Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Product Review: Remeo with SEFAUtil Server for Skype for Business

Hello readers.  Hope you're well.

As you know by now, I love testing new products that enhance the functionality of Skype for Business.  When I find something that stands out, I like to share it with the community.

This review is unique in that it is actually for two products that work together to form a great solution.


Background

If you use Skype for Business, you'll know that it is simple and easy to change your own status, welcome note, forwarding and no answer call flows.  

Skype for Business status is something that can change a hundred times throughout the day especially if you have Exchange integration.  

When you add a meeting to your calendar and you choose to show you as Busy... 

...Skype for Business uses this and sets your status to Busy for the duration of the meeting.  Once the meeting is finished, your status switches back to Available automatically.  

When you're in a call, Skype for Business shows you as, you guessed it, "In a call".  When you hang up it resets to what it was before you answered the call.

If you're using Skype for Business for telephony, you also have the ability to configure call forwarding options.

You can set up simple forwarding for all of your calls or set simultaneous ringing to call your mobile as well as your Skype for Business client.

With Team Call Groups, you can also set up a simple personal ring group to handle calls when you're unavailable.  

With Delegates, you can set up a Boss/Admin function where a PA or secretary can answer calls for their bosses phone and even make calls for their boss.

Then once you've configured your other numbers and Team Call Groups, you have a simple panel to enable and disable things with a couple of clicks.

You can even change forwarding and simulring on the go using the Skype for Business mobile client.

It's all very simple and easy to use.  As long as you remember to use it.  

What do you do when you forgot to change your forwarding options and now you're out of the office with no access to a PC or smart phone?  Do you call a colleague, hand out your password and get them to log in as you and change your settings?  Probably not without upsetting the GDPR police. 


So what now?

Microsoft made a tool which allowed admins to make some of these changes.  It runs from the command line on a trusted app server which is integrated with Skype for Business.  This is, of course, the Secondary Extension Feature Activation Utility, SEFAUtil for short.  SEFAUtil is part of the Resource kit.  It was built on UCMA3 and allows admins to manage users' call forwarding settings.  An admin with the right permissions coudl turn on and off call forwarding and simulring, modify delegate and team call groups and set no answer times all from the command line.

It hasn't change much, if at all, since Lync 2010 days when it was first launched and most people hate it.  Admins still use it because it's there and free of course.  Over the years I have seen people write GUI's for it and even use it as the basis for other tools like the Call Pickup Group Manager from MVP James Cussen (@MySkypeLab).  SEFAUtil was necessary as a back end for the tool early on, however that changed with Skype for Business CU1 and now the tool uses the SfB PowerShell scripts as the back end.


Enter the alternative.  

The new alternative is called SEFAUtil Server.  This started as a community project for Office Servers and Services MVP Matt Landis (@matthewlandis) and was originally called SDR which stood for SEFAUtil Done Right.

SEFAUtil Server is available for download from the TechNet Gallery.  Until recently, this was available as a community edition which enabled a small subset of features for an unlimited number of users as well as an enterprise edition which enabled the rest of the features.

Landis recently announced some changes to the licensing.  The original feature limited Community Edition has now been replaced by a new community edition which has all of the features of the enterprise edition for installations with less than 50 users.

SEFAUtil Server gets installed as a trusted app in a similar manner to SEFAUtil from the ResKit.  MVP Greig Sheridan (@greiginsydney) has a great post here with the installation instructions.

SEFAUtil Server is basically a refreshed version of the old SEFAUtil with a ton of additional features.  Since this review is about using SEFAUtil Server as the back end to Remeo, I'll leave it there.  I'll write a separate review of SEFAUtil Server soon.

On with the show!


The review: Remeo with SEFAUtil Server

What is it?

Remeo is a product from Colima that allows users to change the reachability settings for other users using the Skype for Business 2015 client.  

Remeo is a client application which is backed by the features of SEFAUtil Server.  It installs as an add-on to the standard Skype for Business client to add additional menu items to the client as well as a CWE based UI for reading and changing the settings.

Why do you need it?

Remeo is for companies that want to be able to delegate permissions to change forwarding, simulring, team call groups and delegates, contact lists, presence and more to users that aren't administrators.  This could include managers, supervisors, team leaders, personal assistants and office managers, among others.

Now you have it

Delegating these controls to users means that they don't have to make these requests of the administrators.  It also means that non-admin users don't have to log on to the Trusted App server where SEFAUtil or SEFAUtil Server is installed and try to get familiar with the command line or PowerShell.  

