Microsoft's annual Ignite conference is how we learn about the products and features about to launch, and consider how they will change our work lives in the year ahead. Running October 12 to 14, Ignite topics span Azure, Microsoft 365, and Windows. In the paragraphs ahead I'll cover announcements related to collaboration and content management.
The base product gets a few new tricks including Cameo for adding your smiling presenter face to PowerPoint presentations (aka PowerPoint Live, on other meeting platforms you still have OBS); Excel Live because co-editing a spreadsheet in a separate Excel Online window was more than some IWs could grasp; and a new Channel experience with new page templates because it was too hard to let us replace the default Channel tab with the home page of the SharePoint site behind the Team. Or maybe that is the mechanism, but why reuse when you can rebuild with a format that you can't migrate old content into? Don't customers love migrations?
The real news here is Teams Premium (preview starting in December), which exists to supercharge Teams meetings. Intelligent Recap generates an agenda in retrospect (pro tip: this works even better when you have an agenda in advance) and assigns tasks mentioned in the meeting, adds branding to meetings and webcasts, and performs live translation with captioning.
Those who continue to use Zoom for meetings alongside Teams for chat and collaboration will appreciate not being charged extra. For everyone else this is perhaps a sign that Microsoft considers Teams to be fully baked, and we're in for Spirit Airlines-styled pricing for new features. At least they didn't buy Spirit in order to adopt the model.
Speaking of Yammer, have you tried Viva Engage? It's a really nice Yammer aggregator for Teams plus new-to-Yammer internal blogging features. Those with a more public persona will continue to prefer posting LinkedIn articles, but for orgs where a public voice is frowned upon, you now have a DLP-tooling-friendly option.
Mesh for Teams (Read the release)
Mesh for Teams competes with Facebook's vapour-enabled alternate-reality platform to let you and I replace our disheveled on-camera personae with pixel-perfect avatars. This should make it even easier for IWs to outsource thankless jobs to offshore proxies and avoid offices and calendars for another year.
I can say that I have attended virtual events, and also that it was easily as depressing as being in actual Las Vegas. This was admittedly a tough nut for technologists to crack, but I'm not sure it translates to better productivity or communication in the workplace. Yet. Mesh is a milestone some distance past SharePoint Spaces, it's only a matter of time until we get there. Too early to call whether this release is enough to convert those beyond the early adopters.
Clip Champ, Microsoft Designer, and Microsoft Create
Acquired by Microsoft in 2021, Clip Champ is a video editor. It looks to cover the basics, but begs the question, why? Microsoft Designer is a design tool that likewise produces design assets but without a clear sense of "from where or intended for what medium." Maybe it gains Microsoft a foothold in the tacit but uncrowded "images generated by AI" market, or does it? And finally, Microsoft Create is both a tool to help choose a design tool for your social media channel of choice, and perhaps to manage the publishing process. Will the Millenials like it? I have no idea, I'm writing this post on Notepad+ which I'll cut and paste into a featureless WordPress template.
I'm still hazy on the overall strategy here. Are these just fodder for Windows 11 and Surface ads? If VR and AR are ready for big investment, shouldn't they have a designer too? Perhaps real similar to one Microsoft already had? Whatever did happen to that suite of Photoshop and CAD killers?
Microsoft Places (Read the announcement, Available in 2023)
MS Places combines resource and room booking with location services, so you can see not only what rooms are available, but where people are from day to day - in the office, working remote, or mobile. By integrating these you also get into second order features like planning a commute or travel to a meeting, which MS Places fulfils with wayfinding and navigation features.
Book a desk near other team members, choose meeting rooms based on expected in-person attendance, and build usage reports for the people who lease your office space. Together with some truly cool new meeting room hardware, this is a proper upgrade of our original "collaborative spaces."
The Viva brand is expanding from Insights, Connections, Engage, Learning, and Topics, with the recently launched Sales and Goals apps. As the brand evolves we see the "employee well-being" theme shift to simply "ML/AI layer to extend apps." Which raises the question why SharePoint Syntex (now upcycled as Microsoft Syntex) remains not-Viva when it (more than less) does for content what Viva Sales does for CRM. Not enough of a Teams player?
What's curious is that Viva is becoming further entrenched as a brand of "insight add-ons" rather than infusing Microsoft's core products with ML and AI-lite features. While still the most novel and interesting area to watch (aside from quantum computing), you would think it easy for competitors with HR and Sales products to continue their domination simply by adding ML insights to their core apps rather than as add-ons. But, given that many haven't even bothered to build a Teams-integrated UI (what's that, you have a bot? that's cute, so glad you invested that one to five days of effort), Microsoft Viva remains the horse to bet on in the long run.
