaks to make Narrator (the screen reader) a better experience in Word, Outlook and SharePoint.

July 2016

  • Microsoft highlighted two major new features coming to Word – Editor and Researcher, which help with proofing/editing, and citing sources respectively.
  • A new service arrived in the form of Microsoft Bookings, which gives Office 365 business users a hub web page that allows customers to schedule appointments.
  • Microsoft announced that Office 365 now has 23.1 million subscribers.
  • The free preview version of Microsoft Stream was launched, a YouTube-style service for businesses which will eventually become the de facto video experience in Office 365.
  • The Secure Productive Enterprise offering was revealed, bundling Office 365, Windows 10 Enterprise (in its new E3/E5 cloud-based form) and Enterprise Mobility + Security suite.
  • Redmond released a free videoconferencing tool for SMBs, noting that Office 365 business subscribers get similar facilities on a much grander scale via Skype for Business.
  • Microsoft revealed that later in 2016, Office 365 users will get a preview of an automatic live translation caption service for Skype Meeting Broadcast supporting 40 languages.

June 2016

  • Microsoft Planner was rolled out to Office 365 users worldwide, an app which lets you tackle project management in a fresh and user-friendly fashion.
  • Microsoft made a number of tweaks to Sway, its ‘digital storytelling’ app, including upping content limits so you can use more photos, videos and so forth in your Sways.
  • Outlook received some new features to help users better manage their travel plans and track the status of package deliveries.
  • Excel got a new set of Power Query features designed to make working with and getting the most out of your data easier.
  • A new Office 365 admin app was pushed out with a more slickly designed interface that makes important information easy to spot at a glance.
  • A new SharePoint mobile app was also launched for iOS offering quick and easy access to your company’s portals, sites and resources when you’re on the go.
  • The preview version of GigJam – a collaboration app inbound for Office 365 that allows users to easily share all manner of content – was made available to all comers.
  • Office 365 was struck by a major ransomware attack that exposed some 57% of its 18.2 million subscribers to phishing attempts.

May 2016

  • Office 365 Business was enhanced to allow co-editors to chat in real-time when collaborating on documents stored in OneDrive for Business or SharePoint Online.
  • Accessibility improvements, including a new high contrast theme, were applied to Office 365 to make it easier for the visually impaired to work with the apps.
  • Microsoft tweaked security for Office 365, with Exchange Online Protection getting safety tips that give warnings about suspicious emails.

April 2016

  • Office 365 received a front-end facelift with a new welcome page designed to be more helpful and intuitive.
  • Redmond bolstered the capabilities of Microsoft Graph, meaning that going forward developers can build better and smarter apps powered by data drawn from Office 365.

March 2016

  • A new admin centre arrived on Office 365 boasting powerful search functionality and enabling easy access to in-depth reports.
  • Office 365 Connectors were introduced, allowing apps and services to be hooked up to Office 365 Groups, so notifications from said apps automatically get sent to the Groups shared inbox.
  • Office 365 became the only non-Apple accessory offered to those purchasing iPads online.
  • Google expanded its Identity Platform, which is made up of a number of solutions including Google Sign-In, to cover Office 365.
  • And as March ended, we discovered that according to one study, Office 365 is the king of all business web apps.

February 2016

  • A ton of improvements were applied to Excel including new functions to make building common calculations an easier process, and deeper integration with Power BI.
  • Outlook also got some attention with a new system that lets users easily archive messages, and a new Groups section was added to the ribbon.
  • We saw a leaked pilot web page that indicated Redmond’s incoming premium email service, Outlook.com Premium, will be free for Office 365 users.

January 2016

  • Microsoft extended its Office Insider preview program, which allows the curious to test early builds, to include Mac users.
  • Redmond introduced new inking features for the Office for iPad apps, allowing for scribbling on documents with a stylus or your finger.



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Google Apps for Work (G Suite) 2016 review


[Editor's Note: What immediately follows is a rundown of the latest developments and features Google has added to Apps for Work (G Suite) since this review was first written.]