Although I'll admit that would be fun to watch.

To use it, you'll need to install SEFAUtil Server on a trusted app server and the Remeo client on computers of users that you want to grant the permissions to.  Then you tell the Remeo client to use SEFAUtil Server as the back end, and it works straight away.

What can it do?

For starters, you can use the Remeo client as a "skin" to the forwarding settings already in your Skype for Business client.  While this isn't strictly necessary since you can just change your settings in the normal way, it is pretty cool.

Click on the menu gear icon -> tools -> Call Forwarding Settings

This opens the call forwarding window for your user account.

What you get is a graphical representation of how calls will flow to you.  With call forwarding turned off, you can adjust the timeout for calls that you don't answer.

You can change the target from voicemail to a number or a contact.

Clicking on number opens the form to add the number to send your calls to.

Clicking on contact, opens a search and select box with a list of your contacts to choose from.

When you turn call forwarding on, however, you get some additional settings.  You can choose from forward my calls and simultaneous ring.

In forwarding, you can choose delegates, number or contacts.

In Simulring, you can choose delegates, team call group and number.  

When you choose number it opens the same number form.

If you choose delegates or Team it opens the delegate and team call group form.

Here you can configure delegates and team call groups in the same form, which is really cool, along with the timer for ringing the group.

Here's an example of a simulring.  It shows that calls ring you for 5 seconds before ringing the team call group, then after 20 seconds, go to voicemail.  You'll see that the team call group also shows the members.

While using Remeo for changing forward settings for yourself is cool, the real point of Remeo is to allow one to change settings for someone else.

From the Skype for Business client, simply right click on a user and you'll see a new menu item in the list.  Change Reachability Settings.

This opens the Reachability form for the selected user.

The form itself is similar to the forward settings form for your own account with one addition.  This is the ability to change the personal note for the user.

I won't go through the options for changing the settings again because everything else is exactly the same as with the forward settings for your own account. 

Suffice it to say that it just works.  I had the client open on another PC, logged in with the account I was changing settings for and the changes were more or less instant.

I also thought it would be worth mentioning permissions, because I know someone will ask.  You can control who has access to change permissions using Role Based Access Control (RBAC) in Active Directory.  Click here for more info.

There are three ways to grant permissions to users:

  • Users who are in the same Remeo AD-group(s)
  • Users who are in a Skype for Business Delegation relationship
  • Users who are in the same Skype for Business Team-call group

Is it any good?

As I said above, it just works.  SEFAUtil Server took just a few minutes to install and register as a Trusted App Endpoint on an existing Trusted App Server.  The Remeo client installs in seconds.  Once installed and assuming you have the correct permissions, you can start changing settings for your team, your boss or the entire company.

What's wrong with it?

I haven't found anything.

What would I change?

The only thing I would like to see in the client interface is an apply button which doesn't close the form.  This would give you the ability to make a single change, and apply it before moving on to make more changes.

I'd also love to see the ability to use the Remeo client to sign other users in and out of Response Group Service agent groups.  This would be good on an individual basis and great if it could be done for multiple users at once.

Verdict

I'm sure you've guessed by now that I think the tool is fantastic.  It's a great addition to the list of Pro tools for Skype for Business Server and something I know people want.

As I said, the ability to use it to change your own settings in a single screen is cool, but unnecessary.  The real power is that users can change settings for others in your company.

More Information


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Thanks for reading.

If this or any other post has been useful to you please take a moment to share.  Comments are welcome. 

Hands on with the updated Skype for Business Online & Teams Network Assessment Tool

Hello Readers,

Hope you're keeping warm (or cool depending on where you're reading this) this holiday season.

Microsoft released an update to their free Network Assessment tool for Skype for Business Online a couple of days ago.  

The updated tool is available for download here.

I wrote a hands on review of the tool which was released during the Ignite Conference in 2016.


The original tool was downloaded as a zip file (network-assessment-lib-6.0.8970.161.zipwhich you unpacked to a directory of your choosing.  The new tool downloads as MicrosoftSkypeForBusinessNetworkAssessmentTool.exe.  Running the new executable "installs" the tool to an unchangeable directory of 'C:\Program Files\Microsoft Skype for Business Network Assessment Tool', unpacking the contents in much the same way as the previous ZIP file.  

The Download site says that the tool supports Windows 7 or later and that the PC must meet the requirements for Skype for Business Online systems described here.  For server installs you need to enable the desktop experience.  It also says that you can only run a single instance of the tool at a time and that it isn't intended for load or stress testing.

