Microsoft Monday: Announcements At Ignite Event, Skype For Alexa, New Dynamics Business Applications

By:  Amit Chowdhry

“Microsoft Monday” is a weekly column that focuses on all things Microsoft. This week “Microsoft Monday” features news about the announcements made at the Ignite event, a new AI center in China, Skype coming to Alexa, new Dynamics business applications and much more!

Microsoft Ignite Announcements

Today Microsoft kicked off its four-day Ignite event and a number of products were announced. Here is a breakdown of what Microsoft announced at the event:

Microsoft Search

Microsoft is rolling out a universal search feature across Bing and And later the Search feature will be supported in Edge, Windows and Office. The Search feature will be able to index internal documents to make it easier to find files.

Search is going to be moved to a prominent and consistent place across the apps that you use every day whether it is Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel, Teams, etc. And personalized results will appear in the search box so that you can see documents that you were working on recently.

When you search on Bing, it will return organizational results and web results. The public preview will start rolling out today.

The Search feature in makes it easier to surface the documents you were recently working on along with documents recommended from your colleagues. Microsoft Search in went into targeted release today.

Search in the SharePoint mobile app will become the default experience when you open the app. The search will list common questions, personalized results and frequent searches. Plus the Outlook mobile app will highlight searches by showing content and people.

In the first half of 2019, the new suite-wide search in the ribbon will be added across the desktop, mobile and web versions of Office. And Microsoft Search will be accessible right from the taskbar of Windows 10.

“The Microsoft Graph gleans insight from the people, sites, devices, and documents you work with and is the basis for consistent learning across your organization, wherever you and your colleagues work. Microsoft Graph ranks search results relevant to your needs. You can see all the results that satisfy your query, but personalized search prioritizes the results that are most likely to achieve your objective,” wrote Jeff Teper, Corporate Vice President for OneDrive, SharePoint and Office. “Supercharging the Microsoft Graph with advanced AI technology from Bing and its knowledge of the world, we can extend our vision for insightful technology to make it simple to ask natural language questions and get real answers, without manual intervention.”

Office 2019 For Windows And Mac

Microsoft’s Office 2019 is now generally for Windows and Mac. Office 2019 is the successor to Office 2016, which is considered the next on-premises version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Project, Visio, Access and Publisher. A preview of the applications were released to commercial customers in April 2018.

“The new enhancements in Office 2019 are a subset of a long list of features that have been added to Office 365 ProPlus over the last three years,” said Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for Office and Windows Marketing Jared Spataro in a blog post. “Office 2019 is a one-time release and won’t receive future feature updates. However, we’ll continue to add new features to Office 365 ProPlus monthly, including innovations in collaboration, artificial intelligence (AI), security, and more.”

Some of the new features that are being added to Office 2019 includes Designer and Zoom for PowerPoint, data-analysis features for PowerPivot and Learning Tools such as Read Aloud and Text Spacing for Word and Outlook. Office 2019 only works on Windows 10 so interested users who have Windows 7 and 8.1 will be out of luck there. 

Several New Office 365 Features

At Ignite, Microsoft also announced several new Office 365 features. This includes Ideas and new artificial intelligence features in Excel.

The Ideas feature helps save time on daily tasks such as picking a design and finding images for PowerPoint. And Ideas may suggest charts to highlight your Excel data. Ideas are now generally available in Excel and it will be coming to PowerPoint Online in preview mode soon.

A feature that references stocks and geographies in spreadsheets is now generally available in Excel. And image recognition is also being added to Excel so you can convert a photo of a data table into a spreadsheet file, which is a feature known as “Data from Picture.”

LinkedIn users will also soon be able to co-author documents on Office 365 with their contacts. It is unknown when this feature will be fully rolled out.

Microsoft Teams Update

At the Ignite event, Microsoft announced that its Slack-like Teams service is now being used by 329,000 organizations according to VentureBeat. This is up from 200,000 in March and more than double the 125,000 organization milestone as of a year ago.

Teams is now considered Microsoft’s fastest growing business app. One of the reasons why Teams grew so quickly is because a free version was released two months ago.

Some of the new features that Teams recently launched include a background blur, which creates a bokeh effect during video meetings, meeting recordings and transcriptions that can be searched.

Microsoft is also introducing the ability for Office 365 users to stream events live and on-demand in Teams, Yammer and Microsoft Stream later this year.

Teams is also being tailored to industry-specific workflows. These versions are known as Home and Shifts. Home is a mobile experience that allows firstline workers to review shifts/break, see important notes for the day or shift and find out who is working during the shift. And the Shifts version enables firstline managers to plan schedules in an employee self-service experience. The mangers can also create, update and distribute schedules for teams and broadcast open and unfilled shifts so that employees can cover them.

