This was originally posted on Twitter but thought it was worth preserving on my blog using the ‘Unroll‘ option.
Replika is ‘The AI companion who cares’ according to their website. It’s supposed to be a virtual friend. It’s a chatbot – but is it AI? My guess is probably not, but see what you think from the following conversation:
Microsoft released Bookings several years ago which was a great solution that originated from the small business side, allowing customers to book times with a company such as a hairdresser; anywhere that having timeslots available against one or more employees made sense.
This expanded out to Enterprise users, and I used it myself to provide external people a way to book time with me easily. Through a link, they would get taken to a portal with some basic options I’d configured, and based on my own calendar’s availability plus the options (such as 1 hour meetings between 10am and 2pm), anyone with that link could create a meeting with me.
The catch was that someone would need to configure this in a Microsoft 365 tenant, which created another account and a special calendar to manage this. A user couldn’t set this up themselves if things like Group Creation are restricted.
This is where Bookings with me comes in. Currently available worldwide in preview (July 2022), if enabled on your tenant and you have any of the below licenses, you can enable and starting using Bookings with me:
Office 365: A3, A5, E1, E3, E5, F1, F3
Microsoft 365: A3, A5, E1, E3, E5, F1, F3, Business Basic, Business Standard, Business Premium
Meeting organising options
There’s 4 native Microsoft solutions I’m aware of (beyond Scheduling Assistant in Outlook for Microsoft 365!):
Scheduler and Cortana
Bookings with me
FindTime is available as an Outlook add-in or can be accessed via https://findtime.microsoft.com/. It’s designed to be used contextually when you’re trying to organise. Tell it who you want to invite, pick several time options (and if you have their free/busy, it will firstly show times everyone is available), send out the invite. Recipients vote on which times work for them, and once the votes are in, a meeting is booked. An online guide is available talking through all this and if you aren’t already using FindTime, I highly recommend checking it out.
Cortana can also organise a meeting for you using Scheduler. In an email, you tell Cortana to book at meeting without any special commands, and she sorts it out with everyone. I need to play with this one more, as it sounds too easy to do! Watch the video here to get a better idea how it works.
Bookings creates a special calendar that can be used by other people to book time with you. They go to a webpage and select from options you’ve configured, and it’ll create a meeting. This can be with 1 or more people, or from a selection of people.
Bookings with me is like a lighter version of Bookings, and it’s in the name – it can only be with you, but similar booking rules can be created, and the other person books you through a web page.
The original Microsoft Bookings can be accessed by going to your Outlook mailbox and down the left side, click the ‘b’ logo:
This will take you to a page where you can get started with Bookings.
However, Bookings with me is different and can’t be accessed that way. Instead, go to your calendar on Outlook for the web, and if available/allowed in your tenant, there will be a ‘Create bookings page’ link you can use – or just try this link: https://outlook.office.com/bookwithme/me
Once there, you’ll be presented with two options; public, and private.
Both of these options create rules on what will appear for people to be able to book with you, the difference being one everyone can see, and the other only viewable with a specific link. Good if you want to give certain people extra options/special access/longer meetings and so on.
Regardless of the choice you pick, the options shown are the same, and you can change your mind once you’re in it anyway between public and private.
The options are fairly self explanatory here, you can decide if it’s a Teams meeting or not, how long the meeting will go for, and if you want buffer or lead times.
It’s worth just creating a very basic meeting option, because it takes a little while for your Bookings with me page to get created (roughly 5-10 minutes for me, others have reported up to 30 minutes):
When done, you’ll then have the option to be able to share your Bookings page.
The link will be unique to your page. Here’s what someone clicking the link sees:
Note that consumer Microsoft accounts aren’t supported – it’s a work or school account, or guest. Once in, you’ll then see the meeting types and times available for each type:
You’ll be asked for basic details – Name and Email are mandatory, with notes letting the person hopefully tell you why they want the meeting. A guest needs to verify their email address with a verification code, and then both parties receive the meeting invite.
That’s really it. A simple idea that’s executed well. It’s a hugely useful way of letting people book a time with you and not needing to go back and forth around availability. The other options at the top of this post are better ways when there’s more people involved at your end, but for what it’s trying to achieve, I use it as much as I can.
Regardless of which option you pick – avoid trying to manually organise meetings if you can’t see everyone’s availability for yourself!
Azure Arc is another Azure service I haven’t used, but looking at this post I really want to know more. You can manage your on-premises servers (also Kubernetes clusters and SQL Servers) in Azure Arc by installing an agent. It’s also free*! to add servers in to manage, but I expect there’s some minimal related expenses with Log Analytics and runbooks. Worth having a play around with, especially if you’ve got minimal Azure services and want something to play with, without migrating actual services in.
Posts from Microsoft internal staff on what they’ve done for customers are always helpful. This one’s a simple process on how to calculate an estimate on how long it would take to migrate a VM to Azure using the size of the VM, the bandwidth available, and factoring in 30% compression.
Microsoft Defender for Business is out, which is great news for the smaller (or leaner) businesses. A bunch of content here around the product, but also Microsoft 365 Lighthouse for partners to support businesses for those using a partner to manage their security.
The Microsoft Remote Connectivity Analyzer is a very useful online tool for testing internet connectivity to different services, Exchange, Teams, Skype for Business/Lync amongst others. It’s worth checking what’s there so you’re aware of what it can do before you need it. Also linked is the SARA Client, a nice tool that can detect problems and misconfigurations of local Office installs.
“How much does cloud cost?” is a much more complicated question compared to on-premises, but such is the price of flexibility and a modular approach to using the bits that you want. Price Estimators like this that are easy to use are valuable to help answer the above question.