If you compare the directories side-by-side you're notice that the new library has more in it.

As you can see there are more differences than similarities between the old and new tools.  The updated tool utilises the client SDK and Bot framework to connect to the Skype for Business Online and Teams Edge and place a series of actual 17 second calls, then tell you if the call was any good, based on the results.  

The tool was originally developed to check network performance on the network where it was run in order to determine if it meets the targets for media quality and network performance for using Skype for Business Online.

These are the targets for the Skype for Business client to the Edge

The tool reports on Packet Loss, Jitter, Round-Trip Latency and Reordered packet percentage to the nearest Microsoft Network Edge.

Usage

To run the tool you need an elevated command prompt or PowerShell window.  I used PowerShell for mine.

First, browse to the tool location
cd 'C:\Program Files\Microsoft Skype for Business Network Assessment Tool'
Before I run something for the first time I like to see if there is some basic help on syntax.  I ran .\NetworkAssessmentTool.exe ?



The usage is NetworkAssessmentTool.exe [options] [arguments].  Running the tool with no options or arguments will perform the network quality check.  
.\NetworkAssessmentTool.exe
The first time I ran it I got a popup from Windows Firewall asking if I wanted to allow the connection.

These were the initial results for a single call

As you can see, it writes a results file to "C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Microsoft Skype for Business Network Assessment Tool".  

One thing to note is that each time you run the tool the results of previous tests are replaced.  Or more accurately, the file is replaced with a new results file.

To analyse the results you need to run the ResultsAnalyzer.exe tool and input the file.
.\ResultsAnalyzer.exe "C:\Users\randy.chapman\AppData\Local\Microsoft Skype for Business Network Assessment Tool\performance_results.tsv"

The first time I ran it, I got an error that said that there was no data in the input file.

So I opened the TSV file and verified that it did indeed have data in it.  Hmmm!  I read the usage doc which has a troubleshooting section.  No specifics about that error unfortunately, so I decided to change the config file to give more results.

This is just as good a place as any to mention that there is a config file and there are a few parameters that can be changed in order to produce a different result.  The config file is called NetworkAssessmentTool.exe.config and it is saved in the same directory as the tool itself.  To modify it, you'll need to run notepad or or your favourite txt file editor with elevated privileges.

The usage doc has a table that lists all of the configurable parameters as well as an indication of what will fail if it is missing or misconfigured.

To save you time, I'll just say don't change anything but the following (with the exception of the Delimiter value, which must be a <TAB>).

The NumIterations is where you configure the number of times it will perform the test.  I changed this to 3 and left everything else as is.  Then I re-ran the ResultsAnalyzer tool and it found some data.

Bizarrely, the tool read 3 rows, skipped 2 and processed 1 and claiming that some rows were skipped as too few packets were received to make a meaningful measure of the network.  Again, hmmmm!

I can see that it did place the calls and that packets were sent and (all of them were) received.  Clearly, not enough for the tool to care.

The good news is that I PASSED.  Which basically indicates that Packet Loss, Jitter, Round-Trip Latency and Reordered packet percentage are within acceptable limits.

The bad news is that I had to change the config file to produce more than 1 row for the tool to pick up the data and analyse it.

You can also change the IntervalInSeconds.  This is the time to wait between tests.  The default is 5 seconds.  

I changed it to 10 seconds while also changing the NumIterations to 2 and reran it.  It did indeed run the assessment twice and it slept for 10 seconds between tests.  This time, the packets sent and received were at the 850 mark for both tests and the ResultsAnalyzer picked up both calls.

Now that I know that a call in the tool should send 850 packets, I now know that the problem reading the file was down to the tool itself not sending all of the packets during isolated tests.  In my case, it was the 1st and 3rd test.

I changed NumIterations back to 1 and re-ran the test and the call had 850 packets and the analyser was happy with the results.

I wrote this post over a span of a couple of days.  Interestingly, the first time I ran it I had another instance with only 283 packets sent and received.

So it seems that the tool is not perfect.  Hopefully Microsoft can fix these intermittent issues in the next release.

The other two things you can change from that list are the location and name of the results files.  The usage doc says that if the file path is not an absolute file path, the tool will write to "%appdata%\..\local\Microsoft Skype for Business Network Assessment Tool".  

You can change the location by pasting in a file path inside the quotes.  The ResultsFilePath is the Network Quality test result file.  The OutputFilePath is the Connectivity test result file.

