Notes from the field: some common dependencies for Microsoft 365 deployments

My blog posts take a while to get published these days. I struggle to find the time to write them and often a few notes can remain in draft form for a long time. Some of those notes never make it. Others possibly shouldn’t.

This is one of those posts where I’m not sure whether to publish or not. It’s based on an email I sent to a client, in 2018, as we were starting to work together. That client was about to embark on a migration to Windows 10 and Office 365, and these notes were intended to set them in the right path.

We all know that Office 365 is under constant development, and some of the advice below might not be current. I don’t think it’s too far off the mark but your mileage may vary. I’ve also added a few comments where I know we’d look to do things differently today. Those comments are marked with square parentheses.

All of these dependencies were things I identified before we got into design… but many more came out as we got into the detail.

Preparing the identity platform

[Identity is key to any successful Microsoft cloud implementation. And Azure AD is Microsoft’s cloud identity platform.]

Recommendation:

  • IdFix tool used to ensure that there are no directory issues that will cause synchronisation issues.
  • Azure AD Connect synchronising without error between on-premises Active Directory and Azure Active Directory. Even with on-premises authentication via ADFS or similar, user objects will be required in Azure AD in order to populate the Exchange GAL.

[in this case, I could be reasonably sure that both of these are already in place for the existing Skype for Business Online deployment.]

Useful links:

Preparing for Exchange hybrid

[It’s common to run Microsoft Exchange in a hybrid configuration when migrating mailboxes to Office 365. Generally, the hybrid will remain in place even after user mailboxes have been migrated to the cloud, for management purposes. There are constraints around the versions of Exchange Server that can be used though.]

  • The hybrid server must be running the latest or immediately previous (i.e. n or n-1) cumulative update or update rollup available for the version of Exchange installed on-premises
  • Domain names that will be used for email should have the appropriate records created and verified in DNS.
  • Ports should be enabled to allow traffic to flow as outlined in the above article. It may be useful to run the Remote Connectivity Analyzer (RCA) tools to verify this.
  • In addition, I recommend that the other Exchange servers in the organisation are upgraded to run with the latest available updates.

Useful links:

Preparation for deployment of Windows 10 images using SCCM

[System Center Config Manager (SCCM) is now part of Microsoft EndPoint Manager (MEM) and I’m not sure I’d recommend an SCCM-based deployment these days. My first preference would be to use Microsoft’s own Windows images, in Azure AD-joined configuration managed with Intune (also part of MEM). This topic would make a blog post on its own…]

Config Manager needs to be updated to align with the version of Windows 10 being deployed: Support for Windows 10 in Configuration Manager.

[Even when I wrote the notes 3 years ago, it seems I was guiding the client towards a Modern Device Management approach with Intune…]

Preparation for the use of Office applications (desktop and web)

[Office 365 ProPlus is now Microsoft 365 Apps for Enterprise but the advice below is unchanged apart from the product name.]

Office 365 ProPlus (i.e. subscription-based Office application) requirements are the same as for Office Professional Plus 2016 (i.e. perpetually-licensed applications) and are detailed at Microsoft 365 and Office Resources.

With regards to documents (including spreadsheets, presentations, etc.) containing macros, etc. It would be advisable to perform some basic compatibility testing: Check file compatibility with previous versions.

Office 2016 and 2019 are supported under the Fixed Lifecycle Policy.

Use of a supported browser is critical to the use of Office 365 web-based components although many organisations are held back by legacy software releases.

General Microsoft 365 system requirements may be found at the Microsoft 365 and Office Resources link above. Most notably:

“Microsoft 365 is designed to work with the latest browsers and versions of Office. If you use older browsers and versions of Office that are not in mainstream support:

  • Microsoft won’t deliberately prevent you from connecting to the service, but the quality of your Microsoft 365 experience will diminish over time.
  • Office 2019 connections to Microsoft 365 services will be supported until October 2023.
  • Microsoft won’t provide code fixes to resolve non-security related problems.

[Microsoft’s guidance previously stated that “Office 365 doesn’t support interoperability with any software that isn’t supported by its manufacturer.”]

Weeknote 20/2020: back to work

Looking back on another week of tech exploits during the COVID-19 coronavirus chaos…

The end of my furlough

The week started off with exam study, working towards Microsoft exam AZ-300 (as mentioned last week). That was somewhat derailed when I was asked to return to work from Wednesday, ending my Furlough Leave at very short notice. With 2.5 days lost from my study plan, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that I ended my working week with a late-night exam failure (though it was still a disappointment).

