Microsoft - Dec 9, 2021

Microsoft Ignite 2021 – Part II: Into the Metaverse with Microsoft Mesh and Teams.

Back in March and well before Facebook (now Meta), Microsoft announced its new mixed reality platform, Mesh. The idea behind it is simple. Using holograms and their own VR and AR avatars, users have the opportunity to work in the same room without actually having to be in the same place. Welcome to the metaverse.

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Consultant – Microsoft and Workplace Management

E-Mail: florian.vees@bechtle.com

This idea was actually conceived before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the new hybrid work culture that has rapidly developed as a result. Microsoft has been investing in mixed reality solutions like the Xbox Kinect (remember that?) and HoloLens for many years now, and Mesh is the next logical development, based on experiences gained and developments in the world of work, to develop a platform using own hardware that brings together everything in one place.

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When Mesh was announced and first demonstrated in March, Alex Kipman, co-creator of Kinect and HoloLens head developer was quoted as saying “you can actually feel like you’re in the same place.” And at Ignite in November, Mesh was given a specific use case. Together with Teams and its over 250 million monthly active users, Mesh will in the future be the link to Microsoft’s idea of its own metaverse. From 2022, Mesh will enable people to bring their own avatars to Teams meetings so that they can meet their colleagues in a virtual, immersive place. Mesh and Teams are also building a bridge to the Nth Floor—a virtual campus for all those in the metaverse. It’s basically a completely virtual office complex where people can meet, share ideas, work together on projects and onboard new employees. Teams should play a big part by making the individual channels within existing Teams immersive, virtual spaces that take collaboration to the next level. Think Bruce Willis and the film Surrogates.

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The future of Microsoft Office.

Much like when Windows 365 was announced at Inspire 2021, I didn’t expect Microsoft to announce a completely new and standalone Office app any time soon, and so Microsoft Loop both surprised and amazed me in equal measure. According to Microsoft, it is high time that Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote got some back-up as a result of the significant changes in the way people work over the past year and a half. Gone are the days of communicating via e-mail, creating spreadsheets in Excel and writing documents in Word. By integrating the apps into Microsoft Teams, the boundaries between them have increasingly blurred. Hybrid and mobile working has brought with it meetings, surveys, tasks and task management, living documents and notes and a whole lot of dynamic ways of working, which Microsoft Loop should combine in one place. At first glance, Loop seems to be a mix of Teams Wiki, OneNote, PowerPoint, Sway Excel and Word with a dash of Fluid Framework to make something along the lines of Confluence. The idea is to have a central location where documents, information and knowledge can be collected and worked on, much like Microsoft Teams, but the focus very much on “think, plan, create.”

Microsoft Loop isn’t only available as an app, but also consists of three elements. Loop Workspaces is the front end and provides shared and accessible work spaces. This is where a mix of knowledge and information in the form of text modules, documents, images and other content sources can be collated, sorted, organised and prepared into Loop Pages to enable synchronous and asynchronous working.

And as if that weren’t enough, with Loop Components, the top features of Pages and Workspaces can be used directly in Microsoft Teams and (later on) in other Office applications as well. In this way, you can use Loop Components to put together surveys, voting tables and status trackers in real-time while simultaneously editing them in a chat or channel conversation. This is all based on the basic principles of Fluid Frameworks, which Microsoft announced a while ago.

In my opinion, Loop is Microsoft’s answer to the demand for an organised and complete enterprise Wiki solution. It’ll be interesting to see how Pages and Workspaces integrate into Teams and where the intersections will be.

Microsoft Editor now superpowered with Context IQ.

Microsoft Editor is one of those tools we all use, but no-one really knows anything about. The simple reason behind that is that it is so easy to use Microsoft Editor’s functions that users don’t give them a second thought. When I write an e-mail in Outlook and my cursor flashes on the page, waiting for me to type something, I’m using Microsoft Editor. I’m using it when I write a post on LinkedIn and even as I’m writing this blog, Microsoft Editor is helping make sure I don’t make too many terrible spelling mistakes. Context IQ is directly based on Microsoft Editor and its supporting functions and should significantly simplify the creation and writing of blocks of text and content.

So if, for example, you want to add an attachment to an e-mail or message in the future, Editor will suggest a suitable document. The suggestion is, of course, based on files and documents you have previously worked on with the recipient.

If a meeting is planned, Editor will recognise this and suggest potential times for all those taking part. When tagging colleagues in a file with the @ symbol, the Editor will then recommend potential people to tag based on the colleagues you are currently working with. When entering text and content, Editor suggests information such as a frequent flyer number or a sales message.

What’s next for Teams?

Of course, the metaverse and Mesh aren’t the only irons Microsoft has in the fire. In addition to countless smaller improvements and adjustments to Microsoft Teams and Meetings, a feature that I have been waiting for for a long time and which will further improve collaboration between in-house colleagues and external partners will be introduced in 2022. Microsoft Teams Connect will not only make it possible to invite and add guests, partners and users in your own company to the whole Team and the therefore to all associated content and channels, but also to send targeted invitations to individual channels. This spells the end of having to create new Teams to keep certain internal conversations and contributions separate from the rest.

 

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What does this mean for you?

It is becoming clear that features and ideas previously announced by Microsoft are slowly but surely being expanded and features of these announcements are finding their way into Microsoft 365. A great example of that is Microsoft Loop and Loop Components in Teams, which are based on the Fluid Framework concept, and Microsoft Mesh or the metaverse and the link to Microsoft Teams. It’s fun to follow these interconnections and how the slowly come together as pieces of a puzzle to form a polished picture, with the small difference that this picture will probably never be complete.

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Published on Dec 9, 2021.