April 2018

  • An update to the Google bar means that the company’s brand and logo can now be displayed next to the user’s picture at the top of G Suite services such as Calendar and Drive.
  • A fresh version of Gmail arrived this month, featuring a Confidential mode which helps to protect sensitive data, imposing a time limit on when it can be accessed (and much more).
  • Gmail also beefed up protection against phishing emails, using machine learning technology to better spot these threats, and flagging them up much more prominently.
  • And Gmail also got some neat new features like ‘nudging’, which reminds you to reply to messages languishing in your inbox that you may have forgotten about.
  • Google introduced new cards which appear in G suite apps when you hover over a user’s name or picture, giving you key details like their job title, department and contact info.

March 2018

  • Jamboard files that you own now appear in Google Drive, allowing you to more easily work with them and share them with other folks.
  • Google Sites introduced the ability to create a custom ‘favicon’, which is the small icon that appears on the far left of the browser tab (and alongside the site’s bookmark).
  • Google Docs, Sheets and Slides now have an Activity Dashboard which lets you see who has viewed a file and when, so you can keep folks up-to-date if they’ve missed something.
  • Google Drive had its ‘Shared with Me’ section rejigged to be better organized, and to display users who have shared files with you, to make it easier to find older files.
  • It was announced that G Suite will get full integration with Dropbox later this year, meaning that you’ll be able to create and edit Google Docs, Sheets and Slides files within Dropbox.

February 2018

  • Jamboard got some new features including AutoDraw, which allows the user to sketch an outline on the screen, detects what it is, and replaces it with a relevant image of the object.
  • Google added the capability for users to be able to email all members of a Team Drive at just the click of a menu option, for added collaborative convenience.
  • Google Drive users can now comment directly on more file formats stored in their drive, including PDFs and Microsoft Office files – without having to convert them to Google Docs files.
  • A new Hangouts Meet room kit has been introduced suitable for larger rooms. It’s built around the Logitech PTZ Pro 2 and is capable of dealing with meetings of up to 20 people.
  • Google boasted about the progress of its cloud business during Alphabet’s earnings announcement, with the revelation that G Suite now has four million paying customers.

January 2018

  • Google Sites now allows you to publish your site to a specific audience only, meaning it’s possible to choose who can view content rather than allowing everyone online to do so.
  • Jamboard has become a ‘core’ G Suite service, meaning that it’s listed as such in the admin console, and it’s covered with the same level of tech support as other core services.
  • Google’s Drive desktop sync client for Mac and PC has been given a slight reprieve – Google announced the service will now shut down on May 12, rather than March 12.
  • Hangouts Meet received a major boon for tablet users, as it is now usable on Android and iOS slates.
  • Google further tweaked the menus for Docs and Slides, making it easier to find certain things and achieve certain tasks (like adding a page break in Docs).

December 2017

  • Auto-provisioning was enabled for 8 more third-party apps for G Suite Business/Enterprise customers, including: AWS, Evernote, GoToMeeting, Sugar, Zendesk and Office 365.
  • Google made life easier for admins by giving G Suite’s apps settings page, which lists core apps, a much more streamlined look and feel.
  • If the Device Policy app detects that an Android device has violated a company security policy, it will now disable all non-critical apps (i.e. those not needed for the device to function).
  • And for iOS devices, Google Mobile Management now allows admins to stop employees from syncing corporate data on jailbroken iOS hardware.
  • Google tuned up the menus in Docs and Slides, renaming certain tools and menu options to make them easier to find, and for better consistency across these two apps.
  • G Suite has new templates in four fresh categories in Google Docs, Sheets and Slides, including templates for HR, project management, freelancer engagement and sales.

November 2017

  • Google Sites was improved with the ability to create and easily manage site-wide page footers in a single place.
  • The Jamboard app for mobile devices was enhanced to enable users to create and edit objects in jams on their smartphones.
  • Google Docs and Slides now has a bigger font catalogue which supports 62 languages, and that includes non-Latin scripts like Cyrillic, with more on the way.
  • Google Docs, Sheets and Slides now allows users to (optionally) copy across comments and suggestions when they are duplicating a document, spreadsheet or presentation.
  • Google released a new kit for Hangouts Meet which contains all the hardware you need to hold high-quality video meetings using Google’s videoconferencing software.

