Over the past few years, the Microsoft 365 ecosystem has rapidly grown in both the number of first-party products and services offered by Microsoft and third-party apps that integrate with Azure AD. Yet, we’ve seen little to no improvement in the way apps are presented to end users.
The app launcher (waffle menu) has gone over a few iterations but still isn’t universally supported across all apps. Even the app icons are displayed differently across different M365 endpoints, resulting in a very fragmented experience. On the other hand, simple feature requests, such as the ability to centrally add an entry to the app launcher on behalf of the end user has been ignored for years. Now, we’re finally seeing Microsoft address some of the most common pains.
Pinning applications to the app launcher
Admins will finally be able to “pin” apps to the app launcher, meaning the app will be displayed on the initial view, without users having to go through the All apps page and manually “pin” it first. Amazing stuff, I know. But given how much time it has taken for Microsoft to develop this basic functionality, we should cherish it. Now, this hasn’t all been released yet, but you can take a glimpse of how the feature is supposed to work in the recording of the BRK2061 session. The corresponding controls can be found in the Azure AD blade under Enterprise apps -> User settings, but only after you’ve added the “?feature.officepromotedapps=true” string to the URL to access the preview. This last part will not be needed once the feature is released officially.
As seen on the screenshot above, up to three different apps can be added here, and you can also arrange the order in which they will appear on the app launcher. The office.com landing page will also display them as part of the apps section, once the feature is released that is. The process of adding an app is simple – press the Add application button and browse the list of first- and third-party apps registered in your tenant. We are still limited in seeing the first 50 apps in the picker and search enforces a “begins with” condition, but improvements are coming on that front as well.
While the app launcher “pin” feature described above is certainly a step in the right direction, there is some doubt it will be useful for anything but the smallest organizations in its current form. At the very least, an option to configure different apps for different sets of users is needed, and this is where the Azure AD Workspaces feature comes in. Workspaces allow you to configure a custom “view” or “filter” so that the given user is presented with just a subset of the applications available in the tenant which are most relevant to them. They will be surfaced to them as a separate tab on the new “My apps” page, alongside the full list of applications, in the office.com page or other app-related experiences.
Before we start playing with the feature, we need to take care of some prerequisites. First and foremost, the feature is still in preview so all the relevant parts might not be available to both admins and end users.
Start by navigating to the Azure AD blade -> User settings -> User feature previews and toggle the Users can use preview features for My Apps setting to either All users or Selected. This will enable the new My apps experience for your selected users, and can be accessed directly via https://myapplications.microsoft.com/. I’ve demonstrated how this should look in the screenshot above.
The actual Workspaces feature should be available in public preview for all tenants, but in case you don’t see it in yours, add the “?feature. Workspaces=true” string to the URL. The last requirement is you need to assign the Azure AD Premium P1 or P2 license to the user creating the workspace. Microsoft hasn’t clarified yet whether the same license requirements will apply to the users under the scope of workspaces, or if they will only be needed for the user performing the management tasks. Once the feature is officially released, we should know some more information about that.
Lastly, you need to make sure you have the required permissions to create a workspace. Currently, only users holding the Global administrator, Application administrator or the Cloud application administrator roles qualify, but that will probably change in the future.
Provided all the prerequisites we’ve discussed are met, you can head to the Azure AD blade -> Enterprise applications page to start working with Workspaces. First, let’s click the New workspace button to create our first custom group of applications. The process is fairly simple – we start by providing a Name and optional Description or the workspace. Since you can have multiple workspaces in the company and even multiple workspaces assigned to the same subset of users, it’s a good idea to keep things organized and diligently fill in the details on this page. Note that the name does not need to be unique and the UI will not warn you or stop you from creating a “duplicate” one.
On the next page, you’ll assign the applications. To do so, click the Add application button and select your desired apps from the picker, this can be anything from one up. The usual annoyances will have to be dealt with – the limited number of apps displayed and search capability that leaves a lot to be desired, but as mentioned above improvements are coming in this area as well. Applications that you have already added to the workspace will appear grayed out in the picker. You can also rearrange the apps in the order you want them to appear by using the relevant buttons or even drag and drop the entries. Please note, that users will only be able to see applications they have already been granted access to, adding an application to a workspace assigned to a given user doesn’t grant the user permissions to use the app.