Ever keen to keep its enterprise customers happy, Microsoft has announced a couple of new initiatives designed to help give Office 365 users a peek at upcoming changes to the service. These include a new ‘public roadmap’ of updates and a voluntary program that allows users to preview those updates.
The initiatives are meant to address a new reality introduced by cloud computing. While cloud services like Office 365 enable Microsoft to add new features seamlessly, not everyone is ready to take advantage of them. That can lead to confusion, and that’s why Microsoft is aiming for greater transparency by making the Office 365 development roadmap public.
“We will provide visibility to planned updates that are in development and in the process of being rolled out to the service, as well as to items that have been launched and are now generally available for all eligible customers,” wrote Office 365 group product manager Jake Zborowski. “The public roadmap will be your best source of truth.”
The roadmap will ostensibly show all the upcoming changes “a few months” before they’re introduced, although in certain cases Microsoft may announce major changes even earlier, noted Zborowski. In some cases, though, they may not announce them at all.
“The public roadmap will provide a great view of many updates and enhancements to the service, but it will not capture every change,” Zborowski’s FAQ adds.
You can view the roadmap here. At the time of writing, there are 13 features described as “launched”, 10 that are said to be “rolling out”, and 35 more that are “in development”. Microsoft also includes a “canceled” category for services that may have been discussed but won’t be implemented.
Microsoft also launched First Release, a program that enables people to sign up for early access to new features at least two weeks before customers in the standard release group get them.
The program isn’t all-encompassing at the moment. It applies only to updates to Office 365’s user interface, Exchange Online and SharePoint Online. It also isn’t the same as a beta program because each new feature is intended to be fully supported and tested before being added to the feature list.
Microsoft has also limited customer flexibility by making the First Release program “tenant-wide”, which means enhancements can’t be tested on a small number of users before broad deployment. Features must be activated by an administrator, Which means that everyone in an organization receives updates at the same time.