Microsoft Marks 2 Years of Teams with Major Feature Announcements
- By Kurt Mackie
- March 20, 2019
Microsoft just announced a slew of enhancements coming to its Teams collaboration service, which turned 2 years old this week.
Microsoft describes Teams as its "collaboration workspace" or "intelligent workspace" solution, which brings together chat, voice and meetings capabilities. The company reports over 500,000 organizations are now using Teams across 181 markets and in 44 languages.
The new Teams features were described by Lori Wright, Microsoft 365 general manager, in an announcement and in a Tuesday Enterprise Connect event keynote talk. There's also a Sway overview document. Even more features, including ones notable for IT pros, were described in this Microsoft Tech Community post by Paul Cannon of Microsoft.
For instance, Cannon described new App Setup Policies for Teams, which are now at the preview stage. The policies let IT pros control which "integrated applications" will show up within a Teams client, either desktop or mobile. The policies will work with Microsoft-built and partner-built Teams-integrated apps, of which there are now over 250. The policies also will work with "the integrations you build for your organization," Cannon indicated. Examples of partner-built integrated apps cited by Cannon include Control for Microsoft Teams by Smarsh, MVision for Microsoft Teams by McAfee and InformaCast Fusion by Singlewire Software.
Other items of interest to IT pros can be found in this announcement last week, where Microsoft described new Teams improvements added in March. One standout is that "all new and existing teams can now accommodate up to 5,000 members, double the previous limit." Microsoft's announcement also had described expanding the distribution list import limit "to 3,500 users so you can easily populate the team." While those increased limits may seem liberating, there are "perils" to managing such large teams, according to Microsoft MVP Tony Redmond. He described them in this Petri article.
Microsoft also announced this week that data residency for Teams data for chat and other media is now available in France. Microsoft plans to establish Teams data residency support across all of its country-specific Office 365 datacenters.
New Whiteboard App
The demo of the new "Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams meetings" application was perhaps the most impressive of the bunch shown during the Enterprise Connect Microsoft keynote talk.
In the demo, an actual physical whiteboard was used by a presenter. The presenter took a photograph of the physical whiteboard, which, via a coming "content capture" feature, became a Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams meeting app for the other meeting participants to see. An "Ink Grab" capability is used to make "digital ink" out of the photographed whiteboard. During the demo, the presenter continued to write on the physical whiteboard after photographing it, and the changes subsequently appeared in the app for the other meeting participants. His body was semitransparent in the app, too, so that viewers could see what he was writing.
The new Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams meetings application is currently at the "commercial preview" stage for Teams users on Windows 10, iOS or Android operating systems. There's also a Web preview that's available. There are lots of nuances about the limitations of this preview app, though, which are described in this Microsoft support document.
This new app is not the same Whiteboard app that's on Microsoft Surface Hub conference room devices, but Microsoft intends to make it available for those devices "later in 2019." That's the same planned timeline for bringing this app to Microsoft Teams Rooms devices (formerly called "Skype Room Systems"), according to the support document.
Teams Features at GA
Some of the new Teams features were announced as being at the "general availability" stage this week, meaning they are deemed ready by Microsoft for use in production environments. They included:
- Live Events creation: Microsoft 365 licensees can now create live and on-demand video events for "employees, customers and partners" reaching up to 10,000 attendees. The video events, launched via Teams, Stream or Yammer services, are supported by an automatic transcription service, too.
- Data Loss Prevention: Organizations can protect against the "data leakage" of sensitive information via a Data Loss Prevention service that scans Teams "chats and channel conversations." The Data Loss Prevention capability for Teams is "generally available in all Office 365 and Microsoft 365 plans that include Office 365 Advanced Compliance," Microsoft's announcement indicated.
- E-discovery for calls and meetings: Organizations with legal discovery needs can search Teams content. It's available for licensees with "Office 365 and Microsoft 365 plans that include core eDiscovery capabilities." A "custodian management for Teams membership" capability is at the preview stage.
- Legal holds for on-premises Exchange users: Legal holds can be put on Teams content when end users use Exchange Server housed on local company infrastructure. It's available for "all organizations with Office 365 or Microsoft 365 E3 plans." In addition, "retention for Teams channels and chats is now available" for subscribing organizations.
- Supervision policies for channels and chats: Organizations can set policies for Teams users that will trigger when their communications should get reviewed for possible noncompliance with internal communication guidelines.
