Almost two years after Apple’s M1 launch, Microsoft Teams goes native

Microsoft Teams running on a Mac.

Enlarge / Microsoft Teams running on a Mac. (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft has announced plans to roll out an Apple Silicon-native version of Microsoft Teams, but the release isn’t going to happen overnight.

In a blog post on its website, Microsoft claims the update will offer “a significant boost in performance” to users of Macs with Apple’s M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max, M1 Ultra, and M2 chips.

Teams has just been running as an Intel app via Rosetta 2 on M1 Macs since the beginning of the Apple Silicon transition in 2020. Direct competitors Zoom and Slack have offered native Apple Silicon support since December 2020 and February 2021, respectively.

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#apple, #apple-silicon, #arm, #m1, #m2, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #tech

Microsoft Teams turns your phone into a walkie-talkie

Microsoft Teams turns your phone into a walkie-talkie

Enlarge (credit: Getty)

One of the hallmarks of Boost Mobile prepaid phones in the early 2000s was their push-to-talk (PTT), or walkie-talkie, feature, which allowed you to play your voice through another Boost Mobile user’s phone speaker with the push of a button. Microsoft is now bringing a similar feature to iOS and Android devices via its Teams app. However, Microsoft isn’t using rappers and athletes to try to make PTT seem “cool,” as Boost Mobile did. Instead, the company is positioning the feature as a way to use technology to aid frontline workers.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Emma Williams, corporate VP of modern work transformation at Microsoft, announced that the walkie-talkie ability in Teams is now available “on all iOS mobile devices, such as iPhones and iPads, in addition to Android mobile devices.”

Williams also said the feature will come to some Zebra Technologies devices, such as rugged phones or scanning devices. Such products may even have a button you can press to connect instantly, just like real walkie-talkies and Boost Mobile’s old PTT phones.

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#boost-mobile, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #tech

With Mesh for Teams, Microsoft plans to bring 3D workspaces to remote workers in 2022

An interface and virtual workspace for Mesh for Teams.

Enlarge / An interface and virtual workspace for Mesh for Teams. (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft has announced its intention to create an immersive 3D platform called “Mesh for Teams” for virtual meetings. As the name suggests, Mesh for Teams builds on the company’s existing Teams collaboration platform and implements the mixed reality features of Microsoft Mesh.

Announced earlier this year, Mesh is a platform for virtual meetings and other collaborative gatherings in mixed reality (a catch-all term for virtual reality, augmented reality, or any combination of the two) using a variety of devices like the company’s own HoloLens products and Windows Mixed Reality headsets, among others. Users would have persistent avatars that accurately reflect their body language and facial expressions and would be able to wander around a virtual workplace.

Workplaces would use Mesh for Teams to invite employees to log in to 3D or 2D collaborative workspaces. Sitting around a virtual conference table, workers would be able to do some things that aren’t possible in the real world. For example, a presenter could see her notes in 3D space near a virtual white board while those watching the presentation only see what she writes on the board.

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#ar, #augmented-reality, #meetings, #metaverse, #microsoft, #microsoft-mesh, #microsoft-mesh-for-teams, #microsoft-teams, #mixed-reality, #tech, #virtual-reality, #virtual-workplace, #vr, #xr

Microsoft acquires video creation and editing software maker Clipchamp

Video editing software may become the next big addition to Microsoft’s suite of productivity tools. On Tuesday, Microsoft announced it’s acquiring Clipchamp, a company offering web-based video creation and editing software that allows anyone to put together video presentations, promos or videos meant for social media destinations like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. According to Microsoft, Clipchamp is a “natural fit” to extend its exiting productivity experiences in Microsoft 365 for families, schools, and businesses.

The acquisition appealed to Microsoft for a few reasons. Today, more people are creating and using video, thanks to a growing set of new tools that allow anyone — even non-professionals — to quickly and easily perform advanced edits and produce quality video content. This, explains Microsoft, has allowed video to establish itself as a new type of “document” for businesses to do things like pitch an idea, explain a process, or communicate with team members.

The company also saw Clipchamp as an interesting acquisition target due to how it combined “the simplicity of a web app with the full computing power of a PC with graphics processing unit (GPU) acceleration,” it said. That makes the software a good fit for the Microsoft Windows customer base, as well.

Clipchamp itself had built a number of online tools in the video creation and editing space, including its video maker Clipchamp Create, which offers features for trimming, cutting, cropping, rotating, speed control, and adding text, audio, images, colors, and filters. It also provides other tools that make video creation easier, like templates, free stock video and audio libraries, screen recorders, text-to-speech tools, and others for simplifying a brand’s fonts, colors and logos for use in video. A discontinued set of utilities called Clipchamp Utilities had once included a video compressor and converters, as well as an in-browser webcam recorder. Some of this functionality was migrated over to the new Clipchamp app, however.

