Office 365 to get feature priority over on-premises Exchange

Overheard at MEC 2014: Office 365 will get new features before on-premises Exchange deployments, and Microsoft will offer more value to cloud users.

AUSTIN – Microsoft said it will take a cloud-first, not cloud-only strategy, and that Exchange is still important and won't be tossed to the side in favor of the cloud.

But the company was all about the cloud this week at its three-day Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC), and Office 365 will take priority over on-premises Exchange installations in a number of ways.

The company also emphasized architecture and security at the conference. Here are a few noteworthy quotes we heard at MEC 2014 that indicate Microsoft's plans.

"The cloud is the place we're going to deliver you the most value."

Though Microsoft Exchange-based email remains important, new features will be delivered to Office 365 first and will find their way to on-premises deployments later on, said Jeff Teper, Microsoft corporate vice president who works with Office servers, Office 365 and Exchange. 

Microsoft now has the challenge of balancing its push toward the cloud while still acknowledging organizations with on-premises deployments, and the debate about on-premises versus the cloud could appear in the coming retirement of Exchange Server 2003.

Organizations looking to migrate to a newer version of Exchange will end up weighing the pros and cons of staying with on-premises Exchange deployments or making the jump into the cloud with options such as Exchange Server 2013 SP1 and Office 365.

"It's information finding you."

A new Office 365 app that may be released this year, codenamed Oslo, was a hot topic during the conference. Oslo uses what Microsoft describes as proactive searches, which draws from a number of sources to create a personalized dashboard, including documents in Office 365, social networks within the organization and messages.

The goal for organizations using Oslo, which has a resemblance to Pinterest, is to ultimately let the app decide what's important for end users to see, Microsoft said.

Some conference attendees hoped their questions about what kind of control they have in Oslo would be answered in the near future, especially in terms of securing the information Oslo uses.

"There has to be a much more streamlined way to manage contact information…in one place."

Outlook Web App (OWA) also received a lot of attention during MEC. It was featured in the keynote as Microsoft delivered an OWA for Android app to allow Android users to access Exchange mailboxes. But that wasn't the only thing new with OWA.

A new feature called Connect was highlighted during a session breaking what's new in Outlook Web App. Connect should take away some of the pain that comes with syncing contact information, said Krish Gali, a Microsoft program manager.

The feature lets Office 365 users manage contacts in one place, including contacts from Facebook, LinkedIn, email and phone numbers, down to the Office 365 service. The Connect feature is available in Office 365, but there are no plans to have it delivered on-premises. This revelation ties into the keynote's cloud-first, not cloud-only strategy and how Microsoft will apply that strategy in the future.

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