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Change Reflects Increasing Importance of Web Apps
In a move that will be very popular with users, Microsoft announced a new account switcher for Microsoft 365 web apps in message center notification MC338712 on March 4. This is Microsoft 365 roadmap item 70801 and it’s due to land in tenants starting in early April, with deployment due to finish in late June.
Although Microsoft 365 users do a lot of work using desktop clients like Outlook and Teams, there’s no denying that browser clients have become increasingly important. Anyone who does administrative work with Microsoft 365 is probably signed into a bunch of different administrative portals like the:
- Microsoft 365 admin center.
- Microsoft 365 Defender portal.
- Microsoft 365 compliance center.
- Microsoft 365 security center.
- Azure AD admin center.
- Azure portal.
- Teams admin center.
- SharePoint Online (and OneDrive for Business) admin center.
- Microsoft Intune portal.
At the same time, many Microsoft 365 apps don’t have desktop clients, including SharePoint Online, Planner, Yammer, Bookings, OneDrive for Business, Delve, Stream, Power Automate, Forms, and Lists. Some apps behave perfectly well when installed as a desktop app (which is how I use OneDrive for Business, Planner, Yammer, Lists, and several SharePoint Online sites), but they’re still web pages.
Messy Multiple Browsers
The point is that much of the focus of Microsoft 365 activity is through the browser, so we all end up with multiple open browser apps or a browser cluttered with open tabs. This isn’t so bad until you complicate matters by wanting to sign into different tenants or the Microsoft consumer apps). Until now, switching context requires one of:
- Signing out and signing into the desired tenant.
- Using a second browser (or maybe even a third).
- Using private browser sessions.
When guest support for Teams first appeared, switching to use guest access in another tenant was slow and people worked around the problem by running a separate browser for each tenant they wanted to work in. The technique worked, but it’s an example of the lack of flexibility in credential management and data management in Microsoft 365 browser apps.
New Account Switcher
When the update rolls out, you’ll be able to sign into multiple Microsoft 365 tenants and MSA accounts and switch between the different accounts for Microsoft 365 web apps within the same browser session without having to sign out and in again. A new account manager capability (Figure 1) lists the current signed-in sessions and allows the user to “perform a one-click switch” to a chosen session. After an account switch, the app reloads the page using data from the selected account.
Microsoft says that the switch occurs “while maintaining data integrity and privacy across different account/tenant boundaries.” In other words, you can be signed into OWA in two Microsoft 365 tenants but won’t see data from one tenant appear in the other or vice versa.
If a user opens multiple tabs with different accounts, they’ll be told that they recently switched to the most recently opened account and asked to refresh the page to load data from that account.
Not All Apps Supported
The capability isn’t available for all apps. When released, it applies to:
- SharePoint Online browser client.
- OneDrive for Business.
- OneDrive consumer.
- Microsoft 365 admin center.
- Office web apps.
Microsoft says more Microsoft 365 web apps will be added later. For now, Planner, Yammer, and Teams are the notable absences. Given the work ongoing to create the next generation of the Teams client, Microsoft might not want to add the capability to the current Teams browser client. We shall see in time.
No Admin Impact
User sign outs from browser sessions continue to work as before, as does the ability to block sign-ins and sign an account out of all sessions from the Microsoft 365 admin center. Azure AD continuous access evaluation (CAE) for critical events, which can force users to reauthenticate when events like password changes occur, is likewise unaffected. The only impact on tenant administrators is the opportunity to give some good news to users!
So much change, all the time. It’s a challenge to stay abreast of all the updates Microsoft makes across Office 365. Subscribe to the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook to receive monthly insights into what happens, why it happens, and what new features and capabilities mean for your tenant.