Cat behind a curtain.
Microsoft, Redkix and harmon.ie unveiled some products behind the curtain this week. PHOTO: Nate Angell

At the Microsoft Inspire conference in Washington DC in July, CEO Satya Nadella unveiled Microsoft 365 Business.

As part of its business strategy to unify its productivity offerings, Microsoft 365 Business combines Office 365, Windows 10 and Enterprise Mobility and Security. 

At Inspire, though, it was only available in private beta. Late last week, Microsoft 365 Business finally went into public beta so that those companies it was designed for — small-to-medium-sized businesses — could finally get their hands on it.

A fully supported version of the package will be generally available by the end of the year. 

The preview itself is free, although Microsoft recommends that customers hire a partner to deploy the solution. Once it has reached general availability, Microsoft 365 Business will cost $20 per user per month, compared to the $12.50 per user monthly charge for Office 365 Business Premium.

Microsoft Launches Smarter Outlook.com 

Staying with Microsoft, the Redmond Wash.-based software powerhouse has just announced the launch of a new beta program for Outlook.com that could end up transforming the service completely.

It’s no surprise to see Microsoft tinkering under the hood of Outlook.com again, since it has changed, tweaked and cancelled numerous features since the service replaced Hotmail back in 2012.

The new beta program, which will be rolled out globally over the next few weeks, is designed to give users a faster and more personalized email experience. Those users who want to opt into the program can do so by using a new toggle that will appear in their Outlook.com accounts. Those who want to stick with the existing version can chose to do so using the same toggle.

The plan, it seems, is to test new features that will ultimately become part of the established version of Outlook once the beta program has been completed. 

According to a blog post about the beta, the introduction of the new features is driven by user demand and “[recent] advances in programming, design, and artificial intelligence [that] have enabled our engineers and designers to improve the Outlook.com web experience in several areas.”

The experience will feature a more responsive web development framework to deliver a fresher look and a new design to let users read and attach files and photos faster. It will also come with a new search function and a smarter inbox.

Any Outlook.com users who see the Outlook beta toggle in their inboxes can join the program, which will push new additions as they are developed. Microsoft also points out that the program will not impact data in Outlook because the beta’s focus is on the new UI and web features.

Harmon.ie Expands Collage Reach

Meanwhile, Boston-based harmon.ie has just announced the integration of its topic computing solution Collage, into Dynamics 365.

Collage is a pretty simple idea that aims to make the lives of digital workers a lot easier. It combines updates from a worker’s complete set of existing business apps — such as business applications, document collaboration tools, enterprise social networks and email — into a single information stream. 

The goal of harmon.ie’s new Collage for Dynamics 365 is to provide account managers who currently use Dynamics 365 and other apps to manage sales processes with a big-picture view of what’s happening with customers and prospects.

It builds on Dynamics 365, which was released last fall in pulling together customer relationship management from Microsoft Dynamics CRM and enterprise resource planning from Dynamics AX.

By giving users access to all their content, no matter where it is stored, harmon.ie is enabling workers to focus on key opportunities and accounts without being overwhelmed with notifications from disconnected apps like email, Zendesk, Office 365, SharePoint, Yammer, IBM Connections and now, Dynamics 365.

The integration of the two is just the latest move by harmon.ie to address the changing ways workers are accessing data in the enterprise through topic-based computing.

Collage does this by presenting information to mimic the way our brains are naturally organized. This topic computing approach is a new way of working that uses cloud apps to organize information by topics. 

Redkix Pushes Collaboration Platform Into Public Beta 

Finally this week, San Mateo, Calif.-based Redkix has announced that it is opening its public beta and launching its paid premium program in private beta after a year in private testing.

Redkix, which combines email and team messaging, enables teams of any size to manage their messaging and email through one centralized location.

The release tacitly acknowledges that email is still the backbone of most enterprise work, despite the many attempts to replace it with the likes of Slack or Yammer. The result is a product that offers an email inbox for work email and a regular chat window to talk to collaborators.

According to a statement from Redkix, after years of research, the team determined several factors that contribute to the continued preference for email over collaboration tools: Most important, for collaboration tools to succeed, they require 100 percent participation and that is rarely, if ever, the case. In addition, with each new collaboration tool comes a second inbox to manage alongside the traditional email inbox.

Since rolling out in private beta in July 2016, Redkix claims that there have been more than 500,000 conversations in Redkix. As of this month, teams will be able to sign up and begin using Redkix through iOS, Android (private beta,) Windows and macOS, with web coming soon.