Microsoft Syntex (Read the announcement)
Where Viva includes apps in "co-optition" with other products (thinking LMS and CRM integration here), MS Syntex is a building block that can replace a whole class of document processing apps, and then some. Syntex does (or will do) automatic metadata tagging, language translation, summary generation, natural language search, annotations without modifying the original file, automatic classification, and in 2023 it just might become the only product since the Super Bass-o-matic '76 that lets you use the whole bass and nothing but the bass. Now that it's being de-Office-ified, the possibilities are only limited by MS Marketing's grasp of the underlying concepts and its ability to complicate their licensing.
Contract Management and Invoice processing are the easy targets to point SharePoint Syntex at (there is already a template for contracts, and one is on the way for payables), and most MS Partners with a collaboration focus (like me) can help you build the models to make this cool technology work for you.
While it's relatively easy to justify Syntex services against a competitor's subscription cost, migration remains a stumbling block for some customers. It's harder to solve this one than migrating to M365 from Dropbox or Google Drive, since the legacy apps often have their own, proprietary file management and few offer an API. Add a modest build cost for the UI and workflow needed, and it gets harder to justify a switch from the status quo. But for those who can simply add Syntex to an existing forms, contract, or invoice repository built on SPO, Syntex is a no-brainer and its future integration across the stack is a bandwagon you can jump on today. Syntex is one of the big pushes of Ignite 2022, and the buzz around potential benefits is fully justified.
Today Microsoft announced that Loop - ostensibly a competitor to its own MS Teams - is in private preview. What is Loop? From its home page we know it lets you do cool stuff like:
- "Think, plan, and create together"
- "Everything in one place"
- "Start with a page template"
- "Stay in sync" with a "single source of truth" for - get this - TASKS!
- "Collaboration your way"
As nearly as I can tell without being in the preview, Loop is Teams where you get to set the default tab to something other than an empty post wall. Or perhaps Teams for people who think Teams is overly complex, designed by and for developers (not altogether wrong). Until we get a real look, it's anyone's guess what incarnation the final product will take, or how much bandwidth will be needed to show every team member's cursor and live contributions to every other team member in the same UI. And here you thought MS forgot how to build products for small business.
Microsoft Power Pages
Joining the sterling legacy of MCMS, FrontPage, and arguably SharePoint Designer (but not Microsoft Designer, see above) this month sees general availability (GA) of Microsoft Power Pages, "a low-code development and hosting platform ideal for building business-centric websites." Essentially a rebranding of MS Dynamics Portals already rebranded once as Power App Portals, this should once and for all prevent any search engine from connecting these products as the same thing.
Microsoft listened to our complaints about the complexities of licensing its products and went full steam ahead to announce dozens of new SKUs including Teams Premium, Microsoft Syntex, Purview, and Sentinel. Remarkably, licensing is the one area to remain untouched by ML & AI juice (Viva Licensing anyone?), here's hoping that we see the area promoted from a Microsoft Certification to an MVP program specialty, because this is one field that ain't getting better for anyone.
From the home page: "Azure Purview is now Microsoft Purview: Microsoft Purview brings together trusted products for governance and compliance under one umbrella so it’s easier to manage all of your data."
Where M365 has great features for compliance, data loss prevention (DLP), eDiscovery, and file lifecycle management, Purview recognizes that not all your data lives in M365 and the dream remains unified data governance. That includes Azure storage, SQL databases (MS, Oracle, PostgreSQL, etc.), Salesforce, SAP, Power BI data views, and even AWS file services (complete list of connectors here).
This is powerful stuff and should prove an interesting journey for any org keen to build a unified approach to data governance. What is today considered novel, will in five to ten years be considered core.
I love bookmarks so much that I have at least a half dozen ways to lose them. I have bookmarks in my browser, bookmarks organized as Collections in my browser, resource channels for bookmarks in Discord, channels and chats to track bookmarks in Teams, and OneNote notebooks with still more collections of bookmarks. Many of these link to pages curated by other people with amazing lists of... bookmarks. Don't even get me started about list.ly.
So you can imagine my enthusiasm when the crew who used to work on shared browser experiences and group web surfing finally turned their attention to what we didn't realize we really needed all along: shared bookmarks. Colour coding, tabs, the ability to change the name - Edge Workspaces apparently have it all. Build a set and share, heck, collaborate on your links with a link that will be inevitably saved in someone's bookmarks. It's like the circle of life, reincarnate. Redundant you say? Maybe it's time you spent more time on the Edge.
That covers day one. Not saying good night, just sayin'.
About the author
Eli Robillard is increasingly weary of online conferences and this may affect his ability to remain serious in the face of increasingly stock-media-filled announcements and arbitrary product releases. He was a Microsoft MVP for 15 years and instrumental in launching several groups including the ASPInsiders, the Toronto SharePoint User Group (TSPUG), the Toronto SharePoint Camp, the Toronto Electronics Meetup, and a fistful of cover bands that refuse to be named "Viva Designer and the Syntex Airs." He lives in Toronto, Canada.