Businesses can now tweak Office 365 to better reflect their corporate identities. Taking a cue from "skinning," the practice of customizing software applications and Web browsers like Chrome and Firefox, Microsoft today announced an update that allows businesses and consumers to add a bit of individuality to the Office 365 experience.
"Office 365 will now support your ability to both customize and personalize your Office 365 experience by using themes," Lawrence Chiu, an Office 365 senior product marketing manager, revealed in a statement. The update is being issued to customers "over the next few weeks," during which time custom and predefined themes will become available.
Administrators, he claimed, "will have the ability to create custom themes for your organization" while end users will be granted "the ability to personalize their experience by selecting an Office 365 theme."
The expanded user interface (UI) options, while seemingly superficial, can have a major impact on business users, Chiu said. "The goal of branding your organization is to establish a positive association with your organization and positive relationships with your organization's users," he stated.
"Consistent and repeated visual identity reaffirms your brand," continued Chiu. "By adding the ability to create a custom theme for your Office 365 environments, Office 365 can help you strengthen your brand visually."
Custom theme options include the ability to upload a custom URL and logo, thereby offering users one-click access to an organization's Website. Further, Office 365 customers can give one of the software's most essential features a visual overhaul.
"You can also reinforce the look and feel of your organization by selecting the colors of the Office 365 nav bar, its menu labels, and the Office 365 logo," Chiu said. Users, on the other hand, can select from 22 predefined themes by default, he added.
The Office 365 navigation bar is also getting its share of improvements.
"To give you more visibility into your services and quicker access to them, the updated nav bar dynamically scales to the width of your display," said Chiu. The previous limit of six menu items has been lifted for users with generous on-screen real estate.
Now, available space determines the number of items that the new dynamic navigation bar displays. Conversely, an ellipsis (...) will appear for users that are short on screen size, denoting more available options.
To improve the touch experience on mobile devices, Chiu said Microsoft made the navigation area "slightly taller." The company also added room for user photos. "If you have an Exchange mailbox, your photo appears on the updated nav bar now, instead of your name," he said.
Finally, Microsoft is rolling out a unified notification system across all Office 365 apps. "Previously, you and your users would receive notifications only within the service you were using," said Chiu. "You now receive notifications for new mail, reminders and system alerts in all your Office 365 services."