As a consultant in our Office 365 practice, part of my role includes keeping up with the constant changes and features being added to the service by Microsoft.
When I worked with on-premises versions of Exchange and Lync, it was fairly easy to keep on top of things. You knew when changes came as they arrived in the form of an update that you or your client had to install. Outside of major service packs, you generally just had bug fixes with the occasional minor feature added in between. While the update release cadence has increased in recent years, each version of Exchange still receives only a couple of major service packs before the next version is released.
Office 365 is often referred to as “evergreen” meaning that it’s always the latest and greatest; it feels at times that there are changes occurring weekly. Trying to consume all the information about changes across the various workloads can be like drinking from a fire hose and you can quickly start to feel overwhelmed.
Below are some sources that I use to stay aware of these changes and methods I use to sort through the information.
We live in a time where the amount of information available at your fingertips is endless and the general expectation is that it should all disseminated in near real-time. As a result, I find it becomes important to be tactical in the information sources you use, otherwise you’re just overloaded.
How to Follow
Most of my sources have RSS feeds and that’s what I use whenever possible. If you’re not familiar with RSS, it’s that little orange square with the circular bands (you’ll probably see one to the left of this post). While I’ve read some reports that RSS usage is on the decline, I find it incredibly useful for what I use it for.
There are an endless number of RSS clients out there, including Outlook. Given the amount of data, I like to have it available on my mobile devices so it’s always available. When I have a few minutes standing in line somewhere, I’ll pop open the app and go through a few feeds, “starring” the items I might want to dig into deeper later or share with my team.
I’ve tried at least a dozen mobile applications but have used “Feeddler Pro” (iOS) for the past several years. The way it and a few others work is they connect to a back end RSS feed aggregator site. I used “Google Reader” as this source up until it was shut down and now I use “The Old Reader” which is basically just a barebones aggregator supported by Feeddler. With the combination of Feeddler and the aggregator service, posts that I read on the website, phone or tablet all stay in sync.
For RSS feeds that have more time sensitive and critical information, I’ll add these RSS feeds to Outlook so they get the same attention as my email. I try to keep that list of feeds small otherwise the important data gets lost in the middle of data that is perhaps just interesting.
What to Follow
My Office 365 sources generally include the following:
- Official Microsoft Sources
- User Groups
Official Microsoft Sources
Office 365 Roadmap: One of the first places you should probably be watching is the Office 365 Roadmap website. This site provides a summary of features that are in a status of “Launched”, “Rolling Out”, “In Development” or “Canceled”. Generally you won’t find specific dates as the updates are rolled out over a period of time but it gives you a good idea of what’s on the horizon.
Microsoft Team Blogs: There’s no shortage of blogs written by various Microsoft employees, my focus is predominately with those by the various product teams.
Here are some of the blogs that I follow:
- The Exchange Team Blog: Covers both on-premises Exchange and Exchange Online; definitely one of the best and most technical blogs from Microsoft.
- Office Blogs: This is where you find most of the new functionality announcements when it comes to Office 365. Some other blogs like the former Lync Team Blog were consolidated into this blog so it’s a bit of dumping ground for all products but the site is searchable which helps.
- Active Directory Documentation Team: Definitely more than just Active Directory, updated pretty regularly with content about AD FS, RMS and DirSync.
- The Official Microsoft Rights Management: A pretty regularly updated blog about AD RMS and Azure RMS.
- Active Directory Team Blog: Not surprising but more Azure AD than on-premises AD these days.
DirSync Version History Wiki: The dirsync.exe download changes pretty regularly behind the scenes (about 7 times in the last year) and it can easily go unnoticed unless you’re checking the version number of the installer. The Directory Sync Tool Version Release History Wiki is critical in keeping track of what new features might be available or what issues have been fixed in the latest version. The page has an RSS feed and it’s one I like to keep listed in Outlook.
Microsoft Azure Active Directory PowerShell Module Version Release History Wiki: There haven’t been many updates to the Office 365 PowerShell module thus far but with the number of features being released, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the update frequency increase. The Microsoft Azure Active Directory PowerShell Module Version Release History Wiki has a log of new functionality or issues have been fixed in the latest version. The page has an RSS feed and it’s probably worth adding to Outlook.
Office 365 Community Forums: While the Service Health Dashboard in your tenant is the first place to go when suspecting an outage, the Office 365 Community Forums are worth checking out to see if others are experiencing similar symptoms as you.