After producing the videos with Clipchamp, creators can choose between different output styles and aspect ratios for popular social media networks, making it a popular tool for online marketers.

Image Credits: Clipchamp

Since its founding in 2013, Clipchamp grew to attract over 17 million registered users and has served over 390,000 companies, growing at a rate of 54% year-over-year. As the pandemic forced more organizations towards remote work, the use of video has grown as companies adopted the medium for training, communication, reports, and more. During the first half of 2021, Clipchamp saw a 186% increase in video exports. Videos using the 16:9 aspect ratio grew by 189% while the 9:16 aspect ratio for sharing to places like Instagram Stories and TikTok grew by 140% and the 1:1 aspect ratio for Instagram grew 72%. Screen recording also grew 57% and webcam recording grew 65%.

In July, Clipchamp CEO Alexander Dreiling commented on this growth, noting the company had nearly tripled its team over the past year.

“We are acquiring two times more users on average than we did at the same time a year ago while also doubling the usage rate, meaning more users are creating video content than ever before. While social media videos have always been at the forefront of business needs, during the past year we’ve also witnessed the rapid adoption of internal communication use cases where there is a lot of screen and webcam recording taking place in our platform,” he said.

Microsoft didn’t disclose the acquisition price, but Clipchamp had raised over $15 million in funding according to Crunchbase.

This is not Microsoft’s first attempt at entering the video market.

The company was recently one of the suitors pursuing TikTok when the Trump administration was working to force a sale of the China-owned video social network which Trump had dubbed a national security threat. (In order to keep TikTok running in the U.S., ByteDance would have needed to have divested TikTok’s U.S. operations. But that sale never came to be as the Biden administration paused the effort.) Several years ago, Microsoft also launched a business video service called Stream, that aimed to allow enterprises to use video as easily as consumers use YouTube. In 2018, it acquired social learning platform Flipgrid, which used short video clips for collaboration. And as remote work became the norm, Microsoft has been adding more video capabilities to its team collaboration software, Microsoft Teams, too.

Microsoft’s deal follows Adobe’s recent $1.28 acquisition of the video review and collaboration platform Frame.io, which has been used by over a million people since its founding in 2014. However, unlike Clipchamp, whose tools are meant for anyone to use at work, school, or home, Frame.io is aimed more directly at creative professionals.

Dreiling said Clipchamp will continue to grow at Microsoft, with a focus on making video editing accessible to more people.

“Few companies in tech have the legacy and reach that Microsoft has. We all grew up with iconic Microsoft products and have been using them ever since,” he explained. “Becoming part of Microsoft allows us to become part of a future legacy. Under no other scenario could our future look more exciting than what’s ahead of us now. At Clipchamp we have always said that we’re not suffering from a lack of opportunity, there absolutely is an abundance of opportunity in video. We just need to figure out how to seize it. Inside Microsoft we can approach seizing our opportunity in entirely new ways,” Dreiling added.

Microsoft did not say when it expected to integrate Clipchamp into its existing software suite, saying it would share more at a later date.

 

#biden-administration, #bytedance, #ceo, #collaboration-software, #computing, #exit, #facebook, #instagram, #ma, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #microsoft-windows, #mobile-software, #online-tools, #productivity-tools, #software, #technology, #tiktok, #trump, #trump-administration, #united-states, #video, #web-app, #webcam

Microsoft Teams will be built directly into Windows 11

Happy Windows 11 day. Microsoft is giving us our best look yet at its upcoming operating system, which is due out over the holidays. Following a year when the vast majority of our interpersonal communications arrived through computer and phone screens, the company is putting its communication software front and center.

Windows 11 will have Microsoft Teams built in, in a bid to compete more directly with communication platforms like Apple’s FaceTime. And like FaceTime, the key here is cross-device integration, making the service more hardware agnostic as people move from desktop to mobile and back again.

Image Credits: Microsoft

In an era when we’ve got more video chat platforms than we know what to do with, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we might be seeing the final nail in the coffin for the once-mighty Skype, which the company bought way back in 2011 for $8.5 billion. As it tried to do with Skype, Microsoft is looking to blur the line between consumers and professionals with the platform.

All versions of the new operating system will have Teams baked directly into the Start menu.

 

#apps, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams

Microsoft’s Reading Progress makes assessing reading levels easier for kids and teachers

Among the many, many tasks required of grade school teachers is that of gauging each student’s reading level, usually by a time-consuming and high-pressure one-on-one examination. Microsoft’s new Reading Progress application takes some of the load off the teacher’s shoulders, allowing kids to do their reading at home and using natural language understanding to help highlight obstacles and progress.

The last year threw most educational plans into disarray, and reading levels did not advance the way they would have if kids were in school. Companies like Amira are emerging to fill the gap with AI-monitored reading, and Microsoft aims to provide teachers with more tools on their side.

