Office 365 & Windows 8 summer wishlist

While using products every now and again I wonder about what features could really help improve the experience of what’s currently there. For Windows 8 on initial release it was GUI fixes that eventaully found their way into the product via the 8.1 and Update 1 releases. This post is a similar for Office 365. The recent release of the iPad apps has already solved one of the issues I touched on when reviewing the mobile offering a few months back so who knows, maybe these ideas might end up the same…

Remove dependency on Microsoft accounts

thumb_UserOne of the things that infuriates me (and no doubt many other people) with Windows 8 and Office 365 is the fact that key features still rely on a personal-use Microsoft account. For example, signing into a non-domain joined Windows 8 device requires a Microsoft Account to use the Windows Store. Equally Windows and Office always wants to use the consumer-grade SkyDrive regardless of whether the user should be on SkyDrive Pro instead.

Even my favourite product of the moment, OneNote has an annoying setup process that won’t let me create a Notebook in Office 365 but instead defaults it to my personal SkyDrive. To get it to work I have to go into the OneDrive for Business web interface, create a Notebook there and then click to open it in the app. Really counter-intuitive and has caught out a few people already.

The end result of makes it far too easy for data to end up in the wrong place and causes confusion and extra administrative effort to get the additional accounts set up, while the whole time there’s a perfectly good Office 365 account sitting twiddling its thumbs!

Hopefully Microsoft can find a way to tweak their authentication systems to make Office 365 accounts work for device authentication and the Windows Store. Also a bit of extra code in Windows 8 to disable SkyDrive if the user logs in with an Office 365 account would make life a lot easier.

Enterprise Windows Store

store

The concept of an app-store model in theory has a lot more potential than is currently being realised in my opinion. What I’d like to see is the ability to use Azure to publish an organisation-specific Store. That way we could create a list of pre-approved apps that the user can quickly pick and choose what they want installed. MDM or GPO could then be used to redirect any managed device’s Store link to the organisation version instead of the consumer Store.

Organisations could then allow users choice in what they put on their devices but at the same time avoid any unauthorised costs or apps that aren’t suitable. It could also be a way to publish internal apps onto a private Store without having to mess about with sideloading.

Other options for the Store could be site-licensed apps, available to all users at the organisation or perhaps filtering the Store e.g. make all free apps available but purchases need to be approved via a specified Office 365 user. With Apple’s VPP in place they’re slowly coming round to the idea of enterprise-level management of the store so Microsoft needs something similar \ better.

Improved OneDrive for Business client & UI

In theory OneDrive for Business should be a killer product, 1TB of storage with all the management functions is great, however the implementation on Windows devices isn’t quite up to scratch. The desktop client for OneDrive for Business feels a generation behind it’s consumer counterpart in terms of ease of use and flexibility. With such huge amounts of cloud storage available for use the all-or-nothing sync system currently provided simply isn’t good enough when put up against the likes of Dropbox.

onedrive_business

The Metro Modern UI app seems to have a more sensible approach and shows files available then downloads as required, however this doesn’t extend to the Desktop client that most Windows applications will interact with. What we need is something that works in a similar way to the Windows 8.1 OneDrive integration where the user can choose how much \ little they want actively synced. That said any new version needs to be a bit clearer about what’s going on than the OneDrive client, as it’s not easy to tell at a glance what’s local and what isn’t

The web UI also needs a huge makeover, again to bring it up to scratch vs. the consumer version. Drag and drop is limited (moving a file from one folder to another is way more complicated than it should be), as are simple operations such as renaming and deleting files. If file management and the browsing view can be made to match the standard of the web apps and online editing experience Microsoft will have done a great job.

Some interesting comments popped up in a recent LinkedIn thread that sum up the general feeling around the pros and cons of the current OneDrive for Business incarnation and it’s ability to usurp file shares as the next generation of document storage.

Larger file support in OneDrive for Business

Quite a simple request but one that’s popped up already for us – some users need to store >2GB files on their Office 365 accounts. Currently this isn’t possible due to the 2GB limit on uploaded files. It’s mainly video files for projects and I was surprised at how low the limit is set in comparison to Google Drive (10GB) and Dropbox (also 10GB). Hopefully this will be something Microsoft addresses soon what with the 1TB storage upgrade.

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