New Test Available

This brings me nicely onto the next part of this post.  That is to tell you that Microsoft added a new test to the tool, the Network Connectivity Test.  

The Network Connectivity Test verifies that your computer can reach a list of relay IP Addresses on the ports required for real time media traversal.  Effectively a port scanner.

To run the test, enter
.\NetworkAssessmentTool.exe /connectivitycheck
The result is thrilling.

To view the results you can simply open the txt based results file "%appdata%\..\local\Microsoft Skype for Business Network Assessment Tool\connectivity_results.txt"...

...or you can open it in the PowerShell session...
more "C:\Users\randy.chapman\AppData\local\Microsoft Skype for Business Network Assessment Tool\connectivity_results.txt"

...or, better yet, you can simply run the command with the verbose switch to show the tests and results at the same time.
.\NetworkAssessmentTool.exe /connectivitycheck \verbose

My PC tried about 56 relay IP addresses for connectivity to TCP port 443 and UDP ports 3478-3481.

As it happens, I even have the results from a test that failed.

Verdict

Errors notwithstanding, this is a nice evolution of a tool that can be used to perform basic tests around your network to make sure you can successfully use Skype for Business Online and Teams for calling.

If you do nothing else to test that your network is okay for Skype Online and Teams, do this.

More Info

__________________________________________________________________________

I hope you found this useful.  Thank you for reading.

If this or any other post has been useful to you please take a moment to share.  Comments are welcome.  

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Would you use the Microsoft Teams client for telephony?

Hello readers.  Nice to see you.  Hope you're well.

This is just a quick opinion piece to elicit some debate.

Given that Microsoft has announced that all of the features of Skype for Business Online in Office 365, including telephony features of Phone System (formerly Cloud PBX) and Audio Conferencing, are coming to Teams.  I ask, would you use the Teams client for telephony if you could?


The answer for me is less simple since I use Skype for Business Server on-premises.  But the question still stands.

I really like the simplicity of the Skype for Business client.  There isn't much to look at in the client itself.  Unless you have Persistent Chat, there's no reason to stay in the Skype for Business client for very long.  It's an application you go to to start a communication.  

Once you do start a dialogue, the conversation window pops out of the client as a self contained entity.  The conversation window has all of the buttons for controlling or changing that single conversation.  Start with IM and escalate as you see fit, adding voice, video, people and content with the click of the mouse.

Since the conversation window floats above the client, I'm free to go back to the client and start a new, separate conversation and put the two side by side if I wish.  One with voice and video and the other with IM only.  

If I turn off tabbed conversations I can fill my screen with conversations in tiles if I want.

Teams, by comparison, is containerised.  Everything happens inside the application rather than floating above it in a separate conversation window.  You can still initiate a chat and escalate to voice/video, add people and share your screen in that conversation, but if you want to have another conversation at the same time, you have to click away from the first one and into another one.  

Teams does currently have a nice little party piece in that if you do click away from a voice/video call, you get a little peek window at the top showing the video for the active speaker with call controls floating over the top.

This happens in peer-to-peer and multi-party calls and in scheduled or ad-hoc meetings.  You still have to be in Teams to see it though.  If you switch apps, you can't see anything.

In Skype for Business, the call peek is floating free and independent of Skype for Business in general.  If you switch apps and go to Outlook during a video call, you get a call peek which floats above Outlook.  You can even move it wherever you want.

In Teams, the only way to get a floating peek is to share your screen in a meeting or call.

All little things I realise, but they do add up to a lot.  I've been using the Skype for Business client since I was able to get it.  Before that I used the Lync 2013 client (on Lync 2010 and 2013 back end), and before that the Lync 2010 client, and before that I used the OCS client and before that LCS and before that, Messenger.  

So I'm going on 17 years in this product line.  When Microsoft add something (consult Transfer in SfB client) I notice it, when they take away something (Consult transfer which was in OCS client and not in the Lync clients), I notice that too.

I'm more than a user of the product, but I am a user nonetheless.  Change is difficult.

Microsoft is saying to start using Teams alongside Skype for Business to get used to it.  The roadmap is out now and its clear that they have a rough timeline for feature migration.  Below is the calling roadmap which goes to the end of Q4 2018.  

Things slip in roadmaps though, so don't hold your breath.

Back to the original question.  

Would I use Teams as my telephony client?  Like I said, I'm on a Skype for Business Server back end, so my Skype for Business client has all of the features.  More, even, than Skype for Business Online with Phone System.  So I don't have to wait for 14 months for feature parity and I get to use a client I'm used to.  So for right now, the answer is no.