October 2017

  • Add-ons for Gmail were launched, which let users access certain features of popular apps right from within their inbox, including the likes of Asana, QuickBooks and Trello.
  • Google Calendar on the web benefited from a redesign to make it look more like the mobile app, and some new features including the ability to manage multiple calendars side-by-side.
  • Google made it easier to compare and contrast different G Suite editions, and the firm also made it simpler for users to switch their subscription between these different editions.
  • A new version of the Google Contacts app emerged on Android, which introduced action buttons under a contact’s photo to start a chat or make a call, among other new features.
  • Hangouts Meet now allows G Suite Enterprise customers to use a dial-in phone number to join a meeting (audio-only) when out and about, if they don’t have an internet connection.

September 2017

  • Drive File Stream is now available to all G Suite customers, a desktop app which allows for easy and convenient access to all your Google Drive files on demand.
  • Google improved the Jamboard app to make it easier to use on your mobile device, and to allow users to present a jam to a meeting directly from their phone.
  • Google Sheets users have gained the ability to customize their headers and footers, and to choose from a range of predefined options (such as page numbers, dates and so forth).
  • Google Slides got some nifty tweaks including a new range of add-ons, plus integration with Google Keep, allowing you to drag notes directly from the latter into the former.
  • Gmail’s Email Log Search feature in the Admin console now allows admins to track the delivery of emails sent by users in their domain, and see the current status of those messages.
  • Google’s Jamboard finally went on sale in the UK (after being available in the US and Canada) with an asking price of £3,999.

August 2017

  • Google made its Contacts app available to a wider range of devices – basically to all hardware running Android 5.0 or better (including Samsung, LG and Motorola devices).
  • Google’s collaborative whiteboard, Jamboard, is now on sale in Canada for CA$6,949 (as opposed to just the US). With any luck it will come to the UK soon, as well.
  • Google boosted the collaborative powers of Docs, Slides and Sheets with the introduction of a new system that clarifies which version of a document collaborators are working on.
  • Following the introduction of anti-phishing security measures in the Gmail app for Android, those same capabilities that warn of suspicious links have arrived in the iOS app.
  • Google has made data loss prevention (DLP) functionality available for content stored in Team Drives (this feature came to Google Drive back at the start of this year).

July 2017

  • Google has tweaked the default apps which appear in its app launcher, so it will highlight more useful apps off the bat, such as Gmail, Google Drive and Docs.
  • Google Drive has been tweaked so employees can share files stored in Google’s cloud with folks who don’t have a Google account, providing admin permissions allow this.
  • Google’s Jamboard (collaborative digital whiteboard) now allows for duplicating objects, offers easier object selection, and boasts a new keyboard that supports ‘glide typing’.
  • G Suite benefited from the introduction of a new recruiting app: Hire lets employers keep tabs on potential candidates and allows for scheduling interviews and the like.
  • Hangouts Meet now offers a live chat function, so meeting participants can send messages or links in real-time, with a chat history available for the duration of the meeting.

June 2017

  • Google announced the imminent launch of a Backup and Sync app which automatically backs up files and photos from a PC onto Google Drive. The enterprise version will follow later in 2017.
  • G Suite admins benefited from the introduction of automatic provisioning for six new apps: Asana, Dialpad, Freshdesk, Lucidchart, RingCentral, and Smartsheet.
  • Google has extended the ability of G Suite admins to restrict certain users from creating Team Drives, and this functionality will be available indefinitely (instead of expiring in 2018).
  • Gmail admins received the ability to notify internal mail senders with an informative warning when a message gets quarantined due to an issue with compliance policies.
  • Google Vault was graced with a number of new features to make retrieving data a more accurate process, including detailed metadata for files exported from Google Drive.

May 2017

  • Google’s Jamboard, the massive collaborative digital whiteboard, went on sale in the US on May 23. You need a G Suite plan to use the 55-inch board which costs $5,000 (£4,100).
  • The Quick Access feature, which attempts to intelligently highlight the files you might need before you’ve even searched for them, arrived for Google Drive on the web.
  • Smart Reply – Google’s nifty system which automatically suggests quick responses to emails, in order to save you the effort – is coming to Gmail for Android and iOS.
  • Google added pre-integrated single sign-on support for 9 more third-party apps, including Asana, Dialpad, Evernote Business, Expensify, Keeper, Pagerduty and Trello.
  • Gmail on Android received a boost in security with the introduction of anti-phishing checks to warn users when they click on a suspicious link in a message.

