Microsoft said Monday it is starting to roll out a faster new version of its Teams communication app for Windows to commercial clients enrolled in a preview program. The software will become available to all customers later this year, and Microsoft also promises new versions of Teams for Mac and the web.
Since its 2017 debut, Teams has become the jewel of Microsoft 365, the subscription-based productivity software bundle formerly known as Office 365. Companies rushed to adopt Teams to keep workers connected through video calls and text chats during the Covid pandemic. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in January that more than 280 million people use Teams every month, even though many workers are again commuting to offices.
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Microsoft Teams had some performance issues in 2020, which the company resolved. In 2021, with Teams usage still rising, Microsoft began building a second generation of the software with an eye toward improving performance, Jeff Teper, president of collaborative apps and platforms at Microsoft, said in an interview with CNBC.
Reports of a new version of Teams circulated earlier this year. Teper said this prompted “a lot of agitation” but that he did not want Microsoft to announce the update until the program had achieved an internal goal of being twice as fast as before while using half the memory as before.
The new version also includes enhancements meant to simplify Teams, building on the more than 400 feature updates Microsoft delivered last year, some of them meant to help Microsoft catch up with rivals, Teper said. Competition comes from the likes of Cisco, Google, Salesforce-owned Slack and Zoom.
Instead of displaying a kind of ribbon of functions for a chat, Teams will hide several options behind a plus sign that people can click on. It’s a concept people have become accustomed to on other messaging applications, Teper said. For example, in Slack, users can upload documents or set reminders after clicking on a plus sign under the area where they type messages.
During Teams video calls, the software will show every participant on screen in a box of the same size, rather than giving more space to participants with their cameras on. Until now, Teams calls have sometimes resembled Piet Mondrian paintings characterized by their squares and rectangles of varying sizes and colors, Teper said.
Microsoft is also adjusting Teams so that people who belong to multiple organizations can more easily stay on top of what’s going on.
“Instead of logging in and out of different tenants and accounts, you can now stay signed in across them all — receiving notifications no matter which one you are currently using,” Teper wrote in a blog post.
Corporate workers who get access to the new version of Teams will see a switch at the top of the application window that will enable them to go back to what Microsoft is calling the classic version, he wrote in the blog post.
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