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Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Working from home: The future of business is remote

Microsoft Teams' new feature: Group chat jumps from 100 to 250 people

Microsoft beefs up chat features in Microsoft Teams to take on rivals like Zoom and Google Meet.

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

With Microsoft Teams use exploding during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Microsoft has been busy filling out features to compete with rivals like Zoom, WebEx, Google Meet, and Blue Jeans.

The latest update impacts group text chat in Teams, which Microsoft is expanding from 100 participants to 250 participants. The change, spotted by Petri, is rolling out through May. 

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Users have the same controls available to stop notification overload as they had with 100 participants. After more than 20 people take part, several features are turned off, including Outlook automatic replies and Teams status messages, the typing indicator, video and audio, sharing, and read receipts. 

SEE: Working from home: Success tips for telecommuters (free PDF)

However, Petri notes that Teams doesn't allow admins to limit a chat group's size, and the maximum capacity for calls remains at 20. 

Microsoft last week revealed Teams daily active users had grown to 75 million, up from 44 million a month earlier. 

It's been busy improving Teams features, last month boosting the number of participants who can be seen on screen in a group video meeting from four to nine, but that still leaves it short of Zoom, which supports up to 49 participants on screen. 

Microsoft also introduced a 'raise hands' feature so meeting attendees can see who wants to speak, a background blur effect for the desktop and iOS devices to focus users' faces, and live captions for iOS and Android devices in English. Microsoft is planning to roll out multi-window chat support by the end of the month, too.          

Google has also been ramping up efforts behind Google Meet video conferencing and will soon be offering the premium version to everyone for free. Google says Meet's daily meeting participants now exceed 100 million.

The moves to improve video conferencing come as more C-level execs turn to remote working as a longer term feature of doing business after restrictions under the pandemic demonstrated that certain types of work can still be carried out effectively from home. 

SEE: Zoom security: Your meetings will be safe and secure if you do these 10 things

But the biggest winner from remote working during the pandemic has been Zoom, which has 300 million daily users. Zoom is still in the midst of its 90-day security review and freeze on feature development prompted by the security and safety issues emerging from zoombombing. 

Slack, another rival in enterprise collaboration, hasn't seen as dramatic increase in use during the pandemic, but it did gain 9,000 new paid customers between February 1 and March 25.    

Microsoft officials meanwhile boasted big-name customers using Teams, including Continental AG, Ernst & Young, Pfizer, SAP, Accenture – its first customer with over 500,000 Teams users – and the NFL.