April 2017

  • New settings were introduced in the admin console to allow for better management of users’ offline access to Google Docs, Sheets and Slides files.
  • Google Sites was improved with the introduction of the ability to add a logo to your site, which the app will intelligently scan for colours, and offer to use them across your theme.
  • For those firms that use Google+, which became part of G Suite last autumn, admins now have access to improved enterprise-focused reporting on adoption and engagement.
  • Google Cloud Search is now available as an iOS app (it was already on Android). The app offers a machine intelligence-powered, unified search experience across G Suite.
  • Google began the rollout of a refreshed Google Accounts login page, which has a new look and feel that’s designed to be consistent across phones, tablets and PCs.

March 2017

  • Gmail on the desktop has been improved so that when you receive a message with a video attachment, you’ll be able to preview the clip from right inside your inbox.
  • As part of an effort to better integrate G Suite with Salesforce, Google made it possible to export a Salesforce Opportunity List View directly to Sheets in order to bulk edit data.
  • Google announced that Jamboard, its giant digital whiteboard – billed as the ‘ultimate freeform collaboration experience’ for G Suite users – will be out in May costing $5,000.
  • Google launched a fresh app, Meet by Google Hangouts, a videoconferencing solution for businesses that allows for video calls with up to 30 group members.
  • G Suite saw the addition of the Google Keep app, an Evernote-style note-taking effort which you can now access from a sidebar panel in Google Docs.

February 2017

  • Google clarified that Hangouts users won’t be able to make video/audio calls in Firefox 52 due to plugins being disabled for security reasons, but it’s actively working on a solution.
  • Google Drive users can now view password-protected Microsoft Office documents in Drive, in read-only form – and this works for Gmail attachments, too.
  • Sheets (and its mobile apps) now supports the ability to rotate text within a cell, plus Google introduced new border styles and improved accounting number formatting.
  • Google also changed Sheets on the web so users can link to specific cell ranges, so for example it’s now possible to create a linked table of contents for your spreadsheet.
  • Want to insert videos directly from Google Drive into Google Slides presentations? You can now do exactly that, with a number of options to pick from such as autoplay.
  • Google Cloud Search was brought to G Suite, offering bolstered search functionality across the productivity suite, and machine intelligence-powered recommendations.

January 2017

  • Google added enterprise-grade controls and visibility to G Suite, including improved data control with Data Loss Prevention measures, and more scope for analytics.
  • It became easier to create documents and the like from templates, as the latter can now be accessed directly from Google Drive (rather than having to go into the G suite apps).
  • The mobile apps for both Google Docs and Sheets got a number of new features, including the ability to insert headers/footers, plus improved manipulation of images.
  • On the security front, Google made the decision to block JavaScript (JS) file attachments in Gmail (alongside the already barred EXE, BAT and MSC attachments).
  • Google made it easier to create group chats for teams in Hangouts, allowing for the easy creation and naming of ‘placeholder’ group chats which can be swiftly shared.

 December 2016

  • Basic Mobile Management was introduced to G Suite, which lets admins implement basic security on iOS devices with no need for the user to install an MDM profile.
  • Google Sheets received some tuning, including a new setting to keep a limit on iterative calculations, and some interface improvements were made with the Android app.
  • Gmail has been improved to make ‘bounce’ messages – the notifications users receive when an email fails to be delivered – more easily understandable and informative.
  • Google bolstered the Explore feature (introduced in September) by making it dead easy to insert citations as footnotes in Docs, Sheets and Slides.
  • Finally, this past month, we discovered that G Suite is only half as popular as Microsoft’s Office 365, at least according to one survey of European enterprises.

November 2016

  • The mobile apps for Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides had a ‘trash view’ introduced whereby you can now see and restore previously deleted files.
  • Google opened up applications for the Early Adopter Program for the Team Drives feature in Google Drive, a new and more robust way of sharing files between teams.
  • Slides was tweaked to enable users to be able to save in the OpenDocument Presentation (ODP) file format for compatibility with the likes of LibreOffice and OpenOffice.
  • G Suite has introduced custom templates for Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms, so you can set up your own specifically tailored templates for colleagues to use as needed.
  • The overhauled Google Sites has been rolled out to all G Suite users, boasting a refreshed design, six new themes, and the ability to track performance with Google Analytics.
  • Google pushed out a new Gmail app for iOS with major changes including an improved design, better search functionality, and an ‘undo send’ option to retract email mistakes.

