Microsoft Wants to Kill Email Attachments - InformationWeek
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10/9/2014
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Microsoft Wants to Kill Email Attachments

Microsoft says email attachments are a hassle -- so its Outlook Web App now lets users send links instead to files stored in OneDrive for Business, where they are available for simultaneous access.

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The process of attaching, opening, modifying, and resending documents via email is tedious and time-consuming, but Microsoft hopes to change that with new sharing and collaboration features for Outlook Web App (OWA) and OneDrive for Business. Instead of bothering with attachments, OWA users can now send collaborators a link to a file stored in OneDrive for Business.

Because the linked file is stored in the cloud, it can be accessed simultaneously by multiple recipients. OWA's interface supports real-time co-authoring of linked and attached documents, so several collaborators can simultaneously work on a single document. This summer, Microsoft added a new side-by-side view to OWA to help streamline the real-time collaboration process. The view lets users open linked or attached documents alongside email, allowing them to both modify a received document and reply with an email message from within a single interface.

The new OWA features, which launched Wednesday, allow users to insert document links into emails even if the documents aren't yet stored in the cloud. A user who wants to share a locally stored file can still send it as a traditional attachment. But if the user instead chooses the "Share with OneDrive" option, OWA will automatically upload the file to the user's OneDrive for Business account and generate a sharable link to the location.

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When OWA is used to share a file stored in a OneDrive for Business account, recipients are given permission to view and edit the file by default. Senders can change permissions directly from the email message, however.

OWA's 'side-by-side' view allows users to edit shared documents without leaving the email interface.
OWA's "side-by-side" view allows users to edit shared documents without leaving the email interface.

OWA's new feature will also feed signals into Office Graph, a machine-learning engine designed to discern what content is important to individuals and use these insights to create productivity tools that are more "social" and personalized. Office Graph powers new Office 365 apps such as Delve, which shows users documents and information trending about them and their co-workers.

Part of Microsoft's Office 365 and Exchange Online subscription services, OWA is one of several Outlook products. It is browser-based, like the company's consumer-oriented Outlook.com service, but it includes enterprise features, such as integration with OneDrive for Business. Microsoft has already begun to roll out the new OWA features to some Office 365 customers. All others should have the new features by the end of November.

OWA's new integration with OneDrive for Business in available for iOS, Android, and browser-based versions; availability for the desktop version of Outlook is in the works, Microsoft said in a blog post.

OWA lets users share files either as conventional attachments or as links to files stored in OneDrive for Business.
OWA lets users share files either as conventional attachments or as links to files stored in OneDrive for Business.

With the newest releases, Microsoft continues to push CEO Satya Nadella's "mobile-first, cloud-first" agenda. It's been two years since Microsoft released a major revision of core Office apps such as Word, but the Office team has nonetheless been busy releasing new features, apps, and offers every few weeks. Recent examples include the launch of OneNote for Android Wear, the debut of a new presentation app called Sway, the announcement that Outlook.com can use OneDrive to share files up to 10 GB in size, a new Office 365 promotion for students, and a aggressive new enterprise package that bundles Dynamics CRM, Office 365, and Power BI for $65 a month per user. Microsoft is expected in the coming month to launch a Modern-style version of Office for Windows devices with touchscreens, as well as a new version of Office for desktops.

Thanks to free productivity tools such as Google Docs and the iWork suite, some analysts have questioned in recent years how many users will continue to pay for Office products. By upping its pace of innovation, pushing a cross-platform strategy, and building an ecosystem that keeps data available while workers are on the move, Microsoft hopes to put such doubts to rest.

Just when conventional wisdom had converged around the cloud being a software story, there are signs that the server market is poised for an upset, too. Get the 2014 State of Server Technology report today (free registration required).