Microsoft KB Articles: New or updated knowledgebase articles can be found by the associated RSS feed for each product. I find these are a nice “heads up” as to problems that might exist with a particular CU update that I’m looking to install.
Here are the ones that I watch:
- Exchange 2003
- Exchange 2007
- Exchange 2010
- Exchange 2013
- Exchange Online
- Lync Server 2010
- Lync Server 2013
- Lync Online
- Office 365 for Enterprises
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If you’re only responsible for a couple of these products in your role, it might be worth promoting these to your Outlook shortlist. For a complete list of Microsoft KB feeds, check out the “RSS Feed Product Index“.
Office 365 IP Address Lists: The Office 365 URLs and IP Address Ranges site maintains a list of IPs used by Office 365. During your Office 365 implementation, it’s possible that you generated firewall rules off this list for things such as the EOP source IPs. Watching this list is important in ensuring issues do not arise from having stale firewall rules. Fortunately, this page has an RSS feed; it’s one that I would recommend adding to Outlook.
I’m admittedly a blog junkie and follow way too many; a list here would go on forever. I’ve tried to reduce the list down to people that seem to produce original content or at least post regularly but the list is always growing. Seek out Microsoft MVPs and other industry experts, you’ll learn who is producing good material and who is just repeating posts from elsewhere. There are some people producing some really awesome and original content; hopefully my blog makes your list and you find it helpful.
A quick note to my fellow bloggers: One of the most difficult things is sorting through the massive amount of data available. I understand that producing original content takes more time than many might expect but “reblogging” content that has already been posted by an authoritative source just clutters up everyone’s feeds. I don’t need 100 posts that the next service pack for Exchange was released, I likely already read it on the Exchange Team Blog earlier in the morning. Let’s strive to focus on producing quality original content, not pushing out large quantities of repetitive information.
I’ll periodically check #Office365, #MSExchange and #IamMEC to see if anyone has posted anything interesting. Usually it’s a link to a blog I’m already following but sometimes it’s a new one for me to check out. After all, with only 140 characters, you’re pretty limited in the information you can communicate. Occasionally some spam will show up in these feeds and you may have to adjust your search to filter it out but it eventually is blocked. Using TweetDeck is a good way to track these hashtag feeds.
The latest entry into the social rotation is Yammer. The Office 365 Technical Network on Yammer has groups related to new features in Office 365 and “ninja updates” found by end users that don’t seem to be documented elsewhere. There are over 20,000 participants in this network so the activity is pretty strong. It’s not designed to be a support site but there is a wealth of information regardless.
When I have a full hour to kill while driving or cutting the lawn, I’ll listen to Podcasts from one of two sources:
One podcast that is dedicated to Office 365 is the Office 365 FM podcast. It’s been a couple months since they’ve had a new episode so I hope they’re still active, I’m sure producing such a podcast takes a considerable amount of effort.
Another podcast that I listen to, while not dedicated to Office 365, is The UC Architects podcast. It’s predominate focus is on-premises installations of Exchange and Lync but there is still some Office 365 content from time to time.
There’s no shortage of information available on YouTube but one series that has a consistent cadence of updates is the “Office Mechanics” series. Each video is about 10 minutes amount a new or upcoming feature in Office 365. Another one to check out, if you haven’t seen them, is the “From Inside The Cloud” series.
What better way to share information about Office 365 than talking with other Office 365 users or consultants? Yes, the long lost art of talking to real people, in person (or at least via a Lync call). Unfortunately there is not a user group dedicated to Office 365 locally for me, my understanding is there is a pretty strong presence in Boston, MA and in Sweden. I do participate in the “Office 365 International User Group” which takes place as a monthly Lync call and also participate in my local “Lync Users Group” as well. So ask around if there is a local group for you. …or maybe even start your own!
There are certainly other sources available. I’m told there are a few Facebook pages with good activity but I’m not a big fan of Facebook and don’t tend to frequent them. Microsoft has its “Curah!” site but I’ve yet to get involved there and I’m not sure what kind of adoption it’s really had. LinkedIn also has some groups with decent activity but the advertising and job recruiting posts clutter up the groups too much in my opinion.
Do you have any favorite sources that I should be aware of?
There’s no shortage of readily available information, the largest challenge is sorting through it. The above is what works for me in my specific role but may be light in some areas important to you. Use this as a starting point and it will likely lead you to additional sources to fill in the gaps.
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