October 2016

  • It was announced that the Google Drive desktop app won’t be supported by Google for Windows XP, Vista or Server 2003 as of the start of next year, January 1, 2017.
  • The voice features of Docs got a serious boost, with the introduction of new commands to format text, and do things such as inserting links and comments.
  • Google teamed up with Slack so users of the team-focused messaging solution can directly import files from Google Drive, or create new documents from within Slack.
  • Google also announced that those using aged versions of the Google Drive desktop app should note that support for versions 1.27 or older will be discontinued in February 2017.
  • Google Docs now lets you include page numbers in the table of contents you can create for a document.
  • Google introduced integrated search functionality for Gmail, Calendar, Groups, and Drive on the web, meaning that search results will be pulled from across all of these.

September 2016

  • Google has renamed Apps for Work as G Suite, which the company says better reflects the software’s mission in terms of putting the emphasis on real-time collaboration.
  • Docs, Sheets and Slides witnessed the introduction of a new Explore feature consisting of intelligent assistants that help you craft better documents.
  • A new Quick Access capability was brought to Google Drive. It uses machine learning to automatically surface files it thinks you’ll need next based on your usage patterns.
  • Google rolled out a new offer for users of its productivity suite, with a free 60-day trial of Chrome device management which is good for up to 10 devices.
  • Google Drive made searching easier with the introduction of natural language processing, meaning that you can phrase your search in everyday conversational terms.
  • Google announced a partnership with Box whereby the latter will be integrated with Google Docs, allowing users to edit documents directly from Box’s cloud storage.

August 2016

  • A new Google Hangouts Chrome extension was pushed out allowing for multiple chat windows to be incorporated into one, and making more chat content readily visible.
  • Google introduced a ‘Cast…’ function in the main menu of Chrome, and this can be used to share the contents of a browser tab – or the whole desktop – into a Hangout session.
  • Forms received a new feature which allows the insertion of images into surveys, so you can now do things like have a multiple choice question with pictures for answers.
  • The Android apps for Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides were improved to make it easier to create tables and better looking charts.
  • A couple of security tweaks were applied to Gmail, the most important of which is that the webmail service will now issue a warning about a link if it leads to a known malware site.
  • Inbox got integration with Trello and GitHub, so Trello users will receive a summary of what’s new with projects, and GitHub denizens will get a summary of code changes.
  • Google Drive’s preview feature was improved to make viewing previews of stored files a slicker experience, with a cleaner UI and better zoom functionality.

July 2016

  • Google introduced a new scheme to help train employees on its productivity suite, with the system designed to act like a ‘virtual coach’ to help users learn when IT staff aren’t around.
  • Google tweaked the Admin app for Android to let delegated admins (and not just super admins) use the software to access functions while out and about.
  • Google gave the Admin console some attention in terms of two-step verification, allowing admins to view the real-time status of where each user is in the 2SV enrolment process.
  • Apps for Work is apparently being muscled out by Microsoft’s Office 365, at least if sentiment from Redmond’s Worldwide Partner Conference is on the money.
  • Google launched the new Quizzes feature in the Forms app, designed to allow teachers to easily create and mark assessments for students.

June 2016

  • Google Springboard was announced, a search tool (currently being tested) that can be used to quickly find things across Google Apps, plus it makes proactive recommendations.
  • Google Sites got revamped with a new preview version boasting a simple drag-and-drop design which is more intuitive, and support for real-time collaboration was introduced.
  • A ‘new and notable’ section was introduced to the Google Apps Marketplace, in order to highlight the best third-party apps available to businesses.
  • The Android and iOS apps for Google Docs and Sheets gained the ability to edit content in Print layout view, and to edit existing conditional formatting rules in Sheets.
  • Google tweaked Docs, Sheets and Slides so notifications of comments made not only arrive via email, but you can also get a notification on your Android device or web browser.