Fast forward 14 months and Teams has feature parity with Skype Online and Phone System.  I know I'll probably still have a Skype for Business Server back end, although probably SfB Server 2019.  I would imagine there will still be differences between the products, but I don't know for sure.  

Differences aside, though, I would probably still edge toward no.  I would still miss the simplicity of the Skype for Business client for all the reasons listed above.  I'd probably be fine using both.

What do you think?  Would you use Teams for everything if you could?  Leave a comment here or hit me up on Twitter or LinkedIn.

That's all folks.
_________________________________________________________________________

I hope you found this useful.  Thank you for reading.

If this or any other post has been useful to you please take a moment to share.  Comments are welcome. 

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

What is Microsoft Teams?

Hello readers.  Hope you're well.

I've had this as a draft post since February this year.  I've been adding to it here and there as the product has evolved.  And with recent announcements, now seems like a good time to finally publish it.  

What I want to do is give you my take on what Teams is, what it does, how it is/could be used, who will/should use it and how to get it.  Enjoy.

What is Teams?


Teams is a fairly new, out of the blue, platform delivered through Office 365.  I call it a platform rather than an application because, really, Teams is just a jumping off point to get to other systems.  It is an aggregator of communication and collaboration tools and information in a single pane of glass.  It is a work space where you can put everything you need to work with and as a team.  Then once the information is there, you can easily collaborate with team members about that information. 

A New Vision for Communications and Collaboration

Microsoft has a new vision for communications and collaboration that they call Intelligent Communications.  Intelligent Communications is using the full set of capabilities and power of a joined-up platform to surface new, smarter ways of communicating and collaborating.  It is no longer about peer to peer or multi-party single or multi-media communications.  

Instant messaging and peer-to-peer audio/video is communication.  When you add more people and content to the conversation, it becomes collaboration.  Teams takes this concept of collaboration, several steps further.

With more capability at your disposal, collaboration can be more contextual.  Intelligent Communications are about making each interaction or communication be about something specific.  

In Skype for Business right now, I can initiate an IM or a Call with someone, but I have to explain what the context is before continuing with the interaction.  For instance, I want to know about X.  I can take that a step further and apply a little bit of context by initiating the interaction from a connected app such as Outlook.  If I start an IM by hovering over a person in an email, the new IM has the subject of that email at the top.  It’s a nice try, but it is still easy to miss unless you know to look. 

With the right power in your hand, you can start the interaction from the context and make it blatantly obvious what the interaction is about.  If you start from the context, you can unlock something that has the potential to be useful.  Everyone that has access to that context can see the interactions and if they have something to contribute, they can join in to the conversation.  If the person you start with knows someone that knows more, they can mention the correct person and invite them to join the conversation.  

This also goes beyond simple interactions.  In addition to starting a chat or making a call from the context, ithere are documents involved, it is possible to make that the context.  Taking it one or two steps further, you can co-author and chat about the document in line with the context.  

Then if you want to schedule a meeting about the content, and the application suggests the attendees you want in the meeting based on recent conversations.  

If all of that sounds like science fiction, it really isn’t.  

What can you do with Teams?

Chat

Teams is an internal only peer-to-peer and multi-party Instant Messaging (IM), audio and video communications tool.  You can start an ad-hoc chat with anyone in your organisation that is using Teams or Skype for Business Online.  Chat doesn’t currently work between Teams and Skype for Business Server on-premises.  Nor does it work with federated users.  I gather these are both coming.  There is, however, Guest Access and I'll talk about that further down.  

To start a chat, tap the chat icon which is on every page right next to the search bar.
You can start a chat with someone whether or not they are online.  If they are offline, the message will be waiting for them when they log in.  A chat starts as an Instant Message (IM) and you can escalate to an audio or video call.  

The chat interface is really quite good.  The compose box can be maximised to uncover additional formatting options for the text within the chat.  

You can do typical things like bold, underline and italics, as well as more advanced things like bullet points and numbered lists.  It's even possible to highlight text to draw attention to something.  Additionally, you can add headings and subheadings, an indented quote and even code snippets.  

It is possible add files to a chat (either from your computer hard drive or your personal OneDrive for Business).  When you upload a file to a Chat, it is stored in a OneDrive for Business folder called Microsoft Teams Chat Files and shared with the person/people in the chat thread.  You can get to the files you upload in the dedicated Files area as well as within the chat.  

The files list gives you the file type, name, when it was last modified and the location (such as OneDrive or the team and channel name.  It is also possible to edit and co-author Office documents, either in Teams, from Office Online or Office which is locally installed.  

