The Office 365 Admin app was refreshed by Microsoft on March 13 and I have spent some time playing around with it to understand how useful the app is in real life. As those of us who have been around for a while know to our peril, things that demo well at trade shows and in grand keynotes often fail to prove satisfactory when introduced to the harsh facts of production life.
I was delighted when the app appeared first on Windows Phone, which is what I use on my trusty Nokia Lumia 1020 (it was still Nokia then…). The app is also available on Android 4.0 devices and Apple iOS 8+, where it runs on both iPad and iPhone devices. The reviews on the different app stores are mixed but most of the negative reviews that I noticed focus on missing functionality (like "why can't we edit distribution group membership") rather than how the app might be used to help admins.
I think it's unreasonable to expect any app that runs on a smartphone to do the heavy lifting of administration. That's the purpose web-based consoles like the Office 365 Portal or the Exchange Administration Center. Or, if you like getting down and dirty, there's always PowerShell, which continues to be the most useful of all utilities in the administrative toolbox.
Instead, the Office 365 Admin app is a kind of triage assistant that helps you know whether things are running smoothly within a tenant. As such, it's good for busy administrators who are away from their desk or for folks who take care of multiple Office 365 tenants, such as the consultants who help multiple companies. If you expect much else, you will be disappointed.
That being said, I thought the app scored in a number of areas:
- The dashboard provides a useful overview of what's happening in a tenant. In particular, it might highlight some messages sent by Microsoft to administrators to inform them about new features. The dashboard also highlights current service problems and allows you to dive down into the details to discover what's going wrong. However, Office 365 is now so huge that a problem surfaced here might not affect you because it is local to a particular datacenter or region.
- You can edit mailbox setting and reset passwords, but only for cloud-based mailboxes. Hybrid mailboxes need to be updated on the on-premises side.
- You can create a new user too, again just for cloud-based mailboxes. And only user mailboxes – site mailboxes, shared mailboxes, and group mailboxes are not supported.
On the downside, the app believes that it loses network connectivity when it obviously has not. Despite the red-signaled error, I was able to add the new user account shown here. However, adding a new user is only the start of the process as you subsequently have to assign an Office 365 license to the account, which is something the app doesn't do.
I also don't like the way that the app regards perfectly legitimate mailboxes as being unlicensed. You don't need an Office 365 license for shared mailboxes or resource mailboxes, despite what the app thinks.
The Office 365 Admin app is like a curate's egg – good in parts. It can be better and I am sure that it will be as updates arrive to improve and smoothen functionality, perhaps support hybrid environments, and even (dreaming) support an on-premises deployment. It would be nice if the app could dive down into some of the Office 365 services as well if necessary to deal with issues in Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Video, or Delve.
Overall, I think this app is worthwhile and a good thing to have on your smartphone. It certainly can't do any worse than some of the crud that people put on their phones and it will deliver some value.
Follow Tony @12Knocksinna