May 2016

  • Google announced its new Spaces messaging app designed for small groups – but there’s no news as yet on when (or indeed whether) it will come to Apps for Work.
  • At Google I/O new APIs were introduced for Sheets, giving developers a “new level of access” to some of the most popular features in the app.
  • New APIs were also brought to Slides allowing developers to easily push data from other third-party apps into Slides for maximum convenience.
  • Google revealed that Android apps will be available for Chromebooks, and this opens up more productivity possibilities including using the Android version of Microsoft Word.
  • Google integrated its BigQuery service with Google Drive, allowing users to query files directly from Drive, and save query results from the BigQuery UI directly to Google Sheets.
  • Google Slides benefited from a new Q&A feature that lets audience members submit questions to the speaker directly from their mobile devices during a presentation.
  • The Synergyse service was fully integrated with Google Apps, a virtual assistant that helps train users in the various apps and was previously a Chrome extension.
  • Google Drive and Evernote were integrated, allowing Evernote users to seamlessly access any file on Drive.

April 2016

  • Google Apps for Work received two new certifications: ISO 27017 for cloud security and ISO 27018 for privacy.
  • A new ‘Find a Time’ feature arrived in Google Calendar for Android, allowing mobile users to find convenient times for meetings when they’re on the go.
  • Google’s scheme of providing Apps for free to medium-sized firms who want to migrate over but are locked into an Enterprise Agreement was extended until the end of 2016.
  • Reminders pitched up in the web version of Google Calendar, and said reminders will sync across browsers and mobile devices.

March 2016

  • The Google Admin app received bolstered mobile device management capabilities, allowing for admins to handle security breaches even when they’re out and about.
  • Research into the most-used business apps on the web ranked Google Apps for Work in fourth place – behind Office 365, Salesforce.com and Box.
  • Google launched its #maketime website, which aims to help you prioritise how you spend time during work hours, and highlight how Google Apps for Work can save you time.
  • Google expanded support for its Identity Platform to cover logins for far more third-party apps in the Google Apps Marketplace, including Office 365 and Facebook at Work.
  • A whole bunch of new templates were added to Google Docs, Sheets and Slides.

February 2016

  • Gmail’s existing Data Loss Prevention features got a boost with the addition of OCR for scanning attachments and additional predefined content detectors.
  • Google also gave Gmail the ability to flag email accounts that it deems ‘insecure’.
  • Google Docs was enhanced with voice typing, allowing users to dictate to their word processor, and also access editing and formatting commands.
  • Google Forms gained support for add-ons and the ability to edit Apps Scripts, plus work and education-related templates were introduced to the home screen.
  • The Gmail for Android app received support for rich text formatting, and an option for one-tap instant RSVPs was introduced.

January 2016

  • Instant comments were introduced to Google Docs, allowing users to click a simple icon to add an immediate comment to a document.
  • The ability to add comments arrived in the Sheets and Slides apps for both Android and iOS.
  • Google further bolstered the Sheets Android app with the ability to open and edit CSV and TSV files, along with additional files supported for import and export.
  • Google Calendar for Android and iOS apps was graced with smart suggestions that pop up suggested event titles, places and people.
  • Search became more powerful across Google’s productivity suite, so when users search from Docs, Sheets, and Slides home screens, they get results from across all three apps.
  • Google rejigged device management in the Admin console, categorising the various settings to make everything easier to find.

Now move on to Page 2 for our full review and detailed look at what Google Apps for Work offers, including an evaluation of features, pricing, and ease-of-use.

Darren Allan contributed to this article

For decades, the gold standard of office productivity software has been Microsoft Office – it inherited IBM’s status as the technology nobody got fired for buying. But while Office is undoubtedly powerful, many of its users don’t use many of its features. So why pay for things your organisation doesn’t use?

That’s the rationale behind Google Apps for Work, or G Suite as it is now known. Where Office tries to do everything imaginable, Google’s suite is much more basic. That said, it’s much more powerful than it was when the package debuted in 2006, but the emphasis on simplicity and speed remains.

Apps and pricing

Google Apps for Work (G Suite) is organised into four categories spanning eleven products. Under Communicate you’ll find Gmail, Hangouts and Calendar; under Store there’s Google Drive; under Collaborate there’s Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides and Sites; and under Manage there’s Admin and Vault. That final one is designed to archive corporate email in organisations that have to retain data for regulatory compliance.

And as ever, the pricing is refreshingly simple. The base product is £3.30 ($5.66) per user per month, and the Premium version is £6.60 ($11.32) per user per month. If your organisation is an educational establishment, Google also has a version for you: Google Apps for Education is free.

