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Self-Service Group Management for End Users But OWA Option is Broken
By now, your tenant should have received the code for the “My Groups experience” described in message center notification MC522581 (updated on 18 April, 2023). Even though Microsoft predicted that they would complete worldwide deployment by late May, I haven’t invested any time in reviewing what value the new experience delivers. Now that we’ve published Office 365 for IT Pros (2024 edition), I plunged into My Groups to see what it can deliver.
The New My Groups Experience
The new My Groups page (Figure 1) replaces an older page that really didn’t get much attention. Microsoft says that the upgraded and refreshed experience “enables end users to easily manage groups, such as finding groups to join, managing groups they own, and managing existing group memberships.” Of course, self-service management depends on a tenant allowing this activity.
Microsoft’s documentation for My Groups explains the available functionality. Generally, everything works well for Microsoft 365 and security groups as you can update membership and group properties, and even delete the groups. My Groups can’t handle dynamic Microsoft 365 Groups through. This isn’t surprising as the membership of these groups is dictated by queries executed against Azure AD that “normal” users probably couldn’t construct.
The biggest issue with My Groups is its lack of support for distribution lists (groups), or as they’re referred to by My Groups, “Exchange mastered” objects. Distribution lists are valid Azure AD group objects (dynamic distribution lists only exist in Exchange Online) and the methods to update distribution list properties and membership are well known. It’s therefore a mystery why Microsoft should launch a page purporting to enable end-user management of groups when the page is incapable of dealing with a major group type.
The only conclusion I can reach is that the team that developed the My Groups page has an agenda to advance Microsoft 365 groups as the answer for all forms of collaboration. Of course, this is a ridiculous stance, but metrics drive behavior and it’s not unknown for people to do odd things when they’re set a task to advance one option over another. In any case, the lack of support for distribution lists makes the My Groups page a flawed and incomplete implementation that should have been much better.
OWA Distribution Group Management
At the same time, Microsoft has make changes (temporarily) to the ability for users to manage distribution lists through OWA. From a technical perspective, this is understandable because distribution list management depended on components from the old Exchange management center (ECP) that OWA reused. With the demise of the old EAC, those components are less accessible. Now, when you choose the Distribution groups option in OWA settings, you see an unwanted advertisement to use Microsoft 365 groups and a link to a “portal” to manage distribution lists (Figure 2).
The portal (https://outlook.office.com/ecp/MyGroups/PersonalGroups.aspx?showhelp=false) is no more than the old ECP component. Unlike the previous implementation, it takes between ten and fifteen seconds for the ECP code to load. Eventually, the “portal” appears (Figure 3).
On the upside, changes applied through user role assignment policies to restrict users from creating new distribution lists work. On the downside, the code used to update distribution list membership is terrible and doesn’t work. At least, I got tired of waiting to add a new member after sixty seconds of watching the circle of death rotating (Figure 4).
Little Evidence of Joined Up Thinking
It’s obvious that no joined up thinking exists within Microsoft when it comes to delivering functionality to allow end user to edit groups that they own. The old OWA distribution list code worked well but only handle distribution lists, and now it’s broken. The new My Groups page works for Microsoft 365 groups but ignores distribution lists. Is it any wonder why people become exasperated with how Microsoft delivers software, especially when it’s to do with features that have worked for years that fail when engineers step in to enhance their capabilities.
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