Today was the first day of the spring edition of Microsoft Ignite, the primary conference for Microsoft IT professionals. The first day always includes a lot of news for upcoming features which tend to get dumped all at once the same time as the opening keynote. After reviewing several of these news blogs and watching video sessions most of the day, here are the features which stand out to me. I will not cover nearly everything, but provided some links for more details.
This was the key product in the opening keynote. Many of us have now spent most of a year straight only communicating with our coworkers through screens. Together Mode in Teams certainly helped as it showed everybody together – it’s less cognitive load and does make it feel just a little bit like you’re together – but it’s still staring at a flat screen. But what if instead we all entered a shared virtual reality or augmented reality space, where we could still access our shared resources like files from our Microsoft 365? That would be a significant improvement to the meeting from home experience. Microsoft Mesh promises that kind of future.
Mesh is a platform, not a specific product at this point. It allows developers to create applications where we can share holograms and appear as avatars speaking to each other. They didn’t promise any particular implementation of this technology, but along with the meeting idea they did also have some fun like playing Pokemon Go in the park with your HoloLens headset on.
Teams had several feature announcements, as it often does.
- Dynamic view: this has been shown before but the flexibility will make larger meetings more pleasant and easier to focus on what you need.
- Encryption: end-to-end encryption on 1:1 video calls. That means your company or Microsoft couldn’t see your calls even if they tried.
- Presenter mode: when presenting a PowerPoint, you can choose whether to keep your own overlaid on top of the presentation. That will make it a lot easier for viewers to still see you, helping with things like joke delivery which I have found can be quite awkward in one-directional virtual presentations.
There are also new webinar capabilities to allow for public registration to an event, email reminders going out to those attendees, and moderation tools.
Teams Connect allows for sharing Teams channels with other organizations. I’ll need to see exactly how this works, but it was high on the list of improvements many wanted to improve interaction with clients and partner organizations.
Multi-geo support will allow for different Teams data to be housed in different regions, helping meet data residency requirements for large organizations with offices in different countries.
Endpoint transfer on calls will allow you to transfer a call seamlessly from one device to another. Get a call at your desk but need to finish on your phone as you leave the office? No problem, and the others on the call won’t notice.
Planner now supports up to 25 labels, a big jump from the previous 5. This is helpful to better organize your tasks.
There are two big announcements for Power Platform that stood out to me.
Power Automate Desktop is now free to any Windows 10 users. Previously this required a separate license. This allows you to automate all kinds of things you do on your computer, not just cloud services. If you find yourself doing some repetitive tasks, check this out as a possible way to save yourself that time.
Power Fx was first hinted at a week or two ago, but it is the simple programming language inspired by Excel formulas and now being deployed throughout the Power Platform. That’s going to add a lot of programming potential with syntax that a lot of people are already familiar with from Excel.
SharePoint Syntex is a relatively new tool for automating classification and data extraction from files. A few new features include:
- A find function: when you’re training your identification model, this will make your life a lot easier to jump to the relevant data to trying to tell the model to pay attention to, rather than having to scroll through long documents. It’s a little addition that can add up to a lot of time saved.
- Retention labels: automatically applied when the content type is identified
- SharePoint hubs: content types can now be assigned to SharePoint hubs. This will allow for changes to content types to roll out much faster to sites within the hub. The delay to roll out was always one of the more annoying factors when using content types, so this should help significantly.
This one is outside of the Microsoft 365 space but was still a good sign to me. Microsoft is partnering with some other companies to combat online misinformation through tools like identifying deepfakes. Misinformation on social media is one of the largest problems facing our world at the moment, so it’s promising to see that Microsoft is trying to help.