Microsoft Inspire 2022: Enterprise Collaboration Upgrades on Display

Microsoft kicked off Inspire on Tuesday with a laundry list of improvements aimed at enhancing how users collaborate across the company's software and services offerings.

The collaboration improvements touched on Microsoft Teams Connect Shared Channels capability, Excel Live for content editing by groups of people, a Video Clip sharing application and a Collaborative Annotations feature that was added to the Microsoft Whiteboard app.

Microsoft also described a new "Viva Engage" addition that will be coming to its Microsoft Viva "employee experience platform." It also announced coming enhancements to its Windows 365 desktop-as-a-service offering.

The announcements were general news items, rather than being specific to the Microsoft Inspire partner audience.

Microsoft Teams Connect Shared Channels GA
One important item for organizations was the "general availability" (GA) announcement of Microsoft Teams Connect Shared Channels. This capability, which is now at the commercial-release stage for use by organizations, gives Microsoft Teams users an easier way to collaborate across organizations.

In essence, Microsoft Teams Connect Shared Channels adds a new "shared channel" option in Microsoft Teams, in addition to the existing "standard" and "private" channels. Shared-channel use avoids the clunky "tenant switching" effect that currently exists for Teams guest users. Moreover, guests on the shared channel only get the privileges of the team on which they are made members, which can avoid potential data oversharing issues.

While sharing is easier and more controlled for organizations with the Microsoft Teams Connect Shared Channels capability, it's explicitly an opt-in choice, both for the organization doing the sharing and organization of which the guest is a member. The IT departments of both organizations have to opt into the sharing for it to work.

Earlier descriptions of Microsoft Teams Connect Shared Channels at the preview stage suggested that both organizations can only use custom settings with the shared channels if they have Azure Active Directory Premium licensing. Possibly, using shared channels also depends on having set up Azure AD accounts for end users.

Shared channels is just one of the features of Microsoft Teams Connect, which is a broader capability that was described during last year's Microsoft Ignite conference. At press time, Microsoft Teams Connect was listed as being at the private preview stage.

Microsoft Teams User Perks
Teams users will be seeing some new tools for collaborations at some point, including Excel Live, Video Clip sharing and a Microsoft Whiteboard Collaborative Annotations feature.

Excel Live is one of those enhancements that will be coming. It lets various Teams meetings participants collaborate using Excel spreadsheets in "real time." Microsoft just introduced Excel Live in the announcement and didn't indicate when it would be available to Teams users, nor was its release status characterized.

Excel Live is part of the Live Share in Teams capability that was announced at Microsoft's Build conference for developers back in May. Live Share uses the Microsoft Fluid Framework to synchronize meetings, which is done entirely "client-side, with just a few lines of code." The Teams SDK includes extensions that developers can tap to build various apps for Live Share.

Microsoft also described the Video Clip feature in Microsoft Teams. It's a new chat feature that lets Teams users record and share short videos. Availability wasn't described.

The Collaborative Annotations feature is another addition, this time for the Microsoft Whiteboard app. Teams participants can "draw, type and react" using the content that's displayed in the Whiteboard app. The Collaborative Annotations feature in Microsoft Whiteboard is "now generally available," the announcement indicated.

Microsoft Viva Engage
Microsoft announced a new Viva Engage addition to its Viva suite. Viva Engage is said to be based on Microsoft's Yammer app, adding "consumer-like social networking" capabilities for the workplace.

Viva Engage has "Storyline" and "Stories" features for sharing "news and insights." Viva Engage can also be used to answer questions and prompt discussions. It's designed to "help employees feel heard and included," the announcement explained.

While Viva Engage might seem like it does what the coming LinkedIn Glint addition to the Viva suite will do, the two modules aren't doing the same thing. Here's how a Microsoft spokesperson explained the difference between the two modules:

Glint -- now part of the Microsoft Viva EXP -- is an employee engagement measurement solution that provides employee feedback surveys to help drive insight and action to improve the employee experience. Viva Engage is a new Viva app that builds off of community and conversation experiences powered by Yammer to provide a social platform for employees to connect with each other, share what they know, join in conversations, and express themselves at scale. By late 2023, both will be available in the Viva suite, with Viva Engage becoming available in late 2022.

With the arrival of Viva Engage and LinkedIn's Glint early next year, Microsoft Viva will have expanded to include eight modules total, which surface in the Microsoft Teams app. The other Viva modules are:

  • Viva Connections, which provides a news feed and permits content sharing.
  • Viva Insights, which is designed for employee time management.
  • Viva Learning, giving employees access to learning libraries.
  • Viva Topics, used to surface information within organizations.
  • Viva Goals, for helping to meet objectives and key results in organizations, coming in Q3 2022.
  • Viva Sales, for gathering sales data from Microsoft 365 apps, coming in Q4 2022.

Windows 365 Perks
Microsoft is adding improvement to Windows 365, its desktop-as-a-service offering. With Windows 365, users access desktops and applications remotely from Microsoft's servers via virtual machines, which are called "Cloud PCs" by Microsoft.

The Windows 365 service is now getting enhanced with Citrix's HDX Plus for Windows 365. HDX ("high-definition experience") is Citrix's bundle of technologies used to optimize virtual desktop experiences. HDX decreases the overall bandwidth that's used with the service and increases the number of users per host servers. The announcement didn't indicate when Citrix's HDX Plus for Windows 365 would arrive for Windows 365 subscribers.

Windows 365 Business is one of the two Windows 365 desktop-as-a-service product plans. Windows 365 Business is for organizations with up to 300 "seats" or users. Microsoft on Tuesday indicated that it will be making it easier for organizations with Windows 365 Business subscriptions to "automatically enroll Cloud PCs" using Microsoft Endpoint Manager. The enrollment will be like enrolling physical devices. Microsoft Endpoint Manager will also give IT pros a Point-in-Time Restore feature for rollbacks, and it'll be possible to use it to enroll Cloud PCs "using a Microsoft Account." The timing for these improvements wasn't described.

Also, Microsoft will be expanding its Windows 365 offerings to government entities. It's adding a Government Community Cloud product and a Government Community Cloud High product for local, state and federal agencies, plus government contractors. Availability wasn't described.


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