The 2017 edition of Ignite, Microsoft's conference for IT professionals and developers, kicks off Monday in Orlando, and the company has plenty to talk about, with a host of product announcements set for an unveilingthis week.
They include new services for Microsoft's Azure cloud platform, new versions of the Microsoft 365 software bundle, and enhanced security capabilities for battling cyber threats in Office 365, Windows 10 and Azure.
What follows are eight key announcements Microsoft is making at Ignite 2017 on Monday.
Microsoft 365 For Education
Following the July debut of a commercial suite of Microsoft's software, dubbed Microsoft 365, the company is using Ignite to announce a version tailored for the education market. Microsoft 365 brings together productivity applications (Office 365) along with Windows 10, device management and security into a single solution.
Microsoft 365 For Education is the third version of the suite - joining the company's enterprise and SMB versions - and will differ in a few ways. The suite will include Office 365 for Education and will bundle in Minecraft: Education Edition, along with enterprise mobility and security capabilities.
Microsoft 365 F1
Another new version of Microsoft's software bundle is Microsoft 365 F1, which is targeted for "first-line workers" such as sales associates and customer service employees. The suite will include a version of Office 365 tailored to the first-line worker user base (called Office 365 F1), as well as Windows 10 updates targeted to first-line workers, such as improvements to remote device management. The bundle will also feature enhancements to the Microsoft StaffHub app, used by first-line workers to manage their schedules.
In addition, Microsoft disclosed that entry-level Windows devices are planned for release that are also aimed at first-line workers. HP, Lenovo and Acer are among the manufacturers that will be producing the devices, which will run Windows 10S and be priced starting at US$275. They will include the HP Stream 14 Pro, available in October, and the Lenovo v330, available in February.
The evolution of Microsoft Teams
Microsoft announced that its vision for workplace communications will see the Microsoft Teams collaboration app replacing Skype for Business in Office 365 "over time" (no specific timeframe was shared). Teams is now getting new calling features such as call transfer, voicemail and calling to and from external phone numbers.
Meanwhile, Skype - which powers much of the existing communications in Teams - is getting enhanced infrastructure for improved quality of voice and video communications, Microsoft said.
Advanced Threat Protection enhancements
Microsoft said that Office 365 will be getting improvements to its Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) capabilities, through new features to combat phishing, impersonation and domain spoofing. Windows Defender ATP will also now have capabilities to fix certain security issues, rather than just alert users about them. Azure ATP, which is going into limited preview, will offer enhancements to improve the speed of security incident investigation, Microsoft said.
Dynamics 365 updates
Microsoft announced updates to its Dynamics 365 suite that aim to make the cloud CRM and ERP system more flexible. The company said it wants users to be able to move into Dynamics 365 gradually if they prefer, and so the firm is debuting "modular apps" that offer limited slices of functionality inside the platform.
The Attract modular app will focus on helping users to recruit qualified job candidates, while the Onboard modular app will offer personalised onboarding for new employees. Attract and Recruit will be available within the Dynamics 365 for Talent workforce solution "later this year," Microsoft said.
New Azure services launching
Following the acquisition of Cloudyn earlier this year, Microsoft said it will be making Azure Cost Management services - for optimising cloud spending - available to customers and partners for free through next June.
Microsoft also announced the general availability of SQL Server on Linux, Windows and Docker, as well as the availability of data migration services for movement of on-premise SQL Server databases to an Azure SQL database. Meanwhile, Microsoft said that Azure Stack, the company's hybrid cloud platform, is now shipping from initial hardware partners HPE, Dell EMC and Lenovo.
Azure Machine Learning and Database updates
Microsoft announced a preview of upcoming Azure Machine Learning updates, aimed at improving the platform for use by data scientists and artificial-intelligence software developers. The updates will include new tools for development of machine-learning models that make use of major open-source technologies.
In addition, Microsoft announced an integration of the Azure CosmosDB database service with the Azure Functions server-less platform, which is aimed at enabling quick software development in response to data from IoT sensors and other sources.
Microsoft Cognitive Services Updates
Microsoft said that its collection of APIs for AI capabilities, Cognitive Services, has received some enhancements that developers should find useful. A new text analytics service for language processing is now generally available, the company said.
The service offers features such as extraction of key phrases and language detection. Meanwhile, improved search capabilities available as part of Cognitive Services are coming in October, with the introduction of Bing Custom Search and Bing Search v7, Microsoft said.