While we’re on the subject of free apps, you can of course get Gmail, Docs, Sheets and other Google apps for free – so why spend money? The short answer is that the paid-for version gives you more storage, management, and the ability to use your own domain – so emails come from @yourcompany.com instead of @gmail.com.

Users on the base version of G Suite get 30GB of storage, which is twice the amount of the free products, and users on the Premium version get unlimited storage, while you also get improved admin controls and the Vault email archive. Both the base and premium versions come with HD videoconferencing via Hangouts and 24/7 phone, chat and email support.

Slides

Slides, Google’s presentation module, covers the basics well enough

How does it compare to Office?

Google’s main rival here is of course Microsoft, and Redmond’s Office 365 comes with a number of price tags attached depending on which version you want and how many users you’re planning on giving it to.

Microsoft has cut the price of Office 365 to make it more competitive, and it now comes in four tiers: Office 365 Business Essentials, which is £3.10 per user per month; Office 365 Business, which is £7 per user per month; Office 365 Business Premium, which is £7.80 per user per month; and Office 365 Enterprise E3, which is £14.70 per user per month. The first three plans are limited to a maximum of 300 users per year.

The most basic version of Office 365 offers web-based versions of Office apps, 1TB of storage per user plus a 50GB email inbox, unlimited online meetings and HD videoconferencing, plus business-focused social networking for collaborating across departments.

The next step up, Business, offers full Office apps for desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone along with 1TB of storage, but not the extra 50GB email inboxes. If you want that and the desktop/mobile apps too, you’ll need Office 365 Business Premium. As with Google there’s 24-hour web support and phone support for “critical issues”.

One deal-breaker here might be compliance: Microsoft’s compliance tools are limited to the Enterprise product, which is twice the price of Google Apps for Work Premium.

Setup

The sign-up process takes mere seconds and once you’ve created your account you’ll be taken to the Admin Console. This has eight key options: users, company profile, billing, reports, apps, device management, security and support.

It’s possible to add users in two ways – manually, or by uploading a CSV file containing multiple user details. Once you’ve done that you can then specify which apps they can use, so for example you might want to let users access email but not Google Hangouts. You can also disable unwanted apps globally.

One of the most interesting sections here is Mobile Device Management, which enables you to mandate passwords and Google Sync on user devices, to encrypt data, configure Wi-Fi and to enable or disable automatic syncing and the device’s camera.

You can also remotely wipe devices either manually or automatically if they haven’t been synchronised for a specified period.

Sheets

Sheets is Google’s equivalent of Excel

The Admin Console also contains some additional tools: group creation, third-party apps, domain management and settings for other free Google services such as Google Analytics, AdWords, Google+ and Google App Engine.

The optional Vault, which doubles the per-user price from £3.30 ($5.66) per month to £6.60 ($11.32), is designed for organisations that need to retain email and chat data and other digital information for regulatory compliance.

You can set data retention options globally or based on particular dates, groups or search terms, search the archive using the familiar Google search field, and you can audit the data and export it for further analysis. It doesn’t store all communications, however – any chats marked off the record aren’t stored.

If you’re not sure whether you require Vault or if it isn’t currently necessary, it’s possible to upgrade to the with-Vault version from within your Google Apps for Work (G Suite) Admin Console.

Create: Docs, Sheets, Slides and Sites

Google’s apps come in two forms – cross-platform, browser-based apps and mobile apps for iOS and Android. Microsoft’s mobile OS isn’t supported beyond Google Sync for mail, contacts and calendars.

It’s worth noting that the browser apps only use local storage if you’re using the Chrome browser or Chrome OS, although the standalone Google Drive desktop app keeps everything in sync if you prefer a different web browser (and of course Gmail is widely supported by desktop email software and mobile email apps). The features available offline differ from product to product and platform to platform.

Docs, Sheets and Slides are Google’s equivalents of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, although a more accurate comparison would be to Apple’s most recent iWork apps – the emphasis is on simplicity and ease of use rather than power features.

That’s particularly apparent in Slides, which also appears to prize simplicity over making presentations that don’t look absolutely awful.

