Office 365 Waffle gets a welcome upgrade

Microsoft recently announced it’s going to re-imagine Office 365’s app launcher. App launcher? I mean WAFFLE, of course! Or, Start Menu, if you’d like. Many users just don’t get what the Waffle is until you tell them it’s essentially Start in the browser-based version of Windows.

I cover as much in introductory presentations. See below, if you’d like an easier way to explain Office 365 (and its Waffle).

Goodbye tiles

Anyway, the apps in the Waffle have always been square tiles. They’re resizeable and you can move them around, but it reminds me of those sliding puzzles, and I feel like I can never get it just right for myself.

The tiles, while functional, were always a bit overzealous on the space allocated to each. And square wasn’t exactly the most prudent shape (as we learned with Windows 8, since Windows 10 gave us back the Start menu). As more tiles got added, it was easy to get overwhelmed.

Instead, the Waffle has incorporated a more Start menu-like appearance, which is a welcome change. It also incorporates recent documents now.

(I would embed the overview video from Microsoft, but the Office support site uses a proprietary video player [a Microsoft product] that can’t be embedded into a LinkedIn article [a Microsoft product]. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

Existing features remain

Plenty of the features we’re used to with today’s Waffle will remain, including:

  1. All the apps are still there, for one.
  2. Apps can still be pinned to the Home so they’re readily available. Upon rollout, apps you’ve used in the last 45 days will be there by default. After that, you can add or remove them.
  3. Admin-provided apps (like links to intranets, time sheets, other org-specific cloud services) can still be added. On the plus side, they’re grouped at the top of the All apps view; the down side is an admin still can’t push an app to the Home view. Only a user can do that.

Additional features

In addition to the existing features, we get some new and improved experiences.

  1. Recent documents section, which is essentially the lower half of today’s Office 365 home.
  2. What appears to be a redesigned Office 365 home.
  3. The option to see additional information on each app, which can give confused and curious users alike some self-guided assistance. This is called the Office 365 Gallery.

Outlook is back… well, sort of

One of the big statements is Mail, Calendar, People, and Tasks is getting, I’ll call it reconsolidated into Outlook again. That brings four tiles down to one! Except, not really.

Yes, you’ll see Outlook in the Waffle now. And yes, Outlook Web App will include the four mail/calendar/people/tasks buttons just like the desktop app has had since, well, I was in elementary school.

But in actual fact, the apps remain separate in the All apps view of the Waffle. And if you’ve clicked any of them in the 45 days prior to the launch of the new Waffle, they’ll automatically be included.

I don’t think this is a bad thing, to be clear. I just don’t want people thinking that the four-apps-become-one representation I’ve been seeing online so far is actually true. Because it really isn’t.

Minor request to complete the Waffle

As I’ve now stated a dozen or so times, the Waffle is Office 365’s Start menu. You wouldn’t expect the Start menu to be available while you’re using the Outlook app, but not, say, the Skype app, right?

Except that’s how the Waffle experience is:

  • The Waffle is there but doesn’t open up in the page for Stream and Flow (though, curiously, it works in Flow’s sister PowerApps).
  • There’s no Waffle at all in MS Teams.

The Waffle is a global navigation tool. It should operate the same no matter which application I’m using within Office 365. I’d love to see Microsoft put the bow on the Waffle with this update. Please and thank you.

Always that question of timing

Office 365, while amazing in its ability to incorporate positive change and feedback thanks to its basis in the cloud, continues to present frustration to its administrators and users in the real world.

It’s important-nay, it is critical -to know when changes like this will occur so administrators and change agents can plan communications and change management, and so users won’t be totally shocked when things change on them.

Communicating changes within IT systems is hard enough. We need this to be more transparent. I’m sure I sound like a broken record these days, but this has become a serious pet peeve. The one key detail missing from almost every major feature update on Office 365 is timing.

Thanks for reading my rant. The info you were looking for is this: this change will be made “in the coming months”. It will be available in first release ahead of general availability.

Conclusion

This Waffle update is a welcome change and a very good example of positive feedback being incorporated into the suite on a reasonable timeline. Another piece of evidence that a cloud product is a better choice than on-prem because its agility is significantly better.


Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on September 14, 2017.