Reading Progress is an add-on for Microsoft Teams that helps teachers administer reading tests in a more flexible way, taking pressure off students who might stumble in a command performance, and identifying and tracking important reading events like skipped words and self-corrections.

Teachers pick reading assignments for each students (or the whole class) to read, and the kids do so on their own time, more like doing homework than taking a test. They record a video directly in the app, the audio of which is analyzed by algorithms watching for the usual stumbles.

As you can see in this video testimony by 4th grader Brielle, this may be preferable to many kids:

If a bright and confident kid like Brielle feels better doing it this way (and is now reading two years ahead of her grade, nice work Brielle!), what about the kids who are having trouble reading due to dyslexia, or are worried about their accent, or are simply shy? Being able to just talk to their own camera, by themselves in their own home, could make for a much better reading — and therefore a more accurate assessment.

It’s not meant to replace the teacher altogether, of course — it’s a tool that allows overloaded educators to prioritize and focus better and track things more objectively. It’s similar to how Amira is not meant to replace in-person reading groups — impossible during the pandemic — but provides a similarly helpful process of quickly correcting common mistakes and encouraging the reader.

Microsoft published about half a dozen things pertaining to Reading Progress today. Here’s its origin story, a basic summary, its product hub, a walkthrough video, and citations supporting its approach. There’s more, too, in this omnibus post about new education-related products out soon or now.

#artificial-intelligence, #education, #educators, #literacy, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #natural-language-processing, #natural-language-understanding, #reading, #reading-progress, #schools, #teachers, #teaching, #teams

This is your brain on Zoom

We all know these constant video calls are doing something to our brains. How else could we get tired and frazzled from sitting around in your own home all day? Well, now Microsoft has done a little brain science and found out that yeah, constant video calls do increase your stress and brain noise. Tell your boss!

The study had 14 people participate in eight half-hour video calls, divided into four a day — one day with ten-minute breaks between, and the other all in one block. The participants wore EEG caps: brain-monitoring gear that gives a general idea of types of activity in the old grey matter.

What they found is not particularly surprising, since we all have lived it for the last year (or more for already remote workers), but still important to show in testing. During the meeting block with no breaks, people showed higher levels of beta waves, which are associated with stress, anxiety, and concentration. There were higher peaks and a higher average stress level, plus it increased slowly as time went on.

Taking ten-minute breaks kept stress readings lower on average and prevented them from rising. And they increased other measurements of positive engagement.

Graph showing how breaks keep stress low during video calls.

Image Credits: Microsoft/Valerio Pellegrini

It’s certainly validating even if it seems obvious. And while EEG readings aren’t the most exact measurement of stress, they’re fairly reliable and better than a retrospective self-evaluation along the lines of “How stressed were you after the second meeting on a scale of 1-5?” And of course it wouldn’t be safe to take your laptop into an MRI machine. So while this evidence is helpful, we should be careful not to exaggerate it, or forget that the stress takes place in a complex and sometimes inequitable work environment.

For instance: A recent study published by Stanford shows that “Zoom Fatigue,” as they call it (a mixed blessing for Zoom), is disproportionately suffered by women. More than twice as many women as men reported serious post-call exhaustion — perhaps because women’s meetings tend to run longer and they are less likely to take breaks between them. Add to that the increased focus on women’s appearance and it’s clear this is not a simple “no one likes video calls” situation.

Microsoft, naturally, has tech solutions to the problems in its Teams product, such as adding buffer time to make sure meetings don’t run right into each other, or the slightly weird “together mode” that puts everyone’s heads in a sort of lecture hall (the idea being it feels more natural).

Stanford has a few recommendations, such as giving yourself permission to do audio only for a while each day, position the camera far away and pace around (make sure you’re dressed), or just turn off the self-view.

Ultimately the solutions can’t be entirely individual, though — they need to be structural, and though we may be leaving the year of virtual meetings behind, there can be no doubt there will be more of them going forward. So employers and organizers need to be cognizant of these risks and create policies that mitigate them — don’t just add to employee responsibilities. If anyone asks, tell them science said so.

#microsoft-teams, #science, #teams, #video-calling, #zoom

Microsoft is really pushing Teams with its latest accessories

The new Surface Laptop was the marquee arrival in today’s Microsoft announcement, but boy howdy, the company also dropped a whole bunch of new accessories. It’s a pretty broad range of new devices, including some small updates to existing products and entirely new entries. But there’s one clear through line across them all: Teams.

Microsoft is, after all, a software company at heart. That’s always fueled the company’s hardware products. So it’s really not a major surprise that its productivity software is the driving force here. After all, this is the company that was pushing Office integration on its earbuds.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Matter of fact, the company’s actually debuting a slight upgrade to its Surface Headphone line. The Headphones 2+ for Business. The big distinction here is the addition on-ear Teams control. The other additions to the well-received over-ear headphones are fairly minor (hence the telling “2+” name), including improved remote calling. They also run a bit of a premium at $299 to the Headphone 2’s $250. They’re shipping later this month.