Returning to work is positive though – whilst being paid to stay at home may seem ideal to some, it didn’t work so well for me. I wanted to make sure I made good use of my time, catching up on personal development activities that I’d normally struggle to fit in. But I was also acutely aware that there were things I could be doing to support colleagues but which I wasn’t allowed to. And, ultimately, I’m really glad to be employed during this period of economic uncertainty.

Smart cities

It looks like one of my main activities for the next few weeks will be working on a Data Strategy for a combined authority, so I spent Tuesday afternoon trying to think about some of the challenges that an organisation with responsibility for transportation and economic growth across a region might face. That led me to some great resources on smart cities including these:

  • There are some inspirational initiatives featured in this video from The Economist:
  • Finally (and if you only have a few minutes to spare), this short video from Vinci Energies provides an overview of what smart cities are really about:

Remote workshop delivery

I also had my first experience of taking part in a series of workshops delivered using Microsoft Teams. Teams is a tool that I use extensively, but normally for internal meetings and ad-hoc calls with clients, not for delivering consulting engagements.

Whilst they would undoubtedly have been easier performed face-to-face, that’s just not possible in the current climate, so the adaptation was necessary.

The rules are the same, whatever the format – preparation is key. Understand what you’re looking to get out of the session and be ready with content to drive the conversation if it’s not quite headed where you need it to.

Editing/deleting posts in Microsoft Teams private channels

On the subject of Microsoft Teams, I was confused earlier this week when I couldn’t edit one of my own posts in a private channel. Thanks to some advice from Steve Goodman (@SteveGoodman), I found that the ability to delete and/or edit messages is set separately on a private channel (normal channels inherit from the team).

The Microsoft Office app

Thanks to Alun Rogers (@AlunRogers), I discovered the Microsoft office app this week. It’s a great companion to Office 365 (or , searching across all apps, similar to Delve but in an app rather than in-browser. The Microsoft Office app is available for download from the Microsoft Store.

Azure Network Watcher

And, whilst on the subject of nuggets of usefulness in the Microsoft stable…

A little piece of history

I found an old map book on my shelf this week: a Halford’s Pocket Touring Atlas of Great Britain and Ireland, priced at sixpence. I love poring over maps – they provide a fascinating insight into the development of the landscape and the built environment.

That’s all for now

Those are just a few highlights (and a lowlight) from the week – there’s much more on my Twitter feed

Office updates in an unfamiliar language

A few weeks ago, I spotted this, when I went to apply updates to Office 365 ProPlus on my work laptop:

It had me confused, but Colin Powers (@iamcolpow) pointed me to a Microsoft Community forum post with a potential fix.

I changed the language order in my Office settings so that English was the first option after Match Windows. Whatever was causing Windows to fall back down the list then went to English rather than Arabic.

Office Language Preferences as originally set
Office Language Preferences after the change

Now I can read the dialogue boxes on my Office updates!

“Unlicensed Product” errors in Microsoft Office

Earlier this evening, I noticed that my copy of Outlook was showing as an “unlicensed product” at the top of the screen. That seemed strange, as I pay for an Office 365 Home subscription, which covers my family’s various copies of Office.

Outlook reports intself as an unlicensed product

So, I took a look at the Office Account settings, and noticed that it wasn’t signed in to Office 365 for some of the connected sources.

Disconnected from Office 365 services

I reconnected to My Office 365 subscription, signing in with my “Work or school account” as that’s what the markwilson.it Office 365 subscription uses, even though the Office 365 Home subscription uses a Personal Account (formerly known as a Microsoft Account):

Which Microsoft account to use?!

After authenticating (and a restart), Outlook was no longer complaining about being unlicenced.

I’m not sure if it’s a complication of having both a Microsoft Account (MSA) and an Organization/Work and School (Azure AD) account with the same email address, but it seems there are various scenarios that can present this issue.

Thankfully this one wasn’t too hard to sort out!

Upgrading to Office 2016 with an Office 365 Home subscription

I’ve been trying to write a weekly Windows 10 blog post but this week has been incredibly hectic and the planned post on Windows Hello isn’t complete yet. Hopefully that will come next week…

In the meantime, I’ve been looking at updating Office on some of my PCs. Regular readers may recall that I wrote about Office 365 Home last month. I’ve been waiting for theh Windows Update process to tell me that Office 2013 was ready to be updated to 2016 but it seems that’s not how it works.  Instead, log into your Office account and click install. This will then download an installer that does the rest of the work for you and a few minutes later you’ll have the latest Office apps (replacing the existing 2013 versions).

My Office Account: Office 365 Home

Short takes: Windows/Office productivity guides and training materials

Some more mini-snippets, this week with a focus on Windows 10 and Office/Office 365.

