Microsoft Teams free version: Now these live captions bulk up your video-chat features

Microsoft also says video calls in Teams grew 1,000% in March.

Microsoft adds new features to Teams: Group chat can reach 250 users

First, Slack forced Microsoft to provide a free version of Teams chat, and now 'video-first' outfit Zoom has obliged Microsoft to bulk up Teams video-chat features for free users. 

One of the latest additions to the free version of Teams video conferencing is live captions, a feature previously only available for enterprise customers with an Office 365 subscription.  

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The feature is only available in preview in US English for now but it could be useful for people with hearing difficulties or in any situation where people find it easier to understand English by reading text. However, Teams doesn't save live captions. 

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Microsoft 365 boss Jared Spataro highlighted the live-captions feature in a roundup of recently released features for the free version

Among the new features is the ability to add custom backgrounds to Teams, as ZDNet reported last week. Custom backgrounds are an addition to blurred backgrounds and the existing gallery of Microsoft's background effects. 

While the effects offer some protection from background distractions in the home, Microsoft offers no guarantee that they will hide all sensitive information.    

Microsoft is bulking up the free version of Teams in an apparent effort to compete with Zoom and capture the same amount of growth it has enjoyed during the coronavirus pandemic remote-working boom. 

This month, Microsoft started allowing users of the free version of Teams to set up a video meeting. Previously, free Teams users could only join a meeting set up by a user with a paid Teams account. Users can create a link to share with others or schedule a meeting via Microsoft Outlook or Google calendar.      

Microsoft is also racing to deliver support for 49 on-screen participants in Teams video meetings, which would match Zoom's on-screen capacity that's been one of the reasons for its success during the pandemic. 

Some teachers have complained that the nine-person on-screen limit in Teams isn't sufficient for remote lessons. Before May, Teams users could only see four participants on a video call

Spataro boasted that video calls in teams grew by "over 1,000%" in March, but he offered no base figure. Microsoft hasn't updated Teams daily active user numbers since declaring it grew from 44 million in March to 75 million by the end of April. 

SEE: New in Microsoft Teams: Teams-Skype interoperability plus pop-out chat windows

Zoom, which saw daily participant numbers grow from 10 million in December to 200 million in March, with peaks of 300 million in April, recently boasted it's had an unprecedented number of free video participants whom it hopes to convert to paid customers in future.

Over the past few months Microsoft has introduced Skype for consumer and Teams integration, improved broadcasting capabilities using Skype technology, and made it easier to install custom Power Apps-based business apps to Teams

In the enterprise, Microsoft will retire Skype for Business Online on July 31, 2021 and as of last September it's only offered Teams to new Office 365 customers. 

A key difference between the free version of Teams and the paid version is the amount of storage available to each user and guaranteed uptime. Teams free offers 2GB per user and no guaranteed service level, while the paid-for version provides 1TB and 99.9% uptime with financial compensation if it falls below that level.

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The free version of Teams gets live captions, a feature previously only for enterprise customers with an Office 365 subscription.

Image: Microsoft

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