Editing directly in Teams is a really great experience.  It opens Office Online right in the Teams interface and moves the chat pane to the right of the document so you can chat while you edit.

In addition to files and text in chats, you can also add Emoji 😏, Gif's (Powered by Giphy), as well as Stickers and Memes from a huge list which is broken down into categories.


You also have the ability to personalise the chat space in Teams with extra stuff that's relevant to you and the person/people you are chatting with.  In addition to conversations and files, there is an organisation tab which shows you where they sit in your company organisation chart.  There's also an Activity tab that shows you what else they have been doing in Teams.  It's also possible to add tabs to chats.  

This is currently limited to Power BI and a web page, but I would imagine this list will grow over time.

A chat can be peer to peer or multi-party.  The chats are persistent over time, meaning they stay in the client so you can refer back to it.  Chats in Teams are done outside of Teams and Channels.  Although it is possible to have a conversation within a Channel, it isn't strictly a chat, but rather persistent, threaded conversations with all of the members of the team.  Think of chat as persistent, instant messaging with bells and whistles.

Activity Feed

The activity feed area is a list view of what's been going on in Teams.  The list includes messages, mentions, replies to conversations you've been in, likes and stuff from people or channels you follow.  The activity feed is a really quick way to move between things you might want to reply to or just read without having to go into Teams and look through channels to find stuff.  Clicking on an activity takes you right to the channel or place where the activity took place and you can interact from there.  The activity feed can be filtered to find just the stuff you want to see.  You can also search in Teams, more on that in a sec.

Search
Within every menu item there is a search bar.  
You can search for a keyword or a phrase and you'll get a list of every conversation you have access to where the term is used.  When you click into one of the results, it displays only the message with the term you searched for, along with a link to take you to the channel where the conversation took place, so you can interact if you want.  Search is completely necessary since Teams has the potential to gather vast amounts of data all over the place.

Teams in Teams


Creating a Team in Teams creates a few things on the back end.  Firstly, it creates a site in SharePoint Online for the content including files.  It then creates an Office 365 Group and a OneNote notebook.  Once you have created a Team, you add members.  You can add members from within your company and guests from outside your company.  At the time of writing, you can only add a guest that uses Azure AD and Office 365, basically, anyone with an Exchange Online mailbox and email address.  Microsoft is expanding this to include users with an MPN (msn, hotmail or outlook.com) address.  

When you add a member to a team, it sends the user a notification by email.  If the member already uses Teams, it will just give them access to the Team.  The Team and any channels will appear in the Teams area of the Teams client or site.  If they don’t use Teams it will send them a link to the Teams web client (https://teams.microsoft.com) which will prompt for credentials and then invite them to download the full client.  Once you have a Team and members (although you don’t need any members) you can add content to customise the work space.

Now for some terminology.  

A Channel is a subfolder within the Team.  
A Channel can have a Conversation repository, a file repository, a OneNote notebook, a Wiki page and Tabs.  

A Tab is basically an interface into an application, a web page or a document you need to frequently access.  There a fairly big list of tab types and applications including Office 365 apps like Planner, Power BI, Word and Excel, and apps from external service providers like Wrike, Youtube and Trello, to name but a few.

In addition to all of this, a Channel can link to external services using Connectors.  There’s a huge list of Connectors available from a ton of companies.  Anything from Twitter, or RSS feeds to Salesforce and a lot more.

A conversation within a Team is a lot like Persistent Chat in SfB.  Each conversation is specific to a Channel within the Team.  A Conversation in a Channel is an inline multi-threaded chat and anyone that is a member of the Team can read and contribute.  A user can reply to an existing thread to continue a conversation or start a new thread to start a completely new conversation.  A conversation thread can also be given a subject.  As with Chat, text can be customized and formatted with options for bullet, list, size, colour and style (bold, underline and italics).  Text can also be highlighted.  In addition to text, a user can add Emoji, Gif's and customizable Memes from a large repository in Teams, as well as images from their own source (png and jpg).  This will keep the millennials entertained.  

With the correct permissions, it is possible to delete a comment or an entire conversation from within a Channel.  If something is deleted, it says that it has been deleted and has an Undo link next to it.  Anything that is deleted in Teams (files, conversations and comments) go to a recycle bin in the Team SharePoint site.  It is also possible for a user to edit a comment they made within the Team if, for instance, they made a typo or said something they wanted to change.  Once text has been edited, it says Edited next to it.  

