How to Deal with Updates on Office 365

How to Deal with Updates on Office 365

The SharePoint site on Office 365 keeps changing. Small changes, big changes, an extra link or a button, changes are everywhere. Here are some tips on handling these changes.

What's Changed?

Let’s start with the Office 365 suite bar. The suite bar is visible on each page on Office 365, located on the very top, where we usually have advertisements or corporate branding on websites.

The majority of Office 365 tenants today have a suite bar that looks like this:

After the next update, the blue portion of the suite bar will change and all users will get a new icon to the left of the Office 365 logo. The new icon, the App Launcher, triggers a pop-up window with links to Outlook, Calendar, and other Office applications, shown in figure 2.

At the other end of the suite bar, users saw this when SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 were launched:

Today, this is what users will see instead:

After the update, the user picture, help icon, and options button switch places, as shown in figure 5.

Microsoft’s view on changes is very clear; the software giant announced at Teched Europe 2014 in Barcelona that custom master pages, custom site templates, and sandboxed solutions are NOT recommended on Office 365.

One change I managed to hide was the Office 365 logo and I set a customer’s logo instead. The customization wasn't difficult because I didn’t change the master page, and instead made a relatively simple adjustment in the stylesheet.

The new “App launcher” icon that is in the update, however, is conflicting with this customization. Though it is not failing, it just doesn’t look good when the adjustment has looked fine for a while now. So how am I supposed to fix this problem; where am I supposed to place the customer logo?

Microsoft doesn’t write in their best practices that we can't or shouldn’t hide the Office 365 logo. The reason for that is that is because the Office 365 logo links to the Office 365 Admin portal, but roughly 99% of users don't even have access to Admin portal so, from usability perspective, the logo is a dead link that could be removed.

What should I do now? I’m used to implementing the design and moving on to another task, another customer. The changes in design would probably stay there for a few years until the customer decides to upgrade to the new version. That upgrade and that decision happens on Office 365 every 90 days when Microsoft rolls out the updates.

Regular changes and updates to the design and functionality on Office 365 can conflict with some of the changes to the design made by customers on Office 365. Even if I could predict the upcoming changes to Office 365 and knew how the suite bar is going to look like in a year’s time, I doubt that I'd be able to guard my design changes from new links, new features, changes in JavaScript, and changes in names for suite bar Office 365 logo and links.

Should we just give up on contemplating the suite bar? What could we keep in the bar that would make sense? Should we let go on our ownership for the content that we communicate to our organization and external users? The suite bar is part of that content. Do we want to see Microsoft’s advertisement for Office 365? Hardly, so what should the suite bar look like?

I would like to hear Microsoft's vision for the suite bar. A vision that is comprised of more than “it will change”. I'd like to hear about a vision where they are going to invest in a designer that can draw a timeless design that will last for a couple of years at least, or a vision about a modern piece of design released quarterly.

I'd like to see a design that looks great regardless of colors and fonts, a design where a logo like “Office 365” doesn’t hurt user's eyes.

So given all this, what are we supposed to do with customizations on Office 365? There are three ways to deal with updates on Office 365:

  1. Do the customizations and expect that we’ll need a support developer to fix the errors after an Office 365 update
  2. Move your content to documents and Outlook. I’m afraid that the crystal ball, if I shake it well and look into the future two years from now, it will show me Office 365 sites were content is moved away from changes to the suite bar and kept in documents, in Word, Excel, Outlook, or PowerPoint. No pages, no lists. No web parts. No SharePoint.
  3. Move to another platform
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