And there are two new secure messaging features that are relevant in healthcare, which include image annotation and priority notifications. These features will enable clinicians to communicate about patients without privacy risks that come up when healthcare professionals are using chat apps.

Azure Data Box Edge

Microsoft has announced the new Azure Data Box Edge, which is an on-premises appliance with AI-enabled edge compute capabilities. This enables businesses to set up artificial intelligence computations without the need for specialized processors.

“Data Box Edge acts as a storage gateway, creating a link between your site and Azure storage. This makes moving data into and out of Azure storage as easy as working with a local network share. Data Box Edge provides a local cache and optimizes network traffic to and from the cloud,” said Microsoft’s director of Azure Data Box. “Data Box Edge also provides a computing platform via IoT Edge, which lets you deploy Azure services and custom code and applications to the edge. This means that you can analyze, filter, or transform your data right at the edge as part of your workflow. And to accelerate machine-learning workloads, Data Box Edge will have FPGA option powered by Microsoft’s Project Brainwave.”

Plus Microsoft is also releasing the Data Box Getaway as a standalone virtual appliance. Data Box Edge and Data Box Gateway are both available in Preview now.

Surface Hub 2 Whiteboard Launching In Q2 2019

In the second quarter of 2019, Microsoft is going to release the Surface Hub 2. The Surface Hub 2 is a large touchscreen device that would be fitting for conference rooms. In the past, Microsoft simply gave the year 2019 as the timeframe for the launch.

According to TechCrunch, Microsoft will launch the Surface Hub 2S first. The 2S is thinner and weighs less than the original Surface Hub, but the display is smaller. For example, the 2S will have a 50.5-inch display compared to the 55-inch and 84-inch options in the previous generation of the Surface Hub. And the 2S is also going to have a 4K camera, better microphones and support for Microsoft Teams.

“Looking forward to 2020, we will release updates to the Surface Hub family to enable customers to update to Surface Hub 2X. This includes the ability to tile, rotate, and enable multi user log in,” said Microsoft in an announcement. “This simple update is enabled by our design of removable processor cartridges, in an easily accessible hardware chassis on the back of the Surface Hub 2. This processor cartridge can be removed, upgraded and serviced over time. The cartridge is what will enable customers to make the switch to the Microsoft 365 powered Surface Hub 2X in 2020.

$40 Million AI For Humanitarian Action Program

Microsoft said it is going to invest $40 million in order to apply artificial intelligence for humanitarian issues. This is Microsoft’s third philanthropic program around AI following the $50 million AI for Earth program and the $25 million AI for Accessibility program.

Through this program, Microsoft will be partnering with non-governmental organizations and humanitarian groups to use AI for disaster response, the needs of children, helping refugees and displaced people and human rights.

“The AI for Humanitarian Action program is the third program in Microsoft’s AI for Good initiative, a $115 million commitment launched last summer that also is working on ways to use AI for things like improving accessibility and environmental sustainability,” said Microsoft’s Al Olson.

Cortana Skills Kit For Enterprise

Microsoft announced a new end-to-end Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise development platform. Microsoft corporate vice president of Cortana Javier Soltero said that it is “important for enterprises to be able to enable their workforces to use Cortana to perform company-specific tasks.”

The Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise is powered by the Azure Bot Service and it leverages Language Understanding from Azure Cognitive Services.

Microsoft program manager Vivek Goswami believes that some of the skills that could be created include human resources departments building skills that allow employees to ask the personal intelligent assistant to schedule office cleanings. IT developers at Microsoft used the Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise to create help desk skills to enable Cortana to file tickets on behalf of employees who are having technical issues.

OneDrive Files On-Demand For macOS And iPhone Update

The OneDrive Files On-Demand feature is now available in public preview for macOS. This feature allows you to access all of your OneDrive files without having to download all of them and use storage space on your computer.

After you turn on OneDrive Files On-Demand, you will see all of your files in Mac Finder and get information about each file. And while you are connected to the Internet, you can use online-only files like every other file on your computer.

This feature requires macOS 10.14 Mojave — which was released today. And it also requires an Apple File System (APFS) formatted volume. To get early access to OneDrive Files On-Demand on the Mac, you can sign up for it on

And speaking of OneDrive, the iPhone version of the app has been updated today with several new features. For example, there is an “On This Day” feature that shows a photo that you took in the past on the same day. And now when you back up photos from your camera roll, it will be organized by year and month so it makes it easier to find your photos. 

Azure IoT Central And Azure Digital Twins

Forbes contributor Janakiram MSV published an article earlier today about the enhancements Microsoft made for its IoT and edge computing platforms.