We wouldn’t want to craft a massive, complicated manuscript in Docs, but then that isn’t what Docs is designed to do. It’s a fast and user-friendly way to create everyday documents and to share them with colleagues and clients. The companion Drawing app adds functions such as WordArt-style text effects, simple image creation, diagrams and flow charts.

It’s a similar story with Sheets, which covers the most common Excel functions (including pivot tables) but doesn’t have the power of Microsoft’s offering. It is improving, though, and now that it supports Google’s App Script add-ons it’s possible to automate workflows and develop custom apps – although it’s still way behind Microsoft here.

There are two additional apps for creating content: Forms, which as the name suggests is for creating and completing online forms, and Sites, which can be used to create shared pages on the intranet or public internet. Sites is a template-driven affair and while it won’t give professional web designers any nightmares, it’s an effective way to publish web content without any knowledge of web content creation.

Docs

Docs is a fast and user-friendly way to create documents, and share them with no fuss

Collaboration and compatibility

Online collaboration has been baked into Google Apps from the outset, and sharing documents with colleagues or clients is effortless. The Revision History panel tracks changes and there’s a separate panel for comments, which can be notified via email as well as in the app.

Sharing is a one-button affair, with options including public, anyone with the correct link, anyone within the organisation, or sharing only with a specified group of people. These options only apply to unpublished documents, however – anything published via the Publish to the Web option, which makes an online copy of the current document, is publicly available.

In addition to the obligatory Microsoft Office formats, Google Apps also supports documents including Open Document Format, Rich Text Format, PDF, plaintext and zipped HTML. Spreadsheets can be saved as CSV and tab-delimited files, and presentations can be output in SVG and PNG formats.

The big selling point here is importing rather than exporting, however – it’s useful to be able to bring non-Google documents into G Suite and make them editable and collaborative.

Google Apps also includes Google’s Hangouts service, which you can make available for text, voice and video calls with anybody or limit conversations to just those people who are members of the same organisation. Hangouts can be shared with up to 15 people and used for video chat, presentation sharing or screen sharing.

We liked

Google Apps for Work (G Suite) is very competitively priced and easy to administer. While the various apps aren’t quite as fully featured as power users might like, they’re more than adequate for most everyday office work.

We disliked

The apps may be too simple for some organisations, and not everybody loves Google’s software interface – although it’s much better than it used to be. You also might not be comfortable with the thought that your company’s communications are being scanned by Google.

Final verdict

Rather than be all things to all men and women, Google’s suite is content to cover the basics and to cover them well. It’s fast, lightweight and works on a wide range of devices, and it’s both easy to use and easy to administer.

If Google’s apps cover the features your users will need every day, it’s a very compelling product for SMEs – and with 30 days to put it through its paces without providing any billing details, it’s a product you can test risk-free.



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Rumored cheaper MacBook Air allegedly delayed to second half of 2018



There’s been more chatter on the laptop grapevine regarding the rumored incoming budget MacBook Air, which apparently now won’t arrive in the next couple of months, as previous speculation has indicated, but will be delayed until the second half of this year.

From the off, we should say that you might want to keep your salt shaker handy, as this news comes from DigiTimes, which isn't always the most reliable outlet.

And furthermore, bear in mind this is a rumor about a rumor, as the original speculation about a new 13-inch MacBook Air with a ‘lower price tag’ came last month from Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst at KGI Securities (who has, coincidentally, just left KGI).

Kuo believed this cheaper MacBook Air could turn up in the second quarter of this year – i.e. before the end of June – but according to DigiTimes’ sources in the manufacturing supply chain, mass production of the new model won't begin until the second half of 2018.

Supply shortage

As for what’s causing the delay, apparently it's simply a shortage of key components such as processors that's holding things up.

DigiTimes further reckons the budget model will still come with a Retina screen – a beefy upgrade for the display – and that the price is likely to be dropped by $100 or even $200 compared to the current cheapest MacBook Air; that base model is priced at $999, or £949 / AU$1,499, and there would presumably be a similar price drop in the UK and Australia.

That's if this rumored MacBook ever emerges, although the growing speculation surrounding it does suggest the plans for the product are real enough.

It’ll certainly be nice to have a cheaper MacBook Air option on the table, as there was two years ago when Apple sold an 11-inch spin on the laptop which could be had for a relatively wallet-friendly £749.

Via Apple Insider



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