SharePoint Online, other Office 365 apps work together

Following its 'better together' strategy, Microsoft plans deeper integration between SharePoint Online and other Office 365 applications.

Microsoft has long adhered to a "better together" strategy that suggests its operating systems and applications...

can achieve greater capabilities if used in conjunction with other Microsoft products. Although it's easy to dismiss the "better together" philosophy as being nothing more than a strategy to sell products, this argument begins to break down when you consider Office 365.

Office 365, Microsoft's software-as-a-service offering, includes SharePoint Online, Exchange Server, Lync and Yammer. Even though each of these applications works well on its own, Microsoft believes you can achieve greater functionality by leveraging the power of multiple Office 365 applications.

Of course this raises the question of how the various Office 365 applications can work together. Far too many crossover capabilities exist to discuss here, so we'll focus on the way SharePoint Online works with other Office 365 applications.

Microsoft steers SharePoint users toward Yammer

Yammer may be the Office 365 application that adds the most to SharePoint Online. In fact, Microsoft is gradually eliminating some of SharePoint Online's social features to get users to use Yammer instead. In a way, this makes sense. SharePoint and Yammer have a lot of overlap, but Yammer is clearly the more powerful social networking platform, so it's only logical that Microsoft would steer SharePoint users toward Yammer.

Recently, Microsoft announced that it will retire SharePoint Online's Notes and Tags features. The Tags feature allowed users to "like" SharePoint content or to tag SharePoint content with custom tags that make the content easier to find later on. The Notes feature gave users a way of adding notes to another user's My Site (or to any other SharePoint site). You also could use the Notes feature to add notes to documents stored in a SharePoint document library. This functionality is now available in Yammer, where you can tag and like content, as well as send private notes to other users.

Another useful point of integration between SharePoint Online and Yammer is a relatively new feature called Document Conversations. SharePoint Online makes it possible to select a document within a document library and then click a Post button that causes SharePoint to create a Yammer conversation about the document.

Although the Document Conversations feature exposes Yammer conversations directly through SharePoint, Microsoft has not fully integrated all the Yammer functionality into SharePoint. Fortunately, you can do some of that yourself. If you have users who work in both SharePoint Online and Yammer, you can deploy the Yammer App for SharePoint. Doing so allows you to add real-time Yammer feeds to SharePoint.

User interaction may become easier

Yammer is not the only Office 365 application to provide a degree of SharePoint integration. The SharePoint eDiscovery Center lets administrators perform eDiscovery queries across SharePoint, Exchange and Lync.

Exchange is another application that has had a degree of integration with SharePoint -- specifically, SharePoint and Exchange/Outlook. But some of this integration is going away. Microsoft is getting rid of SharePoint's Tasks functionality, as well as the Sync to Outlook button.

Part of the reason for this may be that Microsoft is developing a more efficient way for users to interact with Office 365 applications. Today, users may need to use Outlook or Outlook Web App (OWA), a SharePoint site and Yammer to get their jobs done. This typically requires the user to keep multiple browser windows open and constantly switch between them.

To make things more efficient, Microsoft is redesigning OWA (and presumably the next version of Outlook) to act as a unified application for users. The idea is that OWA will become a hub for various forms of communications. Yammer conversations, for instance, will be exposed in OWA.

Demoing new OWA functionality

SharePoint is also likely to be exposed through OWA. At the Microsoft Exchange Conference in April 2014, Microsoft demoed some of the new interaction between Exchange and OneDrive that is coming in the next Exchange Server release. Being that OneDrive for Business is based on SharePoint, this functionality presumably will be available for SharePoint as well.

In the demo, a user sent a file from OneDrive. OWA gave the user a choice of sending the file as an attachment or uploading the file to OneDrive and sending a link instead of the actual file. This functionality will be helpful in a variety of situations. For example, it will allow large files to be "sent" to users who have prohibitive mailbox quotas. The functionality also will be very helpful for situations in which a file is being sent to multiple recipients because it eliminates version control issues. Furthermore, the recipients automatically will be granted permission to view and edit the file on OneDrive.

Microsoft also will soon introduce the concept of unified groups, which will allow a group to extend to all products in the Microsoft Office 365 suite. For instance, a group created in Yammer also will be valid in Exchange and SharePoint.

A number of features already allow Office 365 applications to benefit from one another. Even so, Microsoft seems to be planning an even deeper integration between Office 365 applications in the next release wave.

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