Groups for Office 365


Groups is a new collaboration feature within Exchange Online that is now live on at least some tenants. I have “First Release” turned on for my Office 365 tenant, and I now have Groups available so I figure that means I am free to talk about what this new feature is and what it does.

We MCM and MVPs did get an overview of Groups from the Exchange team last week. I’m not going to go into all the detail they shared with us, but I can share enough information to give you an overview of what Groups are.

As I said above, Groups is a collaboration feature. Defining Groups might be easiest if I start by telling you what Groups is not; Groups is not distribution lists, public folders, site mailboxes, or shared mailboxes. Groups is not an Exchange 2013 feature, Groups is not an Outlook feature.

That leaves us with Groups being an Exchange Online feature that only works from within OWA.

Everyone’s first question is “When is Groups coming to on-premises Exchange?” I do not know the answer, and the answer may well turn out to be “Never.” I heard the Exchange team say “We will not fork the product” too, but I didn’t believe it.

Everyone’s second question is “When is Groups going to work with Outlook?” Again, I do not know but this time I suspect that it is just a matter of time until Groups works in the Outlook client. Groups may only work with Outlook vNext, but I can’t imagine Groups not working in Outlook at some point.

So far I am 300 words into this post, and I have not told you what Groups is. Most of the reason for that is because I am having a hard time thinking of a clear explanation. Groups are similar to shared mailboxes in that it is a mailbox that multiple users can access. Groups are similar to distribution lists in that users can subscribe to emails posted to a group. Groups are similar to site mailboxes in that they are integrated with SharePoint online/One Drive for business.

Let’s walk through the process of creating a Group.

The interface to create a Group is pretty simple.

You simply choose a name, give your group a description, and choose if this is a Pubic (users who are not invited can join) or Private (users must be invited to join) group. You can also choose to have users receive email from this group in their own inbox.

Once your group is created, you’ll have the option to add the initial members.

Once that is done, you’ll have a group. Groups allow you to share conversations, documents, and calendars. Here is what my OWA screen looks like with the new Group in view.

Clicking the pencil icon in the lower right of the picture takes you to the screen to edit the properties of this Group.

From here you can edit the picture for this Group, allow people outside your org to email this Group, or subscribe new members so their receive emails in their own inbox.

Some other tidbits about Groups include

  • Groups show up in the GAL. Even private Groups will be listed in the GAL, and cannot be removed.

  • Only users with Exchange Online mailboxes can access Groups, even in a hybrid environment.

  • There is no licensing cost for Groups.

I’ll have more information on Groups in future posts, but for now are they any questions you’d like answered about Groups? Reply in comments or drop me an email.