Notable Teams Previews and Coming Features
Other features described by Microsoft's announcements were described as being at preview, available next month or yet to come. Of the lot, here are perhaps the most notable ones.
"Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)" will be coming next month for use with Teams, according to the announcement by Cannon. Teams will work with "major VDI environments for chat and collaboration." Microsoft is currently working with Citrix "to enable calling and meetings features in Teams," he noted.
Not mentioned by Cannon was the possibility of Teams integration with Windows Virtual Desktop, a new and coming Microsoft VDI service that's based on Windows 7 or Windows 10 client operating systems. Microsoft has stayed quiet about Windows Virtual Desktop since announcing the product last September.
A secure private channels capability will be coming to Teams chats "later this year." This top-requested item will let users "limit which team members can see the associated conversation and content within that channel."
A similar communication restriction feature "coming soon" is the ability to set "information barriers" in Teams chats. The information barriers feature will let organizations limit "which individuals can communicate and collaborate with each other in Microsoft Teams."
Microsoft's marketing tends to talk about breaking down communication silos in organizations with Teams. However, it's perhaps not surprising that Microsoft is adding various blocking mechanisms, like the ones described above, for organizations that don't share that vision.
A Live Captions capability that transcribes speech on the screen during Teams meetings will be "coming soon as a public preview" in English. The idea of this feature is to make it easier for people who might not be able to hear so well, or who are less proficient in a particular language, to still be able to follow the conversation.
A Customized Backgrounds capability will be "coming soon" to Teams. It lets meeting participants put a background image behind them, if wanted.
Microsoft plans to issue a new Calendar App next month. It'll replace the current Meetings app in Teams, adding new functionality.
Google's Chrome browser for Windows and Mac already has the ability to join Teams meetings without an app. Microsoft plans to add three more capabilities, which will be "coming soon," namely "the ability to see [a] participant's video, application sharing and full desktop sharing."
Skype for Business Stuff
Microsoft's general intent is for its Skype for Business client to eventually get replaced by the Teams client. Organizations, though, may be finding the migration from Skype for Business to Teams to be somewhat complicated.
One organization that didn't have too much trouble making that leap is Microsoft itself. It announced this week that nearly all of Microsoft no longer uses Skype for Business Server. The company's full migration to using Teams instead is described in this Microsoft announcement.
Skype for Business is still getting development support from Microsoft, though. For instance, Cannon's announcement included a few Skype for Business-associated items, as well as details about coming partner-built unified communications hardware to support it and Teams.
One of those items is a Meetings First preview solution for organizations using Skype for Business Server and the Enterprise Voice voice-over-IP capability. Meetings First will let organizations "protect their voice investments by continuing to use their servers for Calling and Chat while harnessing Microsoft Teams for cloud-based meetings," Cannon's announcement explained without providing details. This feature was a notable item during the September Microsoft Ignite conference, promising help for organizations with investments in Skype for Business for voice. Microsoft MVP Tom Arbuthnot posted a useful summary about Meetings First in this October Microsoft Tech Community article.
New Skype for Business meeting devices are showing up at the Microsoft Teams Marketplace. Microsoft's hardware partners include AudioCodes, Crestron, HP, Jabra, Lenovo, Logitech, Plantronics/Polycom, Sennheiser and Yealink.
Direct Routing, a Microsoft service launched last year for organizations wanting to use their local telephone service provider to make calls from Teams clients, now has a Media Bypass feature that "improves AV [audio-visual] qualities." In addition, Microsoft gained two new certified session border controller partners, namely Oracle and TE-Systems. Certified session border controllers are required to use Direct Routing.
Also "coming soon" to Skype for Business will be "Dynamic e911, Location Based Routing, Music on Hold, and Busy on Busy" voice administration features. Microsoft is also planning to deliver a Cloud Voicemail offering "soon." Timing wasn't described.
The Teams 2-Year Future
If all of that information wasn't enough to digest, a prospective view for the next two years was offered in this article by Brian MacDonald, corporate vice president of Microsoft Teams. On top of his corporate role, he's credited as being the "creator of Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Project and Microsoft News."
MacDonald suggested that Teams will work with Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Teams will get designed to have more support for so-called "firstline worker" scenarios (some such improvements were announced back in January). Teams could get future Microsoft 365 security support, such as "offerings around identity and access management, information protection, and automated threat protection," he added. Lastly, MacDonald suggested that Teams could get "deeper integration with the Microsoft Power Platform -- PowerApps, Flow, and Power BI -- and with Dynamics 365."
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.