Microsoft launched a number of important SharePoint and Office 365 improvements tied to the kickoff of its SharePoint 2014 Conference in Las Vegas on Monday. Among the changes: a standalone OneDrive for Business, new Office 365 developer tools and APIs, the first service pack for SharePoint 2013, and, most intriguingly, some new Office 365 social experiences that could really change things.

"We believe the future of work is all about working like a network," Microsoft Office Service and Servers Vice President Jeff Teper said. "It's about how we build relationships, share information, and respond to ever-changing conditions. And it's founded on an openness and transparency that will drive a new level of productivity. . . . Personalized and proactive insights are required to cut through the noise. As humans, we have an incredible ability to achieve, but only if we can focus. And we need technology to help us, so that we can focus our energies on accomplishing big things."

I spoke with Microsoft General Manager Julia White about the many Office 365 and SharePoint announcements the firm made throughout the information-heavy first day of SPC14. She said that in many ways this show is about the push to the cloud and about helping IT understand that this shift isn't just necessary, but brings many advantages.

Here's an example. In the pre-cloud days, when organizations would roll out whatever combination of on-premises servers, there was no way to ensure that there were other servers present. So the feature set for each server was predominantly based on what you could do with just that product, and although there were certain "better together" crossover features, it was mostly a standalone affair. As you move forward to a cloud service such as Office 365, you can now guarantee that everyone has all the servers. So the way that Microsoft thinks about these products changes dramatically. Now they're not islands of functionality, and they can be considered and updated as a cohesive, integrated whole.

OK, let's get to the nitty gritty. There's a lot of it.

Standalone Version of OneDrive for Business

On April 1, Microsoft will launch a standalone subscription to OneDrive for Business (formerly SkyDrive Pro), an offering that will sit alongside the business versions of Office 365, the individual Office 365 services (Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online), and Office 365 ProPlus, which is a subscription-based version of the Office 2013 Professional Plus suite. For $5 per user per month, you get 25GB of storage space per user, with the option of buying more.

Why would you want such a thing? As it turns out, Microsoft has discovered that it's the cloud storage and document collaboration features in OneDrive for Business, and not email, that's the low-hanging fruit for enterprises looking to move in a measured way to the cloud. Think about it: A truly successful on-prem-to-cloud email migration will have absolutely zero impact on end users; everything will just work. (And that's only if you're lucky: There's a lot of risk around such a migration.) But with this standalone OneDrive for Business, you can augment your on-prem SharePoint servers with the cloud-based services that your users want and have an immediate and positive effect. And you still get all the IT and compliance control your organization demands: Everything is managed through the management console you're already using. (Although this does require SharePoint 2013 SP1, described below.)

I wrote a bit more about this offering in "OneDrive for Business Gets Standalone Service, Other Improvements."

SharePoint Server 2013 Service Pack 1

SharePoint Server 2013 Service Pack 1 (SP1) is now available for users of the latest on-premises version of SharePoint. Like any service pack, SP1 combines previously released and new performance, reliability, and security fixes. But unlike some service packs, SP1 also comes with some new features. These include the ability to connect cloud-based OneDrive for Business storage from the new standalone OneDrive for Business offering noted above, the ability to replace the built-in SharePoint Newsfeed with Yammer, and support for JSON Light in OData v3 requests (a developer feature).

You can download SharePoint 2013 SP1 now from the Microsoft website.

New Social Experiences

Microsoft announced three new "social experiences" at SPC14, each of which is tied to that "work like a network" quote above and, more specifically, to leveraging Yammer capabilities throughout Office 365, often using technologies from FAST. These include the following.

Office Graph. Extending the enterprise graph from Yammer, Office Graph maps the relationships between people and information by recording their likes, posts, replies, shares, and uploads in email, social conversations, documents, sites, instant messages, meetings, and more. In other words, it works across the Office 365 offerings and not just with SharePoint. Brilliant.

"Oslo." This new app taps into the Office Graph and then presents information in a way that is more natural so users can navigate, discover, and search for people and information across the organization. "Oslo is a game changer," White said, noting that this kind of technology could replace our current day-starting workflow whereby we work through our inbox backward by addressing the newest messages first. With Oslo, you can organize by what matters most, and not just email.

Groups experience. Built on Groups from Yammer but coming to all Office 365 applications, Groups will "unify people, profiles, conversations, email, calendars, and files." When you create a group, Office 365 will provision an inbox, social feed, calendar, and document library that group members can use to collaborate. And they can choose to communicate through the Yammer feed or email inbox; their choice.

While these new experiences sound exciting, they're not quite ready and will roll out in late 2014 and beyond, White told me, with Oslo and Groups hitting first.

And there's a lot more, including substantial updates to the web-based developer platform that facilitates web apps that can be rendered within the context of each Office 365 app. This includes updated SDKs and tools for that platform, as well as slight rebranding of things to the Office 365 Development Model. In fact, there's so much going on here that it's a bit hard to keep it all straight. Keep an eye on Windows IT Pro and SharePoint Pro for the latest from SPC14.