Microsoft Teams escalates Slack rivalry with shared external channels, previews smart speakers, adds new presenter modes

Microsoft says new intelligent speakers for Teams Rooms will use voice recognition to identify up to 10 people in a meeting. (Microsoft Photos)

Microsoft Teams will let users create shared channels for communicating and collaborating outside their organization, extending the reach of its workplace hub as people around the world enter their second year of working from home and start to contemplate a limited return to the office.

The capability, called Microsoft Teams Connect, is similar in concept, and name, to the Slack Connect feature launched by Microsoft Teams’ main rival last year. Capabilities include chat, meetings, and the ability to collaborate on documents and apps. It comes with administrative controls to set permissions for external access.

Microsoft says Teams Connect it will be available in private preview today in advance of its broader rollout later this year.

It’s one of several new Teams features to be announced at Microsoft’s virtual Ignite industry conference on Tuesday. Microsoft is competing not only against Slack, which is being acquired by Salesforce, but also against Zoom, Google and others to build what amounts to an operating system for virtual and hybrid work.

Teams Room intelligent speakers: Microsoft is unveiling new smart speaker devices that will use voice recognition to identify up to 10 people in a meeting, creating the ability to use their names in the live meeting transcript. These speakers are designed for use in a Microsoft Teams Room setup in a physical office. The company says the speakers will be available in private preview later this year. No pricing was announced. One of the images shown by the company (above, right) looks strikingly like an older-generation Amazon Echo Dot.

Encrypted calls: A new capability in Teams will support end-to-end encryption for one-on-one Teams calls to meet higher security and compliance requirements. Microsoft says it will be available later this year.

PowerPoint Live: This feature will give presenters a single view of notes, slides, meeting chat and the virtual audience when giving a virtual presentation, more closely matching a real-word experience. Attendees will be able to navigate the PowerPoint presentation on their own, as well. This is available as of today.

Presenter Modes: A new capability in Teams will let presenters adjust how their presentation appears to viewers, including a reporter mode that puts the content above the presenter’s shoulder in the style of a news show. There’s also a side-by-side mode. Another mode, called standout, will show the speaker in front of the content. Standout mode is launching first.

Dynamic view: This feature automatically arranges different components of a meeting depending on the circumstances, including the speaker’s video, audience, and presentation. It’s slated to be available to Teams users later this month.

New webinar support: Another new feature will let users run interactive webinars for up to 1,000 attendees in Microsoft Teams, with the ability to broadcast view-only webinars to up to 20,000 people. In an unusual twist, Microsoft will reduce this broadcast limit to 10,000 attendees after June 30 of this year. The higher interim limit is designed “to accommodate heightened demand for virtual events during this period of remote work,” the company says.



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