It is also possible to save a conversation or a comment which pins them to a save items list.  It is also possible to un-save something.  

For fans of social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), it has a “Like” function that increments up with the likes and collects a list of who liked it.  

In addition to text, Emoji and memes, a user can add a file to a conversation.  There are also @ mentions.  You can mention someone in a conversation and they will be notified that you mentioned them and send a link back to the conversation (as long as they have access to it).  This is similar to the Ego feed in Persistent Chat in Lync and Skype for Business.  You can also @ mention specific Teams and Channels.  Once you type the @, the next letter will start to search for valid target.  Keep in mind that you can only @ mention teams, channels and members of the team you're in.  i.e. If you're in a conversation in a Channel called New Business in the Sales team and the only members besides you are Ted, Ralph and Sally, you can only @ mention Sales, New Business, Ted, Ralph and Sally.  You can't @ mention across teams or to people that don't have access to the Team.

In every Channel in a Team, there is a Files tab.  Files can be uploaded from your own OneDrive for Business drive or your own PC as standard.  However you can also add Cloud Storage sources.  

This is really just a connector that links the Channel to a cloud storage provider.  Once you have added the provider, it will add a folder to the Channel.  As it says in the popup (see below), once you add a cloud storage provider, everyone with access to the Team will have access to the files.

When you click on one of the providers, you'll be asked to authenticate and grant Teams access to the provider.

Once a file is added to a conversation it uploads it to the file store within the Channel and Team, which is SharePoint Online on the back end.  Once there it can be edited in Office, Office online or directly in Teams.  It can also be co-authored if the user clicks Share and invites someone.  Files can be downloaded, edited, copied, moved between Channels (within the same Team only) or deleted (again to the recycle bin).  

It is also possible to make a file a Tab within the Team.  The file Tab is basically an opened version of the file.  For instance, a price list.  It is also possible to click edit on a file to make changes.  This edits the underlying file (in SharePoint) and displays the changes in the tab once it has been saved. 

There is a Notes tab which is a OneNote notebook where users in the Team can build up notes and pages relevant to the Channel.  This is also saved in SharePoint.

Last, but not least, you can add Connectors to a channel. 

A Connector is used to bring external services into a Channel or Team.  There are connectors from Microsoft, of course, for services like Visual Studio Team Services, Dynamics 365 and Yammer as well as 3rd party services like Trello, Salesforce, Wunderlist and Twitter to name a few.  In fact, there are dozens of Connectors.  So many, in fact, you can filter by category to make it easy to find what you're after.

Meetings
Meetings in Teams is a lot like meetings in Skype for Business.  It has it's own tab and links to your Exchange calendar, showing you all of your meetings for the day whether they are Teams meetings, Skype for Business meetings, or just appointments.  

You can schedule meetings from Teams 

or using the new Outlook button.  

It the meeting is a Teams meeting, you can join and attend the meeting, in Teams.  If the meeting is a Skype for Business meeting, you still get a join button in Teams, however, the join button starts the meeting in the Skype for Business client rather than directly in Teams.

Meeting in Teams is quite an experience.  For a start, you get a full screen, 2 x 2 gallery view if you add video.  When I say full screen, I mean full bleed, full screen.  The meeting controls are hidden by default and appear, over the video feed when you move the mouse to the area.  This is very much like Skype for Business on a Mac.
  
This is a stark contrast to the 5 in a row gallery view for a Skype for Business meeting.  

There is also a dedicated device button in the meeting and you can switch devices (audio and video) on the fly.  

You can switch audio devices mid call in Skype for Business, however, not video.  You can switch video if you go in to video settings and change the default device.  Once you switch and click OK, video stops, you then have to start video again.

In Teams, you can switch using the Cameras drop down list to choose another device and it switches live, during the call.  There is also a dedicated camera switching button.

Pressing this button switches the video to the next device in the list.  This is great if you have cameras set up to focus on the meeting ahead of time.  

Camera 1, Camera 2, Camera 1, Camera 2.  

Not so good if you're using a laptop in a docking station and you have front and rear cameras AND connected USB cameras.  Would be nice if you could select the cameras not to use.

Alongside the full screen video, you can chat with the attendees.  You get all the same chat options including formatting, Gif's, stickers and memes.  

You can also attach a file to the chat.  Attendees can open the file online (in a browser, not in the meeting) or download.  

Unfortunately, the only presenter option is screen sharing for now.  I can imagine this will get better over time.  