Windows 10 shortcuts and other productivity guides

A few days ago, I added a link to my delicious account with a useful list of shortcut keys for Windows 10. Quite why it’s a Word document downloaded from the Microsoft Download Center is anyone’s guess but I did find it’s one of many potentially useful productivity guides at the Microsoft IT Showcase.

Office and Office 365 training

Another resource for IT training materials, particularly around Office (and Office 365) is the Office Training Center. I’m a little embarrassed that it was one of my customers who alerted me to this… but it’s worth knowing about, with some useful guides for users – for example this quick reference card for OneDrive for Business.

Microsoft Office 365 Home: Office on up to 5 PCs/Macs, 5 tablets and 5 phones – legally – without breaking the bank

I’ve mentioned previously that I’m planning on writing a series of Windows 10 blog posts over the coming months, but what about the apps I use every day?

Most people buy PCs with Windows 8, upgrade to 8.1 and then 10 for “free” but then find they need some Office productivity tools.  For a long while, my family was using Office from a number of sources:

  • Office 2010 on my wife’s work PC, purchased outright from the Microsoft store back when I had MVP benefits.
  • Office 2013 on my work PC, provided by my employer.
  • Office 2013 on the Family PC, purchased under the Home Use Program (HUP) with my previous employer’s Enterprise Agreement (EA).

Recently, a new PC for my wife meant that I decided not to reinstall Office 2010 (which is just about to drop out of mainstream support). The family PC also got a rebuild after a hard disk failure and my change of employer a few months ago means I’m no longer covered by an EA to use the HUP copy.  My children increasingly use Office applications (including the lesser-known ones like Publisher) and we really needed to sort something out.

Office 365 Home - transcript with MicrosoftI use Office 365 at work and I expect I could have asked to use that on a home PC (it covers me for up to 5 devices) but then I found Microsoft Office 365 Home. For under £80 a year (or just under £8 a month), I can get a legal copy of Office on all of my family’s PCs, my Mac, and our other devices (up to 5 PCs/Macs, 5 tablets, and 5 phones).  Those who do have HUP rights may still be better off, depending on the number of PCs they use and the number of copies of Office they need to buy at £9.95 each, although, with the launch of Office 2016 next week, my PCs will get updated to the latest copy – without me having to go out and purchase upgrades.  And, should I remove Office from a PC (like the demo PC I have on loan at the moment), then the license goes back into the pool for me to deploy again elsewhere (I wasn’t sure if that would be the case, so I checked with Microsoft).

It’s a really good deal (cheaper than upgrading my Office 365 E1 plan to an E3 – although that would give me some extra benefits too) but it’s not just Office either. We each get 60 free Skype minutes a month (could come in handy for calling our friends who recently moved to Australia!) and our OneDrives (I’ve recently given the kids OneDrives too so their files are backed up to the cloud if something happens to the family computer again…) are now each upgraded to 1TB of cloud storage.

Strangely, although it’s branded Office 365, everything is linked to Microsoft accounts (not work or school accounts – previously known as organisational accounts), but I guess that’s because it’s a consumer product. I can view all of my details, including which devices have Office installed, in my account settings, as well as sharing the subscription with other family members for them to install on their devices.

Office 365 Home - Managing installed copies

I’m not sure how heavily promoted Office 365 Home is, but it’s certainly worth considering if you have multiple PCs that need Office in your home.

Short takes: Symbols in Office applications and converting numbers to text in Excel

A few snippets I found on scraps of paper whilst sorting out my office this week…

Shortcuts to symbols in Office applications

Many people will be familiar with typing (c) to generate a © symbol in Microsoft Office applications but you can also use (R) or (TM) for trademark symbols ® and ™. One more that’s useful to know is (e) for the European currency symbol € (at least, it’s useful if your keyboard doesn’t recognise the Euro!).

Another useful code to know is the shortcut to create the symbol used to denote “therefore”, which is ? (and doesn’t appear in any dialogs I’ve seen to insert a symbol/special character). In Office applications running on a Windows PC, it’s possible to type ALT+8756 to generate the symbol.

I’ve tried these in Word and OneNote but see no reason why it shouldn’t work in other Office applications.  Unfortunately the functionality is limited to Office rather than part of the operating system – it doesn’t seem to work in a browser, or in NotePad for example.