Image Credits: Microsoft

The remainder of the new products fall under the “Modern” line, which currently also includes the Modern Mouse. Joining the Headphones are the Microsoft Modern USB and Wireless Headsets. Here the products get a dedicated Teams button for joining calls on MS’ platform. They’ll ship in June for $50 and $100, respectively.

Microsoft is also adding a 1080p webcam to the mix. The Modern Webcam has a 78-degree field of view and can shoot in HDR. There’s a privacy shutter on board, as well as software settings for things like auto white balance and facial retouching, if you’re so inclined. And yes, Teams certification. Can’t help but think this would have been a big hit this time last year, but for many working from home will be the new normal, going forward. That will ship in June for a reasonable $70.

Image Credits: Microsoft

The oddest addition is probably the Microsoft Modern USB-C Speaker. With Cortana seemingly dead in the water, Teams is once again the driving force here. It’s a desktop speaker with dual microphones designed for Teams calls and some light music listening. That one is also arriving in June, priced at $100.

#hardware, #microsoft, #microsoft-surface, #microsoft-teams, #surface, #teams

Will moving, ‘spacial video’ start to eat into square-box Zoom calls? SpatialChat thinks so

With most of us locked into a square video box on platforms like Zoom, the desire to break away and perhaps wander around a virtual space is strong. These new ways of presenting people – as small circles of videos placed in a virtual space where they can move around – has appeared in various forms, like ‘virtual bars’ for the last few months during global pandemic lockdowns. Hey, I even went to a few virtual bars myself! Although the drinks from my fridge could have been better…

The advantage of this spatial approach is it gives a lot more ‘agency’ to the user. You feel, at least, a bit more in control, as you can make a ‘physical’ choice as to where you go, even if it is only still a virtual experience.

Now SpatialChat, one of the first startups with that approach which launched on ProductHunt in April last year, is upping the game with a new design and the feature of persistent chats. The product debuted on ProductHunt on April 20, 2020, and rose to No. 3 app of the day. The web-based platform has been bootstrapped the founders with their own resources.

SpatialChat now adding a special tier and features for teams running town hall meetings and virtual offices, and says it now has more than 3,000 organizations as paying customers, with more than 200,000 total monthly active users.

The startup is part of a virtual networking space being populating by products such as
Teamflow, Gather, and Remo. Although it began as a online networking events service, its now trying to re-position as a forum for multi-group discussions, all the way up from simple stand-up meetings to online conferences.

SpatialChat uses a mix of ‘proximity’ video chats, screen sharing, and rooms for up to 50 people. It’s now putting in pricing plans for regular, weekly, and one-time use cases. It says it’s seen employees at Sony, Panasonic, Sega, LinkedIn, Salesforce, and McKinsey, as well as educators and staff at 108 American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and MIT, use the platform.

Almas Abulkhairov, CEO and Co-founder of SpatialChat says: “Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams represent a virtual office for many teams but most of our customers say these apps aren’t a good fit for that. They don’t provide the same serendipity of thought you get working shoulder to shoulder and “Zoom fatigue” became a term for a reason. We want to bring the best from offline work.”

Konstantin Krasov, CPO at DataSouls, who used the platform, said: “We had 2500 people in attendance during a 2-day event that we hosted for our community of 50,000 Data Scientists. SpatialChat enabled us to make a cool networking event, Q/A and AMA with thought leaders in data science.”

#computing, #europe, #harvard, #linkedin, #mckinsey, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #mit, #panasonic, #salesforce, #software, #sony, #stanford, #tc, #web-conferencing, #workplace, #yale, #zoom

Microsoft brings tighter integration to Dynamics 365 and Teams

As the pandemic drags on and we learn about the requirements of working from home with distributed teams, users could be craving more integration across their tools to help reduce the clicks required to complete a set of tasks. Today at the Ignite Conference, Microsoft announced tighter integration between its business suite Dynamics 365 and its collaboration tool Teams to help with that issue.

Alysa Taylor, corporate VP for business applications and global industry at Microsoft, pointed out that one of the advantages of this native integration approach is that it helps reduce context switching across different applications. “We are committed to really bringing together the collaboration platform and the business process layer to enable salespeople, service representatives, operations managers [and other similar roles] to really have a unified platform in which they both collaborate and have their everyday business functions,” Taylor explained.

This could manifest itself in a number of different ways across marketing, sales and service. For instance, a marketer can create a webinar, which they set up and track in Dynamics 365 Marketing tools and run in Teams as a streaming event with the Teams streaming setup integrated directly into the Dynamics 365 console.

