Microsoft Begins Rollout of Office 365 Groups Collaboration Feature

The Yammer-inspired collaboration feature will start showing up for users of select Office 365 Web applications.

Groups in Office 365

Weeks after releasing Delve (formerly Oslo), an intelligent information discovery app for Office 365, Microsoft has begun rolling out its new Groups social collaboration feature for the productivity suite, the company announced.

Similar to the Groups functionality in Yammer, Groups in Office 365 allows colleagues to participate in discussions and work collaboratively on files. Microsoft acquired Yammer, an enterprise social networking platform, in 2012 for $1.28 billion.

Group members can schedule events that sync with their personal calendars. Users can store and share files using OneDrive for business and jointly edit files using the Office Web apps. And in a nod to today's smartphone- and tablet-toting workforces, "Groups are mobile and touch friendly," said the narrator of a promotional video published by Microsoft.

Groups are public by default to encourage collaboration. Users can also opt to create private groups for confidential or sensitive projects.

According to an online Microsoft support document, a private group's "content and conversations are secure and not viewable by everyone. Choose a private group when you are concerned about security and privacy, such as trade secrets or confidential information."

Other than knowing a private group exists, Office 365 otherwise keeps unauthorized users in the dark. "Although anyone can see the name of the private group, information is also security-trimmed so it is not accessible from search, links, or in other ways. Joining a private group requires approval from a group administrator," said Microsoft.

"We're launching Groups in stages starting today," said Jared Spataro, general manager of Enterprise Social at Microsoft, in a Sept. 25 statement. "In this initial phase, Groups will show up within the web experiences of Office 365 email and calendar and OneDrive for Business. In upcoming phases, we will add Yammer and Lync to the Groups experience to help you do even more."

Microsoft is currently switching on Groups functionality for Exchange Online or Office 365 commercial customers who have enrolled in the Office 365 First Release early-access program. Members receive significant service updates as early as a week after they are officially announced. Customers who stick with Microsoft's standard release schedule get new updates three weeks (or more) after they are officially announced.

"Groups will roll out to Office 365 customers in phases, first to customers that have elected to receive significant Office 365 service updates at first release, an opt-in program," said Spataro. "Following that, Groups will roll out to all Office 365 customers over several months in standard release, the default option for Office 365 customers."

Spataro expects that all eligible Office 365 customers will get the update by year's end. Eligible plans include Office 365 Enterprise E1–E4, Academic A2–A4 and Government G1–G4. Groups is also coming to the Office 365 Business Essentials, Business Premium, Small Business, Small Business Premium, Midsize Business and Kiosk subscriptions.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...