Microsoft Announces New Features for Outlook Web App in Office 365

Microsoft Announces New Features for Outlook Web App in Office 365

The evolution of email

Today at the Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) in Austin, Texas, Microsoft announced a number of new features that are coming to Outlook Web App in Office 365. Additionally, the firm announced that it will soon release an OWA app for Android phones to accompany the app it already provides to iPhone and iPad users.

"These new capabilities will help redefine the email experience as we know it today making it more social, more relevant, more collaborative and easier to manage," Microsoft corporate vice president Jeff Teper notes in a new post to the Office Blogs. "In all of this, giving customers the best mobile experience across all devices is critical. On iPhone and iPad, we released the OWA app last year. And today we are announcing that we will be releasing the OWA app for Android Phones as our latest step in that journey."

As an aside, there continues to be some confusion between Microsoft's various Outlook-branded email solutions. The firm has an Outlook desktop application that is part of the Office suite for Windows, of course. (i.e. "Outlook dot com") is its consumer-focused, web-based successor to Hotmail that is available for free and with the Office 365 Home (Premium, and, soon, Personal) subscription. Outlook Web App is part of the business versions of Office 365 and on-premises versions of Exchange Server; like, it is a web-based client. And as suggested by the quote above, Microsoft also makes OWA mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, and, soon, Android phones.

Confused? There's actually more. The mail, calendar and people apps in Windows Phone are collectively referred to as Outlook Mobile, even though they are in fact separate apps (that I call Mail, Calendar and People). Oddly, the Mail, Calendar and People apps are not ever called Outlook anything. They're just Mail, Calendar and People.

OK, let's move on. :)

Here are the new Outlook Web App for Office 365 features that Microsoft announced today:

Clutter. It may seem like an odd name for a feature, but Clutter is actually just a codename and it of course cuts to the heart of one of the more annoying things about email: Dealing with the clutter. "Leveraging the intelligence of the Office Graph, clutter looks for how 'importantly' or 'unimportantly' you treat emails and looks for patterns behind those behaviors," Microsoft explains. "It is 100 percent personalized to you ... [And] it is still a work in progress.  That means when it ships, it may not look exactly as it does today." But as Microsoft notes, the key here is that Clutter will help your inbox contain only those email messages that matter to you, allowing you to focus on what's important and get work done in an efficient way.

Enhanced document collaboration. Outlook Web App now includes full integration with OneDrive for Business, allowing you to easily share files stored in the cloud as attachments in your email. This works automatically when you send an attachment from your computer or device: it is automatically uploaded to your OneDrive cloud drive and send it as a link. Or you can of course attach a file directly from your OneDrive cloud drive when sending an email in Outlook Web App. And when you receive a Word, PowerPoint or Excel file to someone via email, Office Online is integrated directly into the email experience to allow you to view and edit documents side-by-side with the original email conversation.

Groups. Announced at SharePoint Conference 2014 recently, the Groups feature works across Office 365 and enables collaboration experiences that weren't possible before. Group memberships are enabled across Exchange, SharePoint and Yammer, delivering a unified experience across the Office suite. So you can access the group conversation feed from your tool of choice.

OWA for Android handsets. This new mobile app will work like OWA for iPhone, providing access to the latest Outlook Web App features on mobile devices. (You can of course continue to use the built-in EAS-based access to Office 365 on your smart phone.)

"We're really excited to deliver these enhanced email and collaboration experiences in Outlook Web App and across mobile devices," Microsoft senior product marketing manager Steve Chew writes. "We're bringing an entirely new way to think about email as a continued enabler to how people get work done whether in the office or on the go. Email is becoming more collaborative, more efficient, easier to manage and, yes, more social. Look for these new features to begin rolling out to Office 365 customers later this year."

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