In a sales example Taylor says, “We’re enabling sellers to be able to track the career movements of their contacts using the LinkedIn Sales Navigator, as well as connect very specific sales records within Microsoft Teams without ever having to leave Dynamics 365 Sales. So you can be in the Sales application and you have the ability to deeply understand a contact and any contact changes that occur in Teams, and that’s automatically updated in Sales.”

If your company is not an all-Microsoft shop and wants to use different tools as part of these workflows, Taylor says that you can use Microsoft cross-cloud connectors to connect to another service, and this is true regardless of the tasks involved (so long as the connector to the desired application is available).

Salesforce, a primary rival of Microsoft in the business software space, spent over $27 billion to buy Slack at the end of last year to bring this kind of integration to its platform. Taylor sees the acquisition as a reaction to the integration Microsoft already has and continues to build.

“I think that Salesforce had to acquire Slack to be able to have that collaboration [we have], so we are years ahead of what they’re going to be able to provide because they will not have these native integrations. So I actually see the Salesforce acquisition as a response to what we’re doing with Dynamics 365 and Teams,” Taylor told me.

It’s worth pointing out that Salesforce is far ahead of Microsoft when it comes market share in the CRM space with over 19% versus under 3% for Microsoft, according to Gartner numbers from 2019. While it’s possible these numbers have shifted some since then, probably not significantly.

#business-software, #cloud, #collaboration-tools, #dynamics-365, #enterprise, #microsoft, #microsoft-ignite-2021, #microsoft-teams, #tc

Microsoft updates Teams with new presentation features

It’s (virtual) Microsoft Ignite this week, Microsoft’s annual IT-centric conference and its largest, with more than 26,000 people attending the last in-person event in 2019. Given its focus, it’s no surprise that Microsoft Teams is taking center stage in the announcements this year. Teams, after all, is now core to Microsoft’s productivity suite. Today’s announcements span the gamut from new meeting features to conference room hardware.

At the core of Teams — or its competitors like Slack for that matter — is the ability to collaborate across teams, but increasingly, that also includes collaboration with others outside of your organization. Today, Microsoft is announcing the preview Teams Connect to allow users to share channels with anyone, internal or external. These channels will appear alongside other teams and channel and allow for all of the standard Teams use cases. Admins will keep full control over these channels to ensure that external users only get access to the data they need, for example. This feature will roll out widely later this year.

What’s maybe more important to individual users, though, is that Teams will get a new PowerPoint Live feature that will allow presenters to present as usual — but with the added benefit of seeing all their notes, slides and meeting chats in a single view. And for those suffering through yet another PowerPoint presentation while trying to look engaged, PowerPoint Live lets them scroll through the presentation at will — or use a screen reader to make the content more accessible. This new feature is now available in Teams.

Also new on the presentation side is a set of presentation modes that use some visual wizardry to make presentations more engaging. ‘Standout mode’ shows the speakers video feed in front of the content, for example, while ‘Reporter mode; shows the content above the speaker’s shoulder, just like in your local news show. And side-by-side view — well, you can guess it. This feature will launch in March, but it will only feature the Standout mode first. Reporter mode and side-by-side will launch “soon.”

Another new view meant to visually spice up your meetings is the ‘Dynamic view.’ With this, Teams will try to arrange all of the elements of a meeting “for an optimal viewing experience,” personalized for each viewer. “As people join, turn on video, start to speak, or begin to present in a meeting, Teams automatically adjusts and personalizes your layout,” Microsoft says. What’s maybe more useful, though, is that Teams will put a gallery of participants at the top of the screen to help you maintain a natural eye gaze (without any AI trickery).

As for large-scale meetings, Teams users can now hold interactive webinars with up to 1,000 people inside and outside of their organization. And for all of those occasions where your CEO just has to give a presentation to everybody, Teams supports broadcast-only meetings with up to 20,000 viewers. That’ll go down to 10,000 attendees after June 30, 2021, based on the idea that the pandemic will be mostly over then and the heightened demand for visual events will subside around that time. Good luck to us all.

For that time when we’ll go back to an office, Microsoft is building intelligent speakers for conference rooms that are able to differentiate between the voices of up to 10 speakers to provide more accurate transcripts. It’s also teaming up with Dell and others to launch new conference room monitors and speaker bars.

#artificial-intelligence, #ceo, #computing, #dell, #enterprise, #microsoft, #microsoft-ignite-2021, #microsoft-powerpoint, #microsoft-teams, #microsoft-office, #operating-systems, #presentation-software, #reporter, #software, #speaker, #tc, #web-conferencing

Dell monitors embrace video calls with pop-up webcams and Teams buttons built in

Dell’s latest monitors reflect the growing need for simple, solid solutions to video conferencing needs, with a clever pop-up camera and a perhaps too clever by half Teams integration. The new displays integrate a number of advanced features — but they’re still made strictly with offices in mind.

The new Dell 24, 27, and 34 Video Conferencing Monitors are clearly meant to be a turnkey solution to the need at many companies for video-capable setups that don’t cost a fortune.