I'd love there to be a revamped whiteboard app in Teams meetings.  Perhaps the one from the updated Surface Hub.  We'd also need the ability to present PowerPoint and do Q&A and Polls.  These will probably come with federation, if they come at all.

When you share in a Teams meeting, the Teams the interface minimises and you're left with the call progress box along with the call controls.

Meetings are set to get even better in Teams with features like Cloud Record.  Users can attend meetings after the meeting finishes and it plays the whole meeting back as though they were there live.

Workspace of the Future

As you can see, a Team site really can be a workplace for any sized team.  Every possible piece of information that is relevant to the team can be added to the workspace.  Whether it is files, notes or conversations and external services through connectors.  Microsoft call it a Hub for Teamwork.

In a recent conversation I had with Microsoft, they called it an over engineered Persistent Chat role for Skype for Business Online.  The community was asking for Persistent Chat in Office 365, apparently, and they decided to deliver it.  I’m guessing that they also thought of it as an opportunity to compete with Slack intentionally, and Spark by chance. 

Slack came along and took an underdeveloped Persistent Chat role and made it connect with everything.  They gave it away to get users hooked and then started charging for premium features.  Don’t ask me what they are, because I’ve never even been to the Slack website, much less used it.  From what I have seen of Spark, Cisco did the same thing.  They decided that persistent chat and collaboration is the future.  I'm paraphrasing here, but recently Rowan Trollope said that Instant Messaging (IM) is just about getting attention rather than getting information. 

Who could use Teams?

Anyone that works with one or more people in a company and needs to be able to access information and collaborate about it. I can see it being used by Sales, Marketing, Project Management, Engineering or Support, among others. 

I have a Team with no members that I use to quickly get to stuff I need to access frequently.  This includes documents, RSS feeds, a Twitter tab, a few web pages and a couple of YouTube channels.  And that works fine for me.

Crossover with other applications

The most obvious crossover is with Skype for Business.  In Teams, you can do one to one and multi-party instant messaging (Chat), Persistent Chat (conversations in channels), internal voice and video calls, screen sharing and meetings.

You'll have heard some recent announcements that Microsoft is further enhancing Teams by adding the features and functionality of Skype for Business Online, Phone System (formerly Cloud PBX) and Audio Conferencing (formerly PSTN Conferencing) into Teams.  The plan will be to allow companies to run Teams and Skype for Business Online side-by-side for a period of time and eventually get rid of Skype for Business Online.  A controversial topic to be sure.  One for another day.

I've seen a couple of posts recently (One by Richard Bryteson and another by Tom Arbuthnotwhere they suggest disabling features that are also in Skype for Business, such as chat, calling and meetings.  This would ostensibly force users to carry on using Skype for Business for those features rather than have two places for the same thing.  

One advantage of this is that if your company is using archiving in Skype for Business for IM's, that stays as it is until there is shared archiving for Skype and Teams.

Personally, I like having the choice to decide what I use.  What do you think?

What about Skype for Business Server and Teams?

There are plans to enhance the interop between Teams and Skype for Business Server, however, we don't yet know to what extent.  The possibilities are quite exciting, especially in a hybrid scenario.  

I'd love the ability to use the Teams client as the interface for Skype for Business Server.  Chats in Teams could be the interface for Skype for Business IM's going forward.  Same with calling.  The calls tab in Teams could just leverage the calling capability from your Skype for Business Server deployment.  

Most importantly, I'd love to have the choice of which client to use and if possible, use both at the same time.  For instance, if I'm in a meeting with an external party in Teams, I'd like the ability to have a private chat window open in Skype for Business so I could chat privately with someone about the meeting, or even to answer an incoming question from someone else.  I can do that currently in Skype for Business.  If I only used the Teams client and I wanted to chat, I'd have to click away from the meetings tab and into the chat tab to have a conversation, taking my focus completely off the meeting.

Time will tell, but if I had to bet, the interop will come with Skype for Business Server 2019 late next year.

How do you get Teams?

Teams is available exclusively in Microsoft Office 365 and is included as standard with Office 365 Business Premium and Business Essentials, Enterprise plans E1, E3 and E5 as well as Education, Government, Not for Profit and new Firstline Worker plans.

In conclusion

The more I use Teams, the more I like it.  I wouldn't go as far as to say I could use it instead of Skype for Business.  It is missing a lot right now.  That list will shrink over time, surely, but right now it just doesn't cut it.  I also like Skype for Business for its simplicity.  I guess we'll see what happens.


That's all folks.

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I hope you found this useful.  Thank you for reading.

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