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Microsoft extends Teams into VMware and Citrix VDI

Users will now be able to blur or replace their backgrounds during video meetings or calls

Microsoft is making it easier for Teams to work with virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) in a bid to grow the number of monthly active users on the collaboration platform.

In recent updates to the Microsoft 365 roadmap, the vendor said it will enable those on VDI from VMware and Citrix to blur their backgrounds during video calls or meetings on Teams or even replace the background with one of their own choice.

It's a capability that collaboration applications from many vendors offer – including Zoom and Cisco with its Webex platform. Microsoft has allowed users of its desktop and mobile applications to blur or change their backgrounds.

The general availability of the extension to Citrix and VMware VDI systems is expected this month, according to the roadmap schedule.

What had been a relatively steady shift of employees working from home or other remote locations accelerated almost overnight when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020 and most organizations around the world temporarily shuttered their offices and sent their workers home.

Collaboration online quickly became the norm, driving the skyrocketing growth in demand, users, and revenue for providers of the applications, including Microsoft. According to the company, it is continuing to see growth even as the pandemic – or the fear of the pandemic, now that vaccines are widely available – has lifted to a great extent.

In a series of tweets in January, Frank X Shaw, corporate vice president of communications for Microsoft, said Teams had passed 270 million monthly active users, up from 250 million last year. The number of active Teams Rooms devices also doubled year-over-year. More than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies used Teams Phones during the last quarter of 2021.

As many companies adopt hybrid work strategies, with employees being able to work out of the office at least one day during the week, the desire to personalize the experience has grown. Being able to blur the background while keeping the person in focus is one way to do this.

Enabling the user to choose a background that highlights something about themselves is another.

It dovetails with what Microsoft talked about in a blog post late last year when introducing Mesh for Microsoft Teams, a feature that combines the mixed-reality functions in Microsoft Mesh with the Teams collaboration tools. After more than a year of the pandemic, the vendor's productivity experts found that remote workers were more efficient than businesses had expected, but that they also missed their co-workers.

"The ability to work from anywhere and connect with colleagues online is awesome, but remote meetings can feel impersonal and lack the small moments that build relationships and careers," the company wrote.

As part of the effort to spread the goodness of Teams to other platforms, Microsoft also is now supporting the use of Teams human interface devices (HIDs) on VMware VDI.

Microsoft earlier this year designated HID as a device class definition, replacing PS/2-style connectors with USB drivers to support typical HID devices like mice, keyboards, and game controllers as well as a broad array of other devices, like bar code readers, volume controls on speakers and headsets, sensors, and alphanumeric displays.

Like the background blurring feature, the support for HIDs on VMware VDI is scheduled to roll out this month.

In addition, people using teams on their Android devices can now join meetings on both their device and Teams Rooms with a single tap.

When they use the new capability, which began rolling out in August, "audio on their device will automatically be turned off to ensure echo doesn't happen," Microsoft wrote in the description. "Furthermore, the landing experience on Android will be optimized for engagement activities to make it easier to raise hand or react, chat, see all participants, and more." ®

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