Second lockdown? Perfect time to unveil Teams Breakout rooms and another ginormitor – the 85-inch Surface Hub 2S

Virtual commutes and touchless meetings

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Ignite It wouldn't be a Microsoft event without some VP somewhere banging on about Teams, and the company's annual Ignite (now virtual) get-together did not disappoint.

Teams has received considerable Microsoft attention as the Slack-for-suits collaboration platform has gained in popularity, in part to it being tricky to avoid if you're a Microsoft 365 customer.

Now the subject of a sueball from competitor Slack, Teams is set to gain yet more functionality, both hardware and software-wise, in the coming year. After all, who wouldn't want to enjoy a bit of a collaboration time on a $21,999 85-inch jumped-up whiteboard?

Indeed, with some decent timing as parts of the world brace themselves for a potential second lockdown, the ginormitor is due to finally find its way into the hands of customers from the beginning of January 2021 following a lengthy gestation. It being Microsoft, only US customers will be able to paw at the giant Surface Hub 2S following the start of pre-sale reservations, with pricing from $21,999. Sadly, however, the altogether more intriguing 2X remains missing in action for the time being.

In-person meetings – only touchless

While the UK government might be recommending that those who can work at home should do so (by tomorrow the U-turn machine will have spun once more and sprayed policy like an incontinent elephant on a waltzer), Microsoft has also sought to improve the Teams experience via Teams Panels. The devices are to be mounted outside the meeting rooms to give information on a room's occupancy and capacity information as well directions for those lost in identikit corridors.

It is all terribly connected, although in a nod to today's world, Microsoft also confirmed that Teams Rooms devices would be supporting touchless meeting capabilities, with instructions barked at its long-suffering assistant, Cortana.

Many meetings will remain remote and, with an eye on the competition, Microsoft announced the impending addition of custom layouts to allow (as an example) a presenter to pop up over a PowerPoint slide (hopefully not obscuring that critical bit of information with a giant head) and Breakout rooms, due to arrive next month.

The latter is a critical feature, and one sorely missed by users having to present to large groups. The tech allows a presenter to break a meeting into smaller discussion groups and hop between them. Conferencing rival Zoom already allows up to 50 separate sessions to be created, functionality lacking in Microsoft's product.

Previously announced enhancements, such as The Muppet Show for Teams Together Mode also received attention as well as a "curated set of mindfulness experiences and science-backed meditations" aimed at calming stressed-out workers. Indeed, a "virtual commute" can be scheduled to ease you into your day (rather than the usual pad in your bedwear to wherever the home office has been set up).

The company will, however, not be handing out VR headsets to replicate the days of standing nose to armpit in an overcrowded train. Instead the hope is that workers will "have a productive start in the morning and mindfully disconnect in the evening" instead of being glued to their keyboards form dawn till dusk. ®


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