Azure IoT Central, a software-as-a-service IoT platform for enterprises, is now generally available. MSV pointed out that cloud solution expertise is not needed for IoT scenarios with Azure IoT Central. And Azure IoT Central makes it easier for onboarding devices and managing them in the cloud.

And as device twins are becoming essential in the deployment of industrial IoT solutions, Microsoft augmented the technology in the form of a product called Azure Digital Twins. The Azure Digital Twins service creates a comprehensive digital model of physical environments that includes people, places and things. Azure Digital Twins connects to Azure IoT Hub for device management. And IoT Hub APIs can be used to query and and controlling the digital twins. This service will be available in preview from October 15, 2018.

Plus Microsoft also announced that Azure Sphere development kits are now broadly available. And Azure Marketplace is now open for independent software vendors to submit their edge computing modules for certification and review.

Partnership With Adobe And SAP

Microsoft launched a new industry partnership with Adobe and SAP in order to bring together customer data on Azure, according to Geekwire. This partnership is known as the Open Data Initiative and it links data from Adobe Experience Cloud and Adobe Experience Platform, Microsoft Dynamics 365, SAP C/4HANA and S/4HANA.

Windows Virtual Desktop

Today Microsoft unveiled Windows Virtual Desktop, which is a multi-user Windows and Office set up that is virtualized in the cloud via Azure. Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows Server 2012 R2+ can be run in Windows Virtual Desktop. And Windows Virtual Desktop will be available to Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education customers via public preview later this year. Plus it is optimized for Office 365 ProPlus.

Skype Is Expected To Be Added To Amazon Alexa Devices This Year

Microsoft plans to bring the Skype messaging service to Alexa-based devices later this year. Users will be able to make and accept calls from Skype by using their voice. For example, users can say “Alexa, call Michael on Skype” or “Alexa, answer.” 

“This is the next step in the collaboration between Microsoft and Amazon to deliver delightful customer experiences through voice, which began with joining Cortana and Alexa. Since then, we’ve added Alexa integration on Xbox and are continuing to work together to bring the best of Skype and Alexa together to enable intelligent communications for our users,” said Microsoft in a blog post.

LinkedIn’s Revenue Is Being Added To The “Commercial Cloud”

Microsoft is adding LinkedIn to its commercial metrics and intelligent cloud section of its earnings reports. Prior to this change, Microsoft was reporting LinkedIn’s revenues separately. Specifically, the commercial portion of LinkedIn will be added to the commercial metrics and LinkedIn’s revenue growth will be reported in the “Productivity & Business Process; Intelligent Cloud” section. 

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New Microsoft Dynamics Business Applications 

Last week at an event in San Francisco, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Business Applications & Industry Alysa Taylor announced the upcoming availability of new Dynamics 365 AI applications and the company’s first mixed reality business applications: Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Dynamics 365 Layout.

“Two years ago, when we introduced Dynamics 365 we started a journey to tear down the traditional silos of customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP),” said Taylor. “We set out to reimagine business applications as modern, unified, intelligent and adaptable solutions that are integrated with Office 365 and natively built on Microsoft Azure.”

Dynamics 365 AI

The new Dynamics 365 AI will be available soon, which is a suite of AI applications that provides insights by aggregating data and combining it with advanced intelligence enabling organizations to take informed actions. These insights are extensible through Microsoft Power BI, Azure and the Common Data Service.

Dynamics 365 AI for Sales helps salespeople prioritize time to focus on deals so that they can focus on the deals that matter the most. And Dynamics 365 AI for Sales provides answers to sales team performance, analysis of the sales pipeline and insights around the coaching of sales teams.

Dynamics 365 AI for Customer Service offers customer service data and surface automated insights in order to help employees take action and utilize virtual agents to lower support costs without the need to write code or hire in-house AI experts.

And Dynamics 365 AI for Market Insights helps marketing and social media teams make better decisions based on market insights. Marketers will be able to make customer relationships with actionable social insights in order to respond faster to trends.

Microsoft also announced that it is bringing its mixed reality platform together with a set of business applications. Ever since Microsoft released the HoloLens a couple of years ago, the mixed reality headset device also saw momentum in the commercial space. In order to provide employees with the insights that they need based on the mixed reality platform, Microsoft introduced Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Dynamics 365 Layout.

One of the biggest companies that is using HoloLens combined with Dynamics 365 mixed reality applications is Chevron. Previously, Chevron had to fly in an inspector from Houston to a facility in Singapore once per month to inspect the equipment.

Now Chevron has in-time inspection using Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and can identify issues and provide approvals immediately. And Chevron is able to benefit from remote collaboration and assistance to help the company operate safely in work environments, cut down on travel risks and connect firstline workers with remote experts easier.

The Dynamics 365 and the Power platform will be generally available on October 1st.