Microsoft has been giving Outlook a lot of love in recent months and two new features just announced will continue the trend: Outlook’s inbox will be getting a makeover with the introduction of its new Focused Inbox and @Mentions will be added to create the individual targeting functionality currently used by many social networks.

The Outlook improvements seem to be following the playbook Google pioneered two years ago when it introduced Gmail’s Inbox as a means of achieving the elusive “inbox zero” — free of spam and unwanted promotions. 

Last December, for example, Outlook began automatically adding events from email to calendars and last month Microsoft added simplified summary cards to inboxes and calendars for travel reservations and package deliveries.

Meet Outlook’s Focused Inbox 

Here’s how Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for the Office 365 Client Apps and Services team at Microsoft, describes Outlook’s new Focused Inbox:

“Outlook’s Focused Inbox [helps] you focus on the emails that matter most to you. It separates your inbox into two tabs — Focused and Other. Emails that matter most to you are in the Focused tab, while the rest remain easily accessible.”

Calling the Focused Inbox the “command center” of the working day, Koenigsbauer positioned it as a means of offering users an intelligent way to separate emails that require immediate attention from those that can go onto the back burner. 

To assure users that nothing of importance will be missed due to Outlook’s rigorous spam filter however, the Focused Inbox will also provide notifications about which emails are being channeled into the Other mailbox. 

Focused Inbox was first released on Outlook for iOS and Android and is now being offered to all new Outlook users.  It will start rolling out to users of Office 365 in September.

@Mentions Adds Targeting Capabilities 

The @Mentions feature will allow individuals to be targeted within email messages, similar to the current functionality employed by Yammer and other intranets and social media platforms. 

@Mentions is already available in Outlook on the web. As of this week, @Mentions is available to Office Insiders using Outlook 2016 for Windows and Mac, and will be coming soon to Outlook for iOS, Android and Windows 10 Mobile.

Office Productivity Apps Get Smarter

Microsoft also announced several new apps to improve Office productivity as part of Microsoft’s strategy aimed at dominating the enterprise space by offering workers more and better tools. 

In addition to the new Outlook features, there are also improvements to Word and PowerPoint. For Word, Microsoft has introduced Researcher, a new service that enables users to find reliable sources and content and incorporate them into documents and presentations. 

Researcher uses the Bing Knowledge Graph to pull in appropriate content from the web and provide structured, safe and credible information. Microsoft will also continue to add reference materials such as national science and health center data sources, well-known encyclopedias and historical databases. 

Meanwhile, the new Editor offers users advanced proofing and editing services. It will deploy machine learning and natural language processing — supplemented by input from Microsoft’s own team of (human) linguists — to make suggestions to help improve writing.

Although neither of these upgrades may seem dramatic in isolation, taken together with the Outlook upgrades, they underscore Microsoft’s ongoing commitment to making its productivity offerings more intelligent.

AvePoint Connects SharePoint, SAP Jam

AvePoint has also been busy over the past week with the release of AvePoint Perimeter Service Pack 6, which offers a new way to connect Microsoft SharePoint with the SAP Jam social software platform.

In a statement, Jersey City, NJ-based AvePoint said that the integration will allow groups and teams to work on projects and information from a single platform. AvePoint has also launched its storefront on the SAP HANA App Center site.

The bottom line here is that SAP Jam communities will be able to collaborate on documents that reside in SharePoint without leaving SAP Jam. Group administrators can simply “pin” SharePoint documents and folders to their SAP Jam communities, allowing the SharePoint documents to surface through AvePoint Perimeter from within the SAP Jam group interface.

Released in 2013, AvePoint Perimeter offers mobile SharePoint access and secure collaboration while reassuring IT administrators of content security.

The SAP HANA App Center is the marketplace for solutions built on Walldorf, Germany-based SAP technologies. It enables users to discover and procure partner applications running on SAP HANA and SAP HANA Cloud Platform.

Learning Opportunities

FileHold Adds dtSearch Courier

The past week also saw Burnaby, British Columbia-based document management software provider FileHold integrate Bethesda, Md.-based dtSearch’s document sending software, Courier.

FileHold document management software includes a mobile interface which gives users access to their documents from anywhere and from any device. 

The application can run as a cloud-based configuration or using on-premises servers. Features include document imaging and scanning; document workflow and approval; and records management, including archiving, retention and disposition policies.

The new Courier feature enables secure document transmission to any email address, both inside and outside the FileHold system. For full-text searching inside the FileHold system, FileHold uses the dtSearch Engine. 

The dtSearch Engine works with online and offline data, including emails and attachments, a broad range of document types, website data and other databases.

Zia, Snowbound and Alfresco Announce Strategic Partnership

Enterprise content management vendor Zia Consulting, based in Boulder, Colo., has announced a strategic technology partnership with document viewing software vendor Snowbound to provide Alfresco users with a faster and more robust document viewing solution.

The aim is to extend Palo Alto, Calif.-based Alfresco collaborative capabilities even further with extensive format support and dynamic features that include annotations, redactions and page manipulation.

Snowbound is the latest company to sign up with Zia, joining Alfresco, Ephesoft, SeeUnity, Crafter and Covertix. 

Google Docs and Sheets Get a Mobile Boost

Google introduced nine new apps yesterday aimed at upping the mobile productivity of Google Docs and Sheets. 

The add-ons, available for download in the Google Play store, mainly come from third-party applications. The apps aim at improving tasks ranging from business document scanning with the Scanbot app, pulling customer relationship data into Sheets using either the ProsperWorks or Zoho CRM app, or signing digital documents with the help of the Docu-Sign e-signature app. 

In a blog post announcing the release, Saurabh Gupta, product manager for Google Apps wrote:“We know many of you consider your mobile device as your primary tool to consume business information, but what if you could use it to get more work done, from anywhere? We’re excited to introduce Android add-ons for Docs and Sheets, a new way for you to do just that.”

Microsoft may beat the mobile productivity drum louder than Google, but these apps signal a potential change in direction for Google. While its desktop offerings provide viable alternatives to Microsoft's, Google has lagged when it comes to providing mobile support for workers. 

Google has a lot of catching up to do, but if it continues to release more comparable apps to these, it might just make up for lost time.