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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Matt@BPP
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Matt@BPP,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2014 | 7:08:34 PM
Catching up with the rest of the crowd
I don't blame Microsoft for wanting to expand it's cloud business.  It's about time they offer what Google, Apple and others have been doing for awhile.  For Microsoft, this move gives them an entry into a huge market, and allows them to leverage a multitude of software products, including SharePoint, OneNote, Yammer, OneDrive, Azure, content analytics and BI tools...  That is a clever way to expand and increase adoption of Microsoft products.  
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
10/9/2014 | 7:21:37 PM
Re: ... and I want a solid gold toilet seat, but it's not going to happen.
When I started reading this article, a little lump formed in my throat in memory of usenet groups, because it looks like attachments are on their way to the same ol' Hi-tech Boot Hill. I suppose that I'll soon have to start putting pointers to wherever in my letters so people who are waiting for them can find my stories or my spreadsheets. I just hope that a Standard, and FREE way to do so will emerge before I have to start.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
10/9/2014 | 5:47:10 PM
Attachments a primary security risk
Getting rid of email attachments would not only increase use of OneDrive for Business in the Microsoft cloud. It would also reduce the headaches that email attachments often bring onto Windows laptops and desktops as their owners click on them, unleashing malware on their machines.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
10/9/2014 | 4:45:03 PM
Email attachments hard to stop
@MemphisITDude's opinion about attachments never dying will make many longtime IT mangers nod in agreement.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
10/9/2014 | 4:13:54 PM
It's not about killing attachments...
...the headline should read, "Microsoft Wants You To Be Dependent on Its Cloud Services."

Just as Google is doing with Google Drive, Microsoft wants to encourage use of its cloud to save and convey attachements. But you can't get rid of attachments as long as you have files that exist indepently with applications. Cloud service providers would love to merge data and application so there's no escape...
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
10/9/2014 | 3:21:17 PM
Re: ... and I want a solid gold toilet seat, but it's not going to happen.
I think Google Docs will never replace Office.  Office is the default program for office applications.  Also, schools continue to offer Microsoft office as a course curriculum.   I think Microsoft is going in the right direction by improving how their prize suite, specially integrating it with their current ecosystem.  I tried to using open office, but in the end, I switched back to office because it provided me with the convenience and additional features not found in Open office.
dried_squid
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dried_squid,
User Rank: Moderator
10/9/2014 | 2:07:27 PM
Is it still email?
    I support email attachments because I do little web sites - a few hypertext files, some CSS, a handful of PDFs and JPGs, all zipped into one tidy package. It's more correct to term this little ZIP a hypertext doc.

    Someday I hope to graduate to EPUB.

    For me, email is an enabler. Hypertext is an enabler. Applications, like Outlook or Facebook, are appliances. I'm not a Luddite, I buy solutions, but sometime I like to roll my own, like hypertext docs,   Perl scripts, manual photography, and pan-fried NY steaks, hot rice, and green salad.

Happy Thursday.


PS. I don't collaborate around steak and rice. Social everything is not everything.
NotTellinYou
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NotTellinYou,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/9/2014 | 2:05:44 PM
Better "reporting" needed

Here's the thing. I'm not going to jump on the "Google has had this" or "is this Apple's Mail Drop" or some such thing.  It's to be expected that all vendors will adopt features and such from others and make them their own. I have no issue with that.

What I do take issue with and these "press release" stories that not only don't make any effort to compare and contrast different solutions as part of the story they don't even mention them.

Worse, in this article, the author seems to fawn over this with comments such as " By upping its pace of innovation, pushing a cross-platform strategy, and building an ecosystem that keeps data available while workers are on the move, Microsoft hopes to put such doubts to rest." This statement is made without any mention of the other solutions from Google or Apple. Not a even a mention or nod to Apple's Continuity or Handoff the ultimate in "keeps data available while workers are on the move". How are we as readers then to view announcements like this?

I don't want to pick on this author when it's prevalent throughout the media space.  There are VERY few real reporters now and even fewer people who have a deep understanding of technology broadly and how it's used.

For me these regurgitations of press releases, side bar conversations, or presentation are getting old.

danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
10/9/2014 | 1:34:20 PM
Re: Microsoft Wants to Kill Email Attachments
It seems to me that Microsoft is just following the lead of Google, which has been trying to rid the world of email attachments for some time. 

Problem is, many people are so used to attachin things to messages it is hard to get them out of the habit. There's no real compelling reason for many users to ever change unless these software providers remove the attachment feature once and for all. 
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
10/9/2014 | 1:13:11 PM
Re: ... and I want a solid gold toilet seat, but it's not going to happen.
So how does Excel in Office 365 work with ODBC/Microsoft Query connections to server data? And these are not servers that are exposed to internet? Heck, they aren't even Windows/SQL Server data sources.

I've wondered about that since reading about Office 365, haven't had chance to talk to anyone using it. Let me know if you have any insight on that from your experience.
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