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Invaluable Source of News about Microsoft 365 Workloads
I pay a lot of attention to message center notifications about new features posted to the Microsoft 365 admin center. I know many other people are diligent in their reading of these posts too, but it seems like many others ignore the flood of information posted by Microsoft.
Missing out on news is disappointing, but it’s human nature to focus on what seems to be important at the time. In other words, if people are busy with other aspects of tenant administration (or the rest of their job), reading up about new features drops off their list of things to do. Although understandable that other jobs take priority, this creates a problem for those tenants because Microsoft posts some critically important information in message center notifications.
Take the deprecation of basic authentication for Exchange Online connection protocols like POP3 and IMAP4. Microsoft wants to remove basic authentication for these protocols in October 2022. Great progress has already been made to remove basic authentication from tenants where they were not used, but as we get closer to the date, Microsoft will post messages to inform administrators about the progress of the removal of basic authentication connections within their tenant. If the messages are ignored, it could be a terrible shock if users unexpectedly discover that they have a problem. Changes like this which unfold over many months might be considered boring, but they need to be monitored.
Improvements in Message Center Notifications
Microsoft has steadily improved some aspects of the information posted in the message center. A recent example is the inclusion of affected user counts to help administrators understand the impact of a change on users. Another is the imminent introduction of better feedback from tenant administrators about changes covered in message center notifications (MC324461). Unfortunately, this change is delayed, but it should appear in mid-April and will allow administrators to tell Microsoft when change messages are relevant for their organization.
The updates do help. For instance, Figure 1 covers the topic of the auto-expiration policy for Teams meeting recordings, a change which is finally rolling out after several false starts. The change affects several workloads as Teams creates the meeting recordings and stores them in OneDrive for Business or SharePoint Online (here’s a script to track these events). Note that the change is flagged as a major update which will affect both administrators and users.
Microsoft’s poor record in delivering features when predicted is one reason I’ve heard from administrators to justify why they don’t pay as much attention as I think they should to the message center. Delays are endemic inside Microsoft 365. They exist across all workloads and feature areas. Delays often come about when Microsoft encounters quality problems (bugs) that must be fixed before features ship.
Microsoft originally announced auto-expiration for Teams meeting recordings on July 30, 2021 with the intention to roll-out the feature in September. Seven months later, Microsoft has worked through several blocking issues, such as increasing the default retention period from 30 to 60 days, and the roll-out is progressing. A seven-month delay is unusual in its length. The normal delay, if such a thing exists, tends to be around two months.
Bugs are part of software life and it’s important to deliver quality code. Although bugs do cause many delays, I also think that some Microsoft program managers are guilty of publishing message center notifications in hope rather than certainty that a feature will be ready in time. As an example, five of the eight message center notifications published on April 1 reported delays (Figure 2).
Nine of the thirteen posted on March 31 reported delays in features ranging from music on hold for VOIP calls (MC343429) to an updated group icon for OWA (MC303512). The latter is another example of a long delay as it first appeared on December 10, 2021, and Microsoft now expects the roll-out to be complete in mid-April. Sure, an update for an icon in OWA is unlikely to have huge impact (Figure 3 shows the new icon), but you’d wonder why such a delay happened on the road to availability for such a small change.
Message Center Notifications Still Valuable
Another point I could criticize is the lack of clarity in the explanatory text in some message center notifications. Even after reading the words several times, I’m often still uninformed about the importance and detail of a change. Some lessons in concise technical writing might not go amiss.
Even with my concerns, I still consider the message center notifications to be an invaluable source of information about change that’s happening inside Microsoft 365. If you struggle to keep up, consider synchronizing notifications to Planner. We do this to track change for the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook. Having everything in Planner helps us organize and manage updates that we need to cover in the book. Although it won’t reduce the delays in announced features, using Planner to track what’s going on is a great way of gaining extra visibility into what’s changing and what an organization needs to do to handle that change.