The most interesting feature is a pop-up camera at the top; this isn’t the first one of these by far (we’ve seen them going back a few years) or even the first by Dell, but it is the first of theirs in a monitor as opposed to an all-in-one system, and it is probably the best one yet.

Dell's monitor has a pop-up camera.

Image Credits: Dell

The five-megapixel camera (which translates to somewhat more than 1080p, likely around 3K) won’t blow any minds, so if you want things like optical background blur and improved lighting, you’ll have to build your own setup. But it should be perfectly fine for work calls, and having it slip away when not in use is reassuring to the privacy-conscious.

An additional, non-obvious reason to like this setup is it means the camera isn’t confined to the bezel of the monitor itself, possibly allowing for a better lens and bigger sensor. I’ve asked Dell for the detailed specs and I don’t expect anything extraordinary, but it’s always better to have space than to pack the camera module into the margins.

At the bottom of these new screens is a pleasantly felted speaker bar, with just enough wattage for calls to sound fine — it won’t work for bangers, though.

But on the left side of that speaker are some interesting, if not entirely practical, new buttons. Most prominent is a dedicated Microsoft Teams button, along with call, volume, and mute buttons.

Close up of Teams button on Dell monitor.

Image Credits: Dell

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want one of those. And not just because we don’t use Teams.

Maybe this is just me, but I don’t like the idea of reaching forward and whacking my monitor, which I’ve carefully positioned, every time I want to adjust the volume or answer a call, or mute myself — good luck doing it subtly when the whole view shakes every time. Even if I did, I wouldn’t want a button dedicated specifically to a single brand of video conferencing. Seems limiting when so many video platforms are in play.

I would be far more likely to pay for a puck with those controls on it as well as a mono speaker for voices and mic that’s closer to me. And by the way, it might be better to leave noise cancellation to the software side of things — calling apps often integrate their own, and who knows how built-in noise blocking interacts with those.

No doubt this is a simpler product solution, of course, and also presumably one that Microsoft and Dell worked together on. The pop-up webcam also has an IR camera that works with Windows Hello, the face-recognition login method I didn’t realize existed until very recently.

Obviously this is Dell and Microsoft going after enterprise customers who are already in their ecosystem. But as a Dell monitor lover myself, I wouldn’t mind having a pop-up camera — minus the unnecessary sound bar and Teams button. Where’s the love, Dell?

The new video conferencing monitors will be available next month, starting at $520 for a 24-inch, then going up to $720 for the 27-inch and $1,150 for the (curved) 34-inch.

#ces-2021, #dell, #gadgets, #hardware, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #monitors, #tc

Salesforce acquires Slack for $27.7 billion

Slack logo floats in a cartoon sea.

Enlarge / Slack is evaporating into the Salesforce cloud, you could say. (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Salesforce, a cloud-services company that targets businesses, has announced that it will acquire workplace communication service Slack for $27.7 billion. The announcement follows a week of rumors and a steep bump in Slack’s value on the stock market in anticipation of the deal being made official.

Neither company has yet to announce in any detail what this will mean for users and customers. Salesforce is sure to include Slack in some of its broader bundles and, to more tightly integrate Slack with its other software services, “Slack will be deeply integrated into every Salesforce Cloud” and will become “the new interface for Salesforce Customer 360,” the press release says.

But anything else beyond that is speculation at this point. New features and development priorities or adjusted pricing models are possibilities, but we also don’t yet know when any user-relevant changes related to this acquisition will actually take place, either.

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#acquisition, #marc-benioff, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #salesforce, #slack, #stewart-butterfield, #tech

Courier raises $10.1M Series A to help developers integrate multi-channel notifications

Courier is an API platform with a no-code twist that helps developers add multi-channel user notifications to their applications. The company today announced that it has raised a $10.1 million Series A funding round led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Matrix Partners, Twilio and Slack Fund also participated in this round.

Previously, the company raised a $2.3 million seed round led by Matrix Partners, with participation from Y Combinator. That round, which closed in April 2019, was previously unreported. Bessemer Venture Partners’ Byron Deeter and Matrix Partners’ Patrick Malatack, the previous VP of Product at Twilio, will join Courier’s Board of Directors.

“While at Twilio, I saw developers wrestling with integrating multiple channels together into a single experience,” says Malatack in today’s announcement. “Courier’s vision of a single platform for connecting and managing multiple channels really compliments the channel explosion I was seeing customers struggle with.”

Image Credits: Courier

Courier founder and CEO Troy Goode previously led an engineering group at marketing automation firm Eloqua, which was acquired by Oracle in 2012, and as the CTO and Head of Product at logistics software provider Winmore. Eloqua is clearly where he drew his inspiration for Courier from, though, which he built out during his time at Y Combinator.