Converting numerical data to text in Excel, or SharePoint, or something like that…

A few months ago I was creating a SharePoint list and wanted to display a unique ID for each entry but couldn’t use calculated values in the title column to base it on the actual ID for the list item (at least not when provisioning via the GUI). I can’t remember the exact circumstances but, looking back at my notes it appears I used the following formula in Excel to create a text version of a numerical cell:

=TEXT(A1,"0000")

I probably then uploaded that to SharePoint as a list and messed around with the columns displayed in a particular view… although it’s all a bit vague now. I no longer have access to the list I was working on, but it might jog my memory if I have to do something similar again…

Side by side installation of Office 2013 – watch out for Outlook

For a while now, I’ve been running two versions of Office on my corporate laptop with no problems – Office 2007 from our corporate “gold brick” image and Office 2010 (mostly for functionality I’ve got very used to in Outlook).  After a recent “Patch Tuesday” I started to see some strange behaviour whereby, depending on the method of invocation used, sometimes a 2007 version of an Office application would open, and sometimes a 2010 version.

I’ve had the media and keys for Office 2013 for a while (a properly licensed copy but not supported by our IT department) so I decided to remove 2007 and install 2013.  Because I figured the new UI would take a while to get used to (actually, it hasn’t) and because I wasn’t sure if any macros, etc. would run in the latest versions of Word and Excel (still a possibility), I elected to install 2013 alongside the existing 2010 installation.

It all went swimmingly, until I was having issues with Outlook, which is quite happily connected to our Exchange servers but telling me it isn’t when I want to update my out of office settings or view a colleague’s calendar.  I started to look for Outlook 2010, and found it wasn’t there any more…

Of course, being me, the first thing I did was tweet my bemusement and, being Twitter (and despite being 9pm on a Friday night) I quickly got some responses which told me why (thanks Aaron and Garry).

For those who can be bothered to RTFM, check out Microsoft knowledge base article 2784668 (“Information about how to use Office 2013 suites and programs (MSI deployment) on a computer that is running another version of Office”) or, for a workaround, there’s a TechNet forum post called Outlook 2010 gone in side-by-side installation with 2013″.

<tl;dr>

Outlook 2013 cannot coexist with any earlier version of Outlook. Unless you want to try a complex click-to-run setup…

Microsoft’s message to UK partners for FY13 (#PBBBirm #MSPartnersUK)

I spent most of yesterday at Microsoft’s Partner business briefing in Birmingham. The afternoon workshops were especially good value (I was in the Public Cloud session, learning more about Office 365) but the morning keynote (delivered by Janet Gibbons, Microsoft’s UK Director for Partner Strategy and Programmes) had some interesting messages that are worth sharing further:

  • 95% of Microsoft’s global revenues are generated through it’s channel partners.
  • 2012 is the biggest launch year in Microsoft’s history with almost every product having a major refresh or a new iteration (from Windows 8 to Halo 4).
    • Microsoft is spending significant volumes on product advertising.
  • Microsoft is still a software company, but increasingly a devices and services company.
    • Many of those services relate to software subscriptions.
    • Interestingly, there is a 26% piracy rate for software in the UK (20% of Office users are illegal/mis-licensed) – and no piracy with online services.
    • There are new partner opportunities for selling Office 365 and managing the customer relationship (billing, etc.) to expand the revenue opportunity with value-added services.
  • Microsoft’s FY13 priorities are:
    • Excite customers, businesses and advertisers with Windows 8 devices and applications.
    • Win against Google every time with Office 365 and launch Office [2013].
    • Build application ecosystem for Windows 8, Windows Phone and Windows Azure.
    • Win the datacentre with private, public and hybrid cloud.
    • Grow SQL Server through BI, big data and mission critical [deployments].
    • Drive deployment for Windows, Office, Internet Explorer, Active Directory.
    • Win with business solutions.
    • Grow Windows Phone market share.
    • Drive Xbox profit and grow Kinect and Live Attach.
    • Grow reach, search and monetisation of our consumer online  services.

Interesting to see the Microsoft FY13 scorecard in public: great openness at #PBBBirm - to be applauded #MSPartnersUK http://t.co/AtIlIVNw
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

Of course, there was the obligatory Windows 8 marketing message (maybe I’ve been through too many new operating system release cycles and it all feels like another turn on the merry-go-round so I switched off a little in that part) but it was also interesting to hear Intel stand up and say (I paraphrase), “we’re still friends with Microsoft and even though Windows runs on another platform too x86 is better [does anyone remember when Windows NT supported DEC Alpha and ARC-MIPS alongside Intel x86?]. Don’t forget that Atom is power-optimised too [not just underpowered] and we have all this lovely built-in security stuff in our hardware platform”.

As for Office and Office 365 – probably too much for this post but some of the changes coming up in the next release look fantastic. I’m certainly glad I made the switch from Google Apps, although maybe a P1 plan wasn’t the best idea…