If you’ve looked into Microsoft Teams Rooms devices, you’ve had to look through the differences between Android and Windows based ones. This article focuses on Windows, as you can’t just put a Windows device out there unmanaged; there’s ways you can enrol and manage these devices in Intune (how do you ensure they’re patched etc otherwise?). This is a very long (lots of screenshots!) and detailed article on how to onboard the MTR for Windows type device.
If you’re using Microsoft Defender already, this is a really nice edition to the feature set. Agentless network detection and response of your IoT devices ‘just happens’ from our point of view, and it’ll pick up things like printers, smart TVs, CCTV systems – all that other stuff that most people ignore – and detect potential issues. Check out the features here.
When I first learnt about Office 365 Groups (which of course are now called Microsoft 365 Groups) I first thought ‘why don’t I upgrade all my DLs to this? However, after some testing there were differences that I couldn’t get around – the biggest being that if you email a DL as a member you get a copy of the email. If you email a Microsoft 365 Group as a member, you don’t get a copy of the email to you – because that’s ‘smarter’. Maybe, but people still like to see that email come back so they know they’ve successfully emailed a group. I really wish this was an option… anyway, my gripe aside, there’s other things that can go wrong when migrating over, and here’s some common scenarios to look at – including a nice tool called DLT365Groupsupgrade which is a PowerShell script to see what might be wrong and report back. Nice!
Microsoft Sentinel keeps getting better, and has done well to make a good name for itself in an already crowded SIEM space. One of the big additions is now support the MITRE [email protected] Framework, and another having a Unified Threat Hunting Community on GitHub where people can add and share their hunting queries.
Another one I like because it’s Microsoft applying one of their toolsets to someone else’s cloud. If I buy Microsoft Defender, I shouldn’t be limited to just Microsoft products. Defender for Cloud can now analyse the Google Cloud Platform (it could already do Amazon Web Services) and provide a bunch of recommendations, as well as Threat Protection for workloads.
A few years back, I tried to move this blog to WordPress on Azure. It was a frustratingly confusing and messy experience that I tried more than once, and gave up on. I’m hoping this improved App Service makes it a lot easier, maybe I’ll try again in the future :)
If someone wants to run a large meeting, send them this link. A bunch of considerations that will save pain and embarrassment when someone thinks they can just ‘wing it’ in front of a large live audience. There’s also other ideas around engagement and interaction, as well as limitations that are worth being aware of.
I don’t think Bookings gets the recognition it deserves. I use it all the time now when someone asks about my availability, and have the link to My Bookings page as a template in Outlook. Here’s some use case ideas in the education sector, but don’t think the product is limited to that in any way. Make booking appointments a lot easier – and think about what functions can be booked, not just people. Training, inductions, reviews; Bookings done right can save a lot of people a lot of time.
The Compliance Manager in Microsoft 365 covers a lot of areas around reducing risk, data protection and regulatory standards, and now there’s an extra layer (at a cost) to use templates that can apply to different regions, industries etc. You can do a 90 day trial to check it out. There’s a general push I’ve seen towards companies needing to be more complaint than ever before, so I expect many will need to start looking into these.
No idea about Compliance Manager? Luckily Microsoft has a bunch of free Ninja training on it at three levels – fundamental, intermediate, and advanced. If you think you’re already a pro at it, then take the Knowledge Check quiz and see how you do.
It’s not all just about Microsoft Sentinel as a SIEM in the Defender space, you can now send off your Alerts and Incidents to Splunk if that’s your preferred platform – and it’s this sort of open approach that will continue to help the Microsoft Defender stack continue to be successful and grow in the security space.
Visio for the web is getting several more features drop soon and for many, negates the need for a full desktop install as well as actually paying extra for a license. The two features I like are Format Painter (like when you do it for text, but instead a Visio object), and Snap Experience Improvements to make aligning your objects a lot easier to do. If you haven’t already, promote Visio for the web in your company and to your userbase!
Many people don’t know about the sysitnernal tools, or if they do, don’t know many of the actual tools themselves and what they do. The above four products have new versions, with the most notable being Zoomit which now supports pen and touch drawing as a part of it’s screen annotation and magnifying abilities – great for live presentations and demos.
The start of something many of us have dreamed of for a long time – applying patches and not requiring a reboot. Also, it only applies to patches that are in the hotpatch program – but it’s a start. This does just apply to Windows Server 2022 Datacenter: Azure Edition (Core) so that’s a bit of a limited audience, let’s hope this expands to everything.
If you have ever looked into Direct Access or Always On VPN, you would have seen Richard Hicks’ name come up. A very nice guy who even took the time out to talk to myself and a few colleagues over a call on some Always On VPN woes we had hit during rollout. If you ever need anything in this space, be sure to see what Richard has to say on the matter first.
For the use cases where you’d like cert based auth, you can now try this with Azure AD. The official documentation on how to set this up is here and as the article shows, after entering a username you can use the ‘Sign in with a certificate’ option in lieu of a password. This removes one of the remaining needs of running ADFS yourself.
Breakout rooms were one of those features Zoom had and Teams didn’t – but Teams has caught up, and continues to bring new features to the function. There’s more options around reassigning participants already in breakout rooms, better overviews of what’s happening with the participant assignment experience being updated, a breakout room timer that can be visible for participants, and Breakout room managers support letting more than just the organisers of the meeting manage the breakout rooms. All welcome additions and updates!
Yammer is one of the less celebrated aspects of Microsoft 365, and Rebecca Jackson consolidates many considerations on the benefits of Yammer. Worth a read from those who use and appreciate the platform.
The team is moving all the different types of submissions from users into a single area now, which makes management a lot easier. The four types of submissions are Emails, Email Attachemnts, URLs, and User reported messages. This is rolling out right now and you may already see these four tabs in the Submissions area of the Microsoft 365 Defender portal.