“And one of the things that I noticed and became very frustrated by was that with Eloqua, Marketo, HubSpot, there were a ton of different tools for marketing teams to use to communicate with prospects and our leads,” Goode told me. “But as soon as somebody became a customer, as soon as somebody became a user, we weren’t using those platforms. All of a sudden, we were manually plugging in infrastructure level systems like SendGrid and Twilio.”

The idea behind Courier is to provide development teams with a one-stop service for all their notification and communication infrastructure needs without having to build it from scratch. As Goode noted, large companies like Airbnb and LinkedIn can afford to build and maintain these systems to send out transactional emails to their users, often with teams that have dozens of engineers on them. Small teams can build less sophisticated solutions, but there’s really no need for every company to reinvent the wheel.

Today, Courier integrates with the likes of Slack, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, SendGrid, Postmark, Mailgun, MessageBird, Twilio and Nexmo, among others.

One thing that makes the service stand out is that it offers both a no-code system for users to build their massaging flows and templates, as well as the APIs for developers to integrate these into their applications. That means anybody within a company can, for example, build rules to route messages through specific channels and providers based on their needs, on top of managing the content and the branding of the messages that are being sent.

Image Credits: Courier

“You’ve got this broad array of potential providers,” Good said. “And what you need to do is figure out, okay, which provider am I going to use? And sometimes, especially at large organizations, the answer is multiple providers. And or email, you might need a backup email service in case your primary goes down, or you need to warm up an IP pool for SMS . You might have different providers per geography for both deliverability and price reasons. That’s really hard stuff to build yourself.”

But in addition, different recipients also have different preferences, too, and while users can build rules around that today, the company is looking at how to automate this process over time so that it can, for example, automatically ping users on the channel where they are most likely to respond (or purchase something) at a given time of the day.

Goode noted that it may be hard to convert big businesses to move to its platform given that they have already invested a lot into their own systems. But like Stripe, which faced a similar problem given that most potential users weren’t waiting to rip out their existing payment infrastructure, he believes that partnering with companies early and having patience will pay off in the long run.

#airbnb, #api, #bessemer-venture-partners, #byron-deeter, #ceo, #computing, #courier, #eloqua, #facebook, #hubspot, #mailgun, #marketo, #matrix-partners, #messenger, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #operating-systems, #oracle, #recent-funding, #sendgrid, #slack, #slack-fund, #sms, #software, #startups, #twilio, #whatsapp

An unsurprising wave of video-focused startups is trying to make video calls better

As Zoom and Microsoft and Google hammer it out for video-chat hegemony, startups are developing apps and services that either add on or compete with the major players.

There hasn’t been enough activity — yet — to call it a boom, but there’s enough going on to warrant our attention. Call it a boomlet, if you will, of startups looking to ride the wave of demand that video-conferencing has seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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The big players are not sitting still. Zoom has spent lots of 2020 on platform security after a surge in popularity exposed some frayed ends. Google has been working to make Meet, its own video-chat service, better and easier to find. And Microsoft has been hammering Teams’s abilities into stronger form as it uses the same product to fend off both Slack and Zoom, which is a tall order.

Other giants are getting into the mix. Reliance Jio, the Indian telecom subsidiary of megacorp Reliance, recently launched JioMeet, which has turned heads for looking rather similar to Zoom. It also quickly raced to millions of downloads. (That Google just put billions into JioMeet’s parent is an odd twist in the video-chatting wars; Google has effectively helped fund a competitor in the country, it appears.)

TechCrunch’s parent company, Verizon, recently bought BlueJeans, giving the American telecom company its own video chatting service. (It’s also eyeing the Indian market.)

But that’s only part of the action. More recently we’ve seen interesting rounds for video-chat software startups Macro and Mmhmm. And we’ve seen money go into companies like Daily.co, which want to let any company bake video-chatting capabilities into their service. And Y Combinator-backed Sidekick has been in the press lately, after building a hardware solution in mind for today’s remote workers who need video comms.

An upstart boomlet, then, amid a war of the majors. But should we have expected anything less from the huge wave of demand that COVID-19 kicked off? Zoom was growing quickly before the pandemic. Now the public company and a host of rivals, big and small, all want a larger slice of an expanding pie.

Video-conferencing startups

The two most interesting recent venture rounds for video-conferencing startups are those belonging to Mmhmm and Macro.

#daily-co, #fundings-exits, #macro, #microsoft-teams, #mmhmm, #slack, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange, #zoom

India’s richest man takes on Zoom

India’s Reliance Jio Platforms, which recently concluded a $15.2 billion fundraise run, is ready to enter a new business: Video conferencing.

On Thursday evening, the firm — backed by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man — formally launched JioMeet, its video-conference service.

Like Zoom and Google Meet, JioMeet offers unlimited number of free calls in high definition (720p) to users and supports as many as 100 participants on a call. But interestingly, it’s not imposing a short time limit on a call’s duration. Jio Platforms says a call can be “up to 24 hours” long. The service currently has no paid plans and it’s unclear if Jio Platforms, which has a reputation of giving away services for free for years, plans to change that.

Jio Platforms, which began beta testing JioMeet in May this year, said the video conferencing service offers “enterprise-grade” host controls. These include: password protection on each call, multi-device login support (up to five devices), and ability to share screen and collaborate.

Other features include the ability to switch “seemingly” from one device to another, and a ‘Safe Driving Mode’ for when a participant is in commute. Hosts can also enable a ‘waiting room’ to ensure participants have to ask for permission to enter a call.

Reliance Jio Platforms is taking on Zoom with JioMeet, which looks a lot like Zoom

JioMeet is available for use through Chrome and Firefox browsers on desktop, as well as has standalone apps for macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android. It also has an Outlook plugin.

In a call with analysts earlier this year, Jio executives had described JioMeet as a platform that they think would some day have features to enable doctors to consult their patients, prescribe them medicine, and have a system in place to let them buy medicines online and get test results digitally. Similarly, they said JioMeet will allow teachers to host virtual classrooms for their students, with the ability to record sessions, assign and accept homework, and conduct tests digitally.

JioPlatforms, which is India’s top telecom operator with about 400 million customers, operates a number of digital services including JioMusic, a music streaming service; JioCinema, which offers thousands of TV shows and movies; and JioTV, which allows users to watch more than 500 TV channels. All of these services are available at no additional charge to Jio Platforms subscribers. It costs less than $2 a month to be a Jio subscriber.

The launch of JioMeet today comes as tens of millions of Indians are working from home and using video conferencing services for work and to stay in touch with friends.

Zoom app, currently the most popular video conference service in India, on Android had about 35 million monthly active users in the third week of July, up from about 4 million users during the same period in March, according to mobile insights firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. (Android powers nearly 99% of smartphones in India.)

#apps, #asia, #google-meet, #india, #jio-platforms, #microsoft-teams, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms, #zoom

Microsoft’s romance with open source software is on display at Build 2020

An absolute ton of new announcements has been coming out of this week’s Microsoft Build 2020 virtual conference for Windows developers. While cool, most of them are a little thin for individual reports—so we’ll get you up to speed on them in this roundup, with links out to each topic if you’re interested in more.

Windows Terminal goes 1.0

As Windows 10—and Server 2019—pack in more and better command-line functionality, one of the parts of the overall experience that began looking shabby by comparison is the terminal itself.

Windows Terminal seeks to change that, and it has just gone 1.0. The terminal itself is open source and is available for perusal and/or hacking at Github under the MIT license. Microsoft’s own announcement makes a point of individually crediting 14 contributors by name and acknowledging hundreds more, which is a more-than-welcome sea change for those of us old enough to have lived through the Halloween Documents era.

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#build-2020, #edge, #fluid, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #tech, #uncategorized

Microsoft Teams goes down — just as everyone starts working from home

Microsoft Teams is down.

A lot of workers are staying at home because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Countries are shutting borders, entire industries are struggling, the U.S. Federal Reserve has slashed interest rates, and governments are scrambling to protect their populations by asking millions to stay at home.

Suffice to say, a Microsoft Teams outage right now is not exactly helpful.

The technology giant left a cryptic message — which at least is more than its users can do right now — on Twitter, stating that it’s “received reports that impact associated with TM206544 is ongoing.”

“We’re investigating the issue,” said Microsoft.

It’s Microsoft Team’s second outage in as many months after the software giant forgot to renew a TLS (HTTPS) certificate, forcing the service offline and users unable to communicate with colleagues for hours.

#apps, #computing, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #https, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #microsoft-office, #security, #software, #tay, #transport-layer-security

What to consider when employees need to start working remotely

The COVID-19 crisis is touching all aspects of society, including how we work. In response, many companies are considering asking some percentage of their workforce to work remotely until the crisis abates.

If your organization doesn’t have a great deal of experience with remote work, there are a number of key things to think about as you set up a program. You are going to be under time constraints when it comes to enacting an action plan, so think about ways to leverage the tools, procedures and technologies you already have in place. You won’t have the luxury of conducting a six-month study.

We spoke to a few people who have been looking at the remote working space for more than a decade and asked about the issues companies should bear in mind when a large number of employees suddenly need to work from home.

The lay of the land

Alan Lepofsky, currently VP of Salesforce Quip, has studied the remote work market for more than a decade. He says there are three main pieces to building a remote working strategy. First, managers need to evaluate which tools they’ll be using to allow employees to continue collaborating when they aren’t together.

#chat-apps, #covid-19, #enterprise, #enterprise-collaboration, #google-hangouts, #microsoft-teams, #personnel, #security, #slack, #social, #startups, #tc, #working-remotely