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Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Working from home: How to get remote work right

Microsoft Teams or Zoom? A salesman offers his stunning verdict

If you thought the two videoconferencing tools were more or less the same, listen to those who sometimes have to spend more than eight hours a day on video calls.

Zoom or Microsoft Teams? It's not even close, say senior executives

Lockdown is easing here in California, so I've taken the chance to spend a little more distanced time with actual human beings other than my wife.

Last week, I enjoyed a careful drink -- or two -- with a high-ranking software salesman and a senior executive of a household name in (what might loosely be called) fashion.

Somehow, the conversation got around to Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

To my mind, there's little difference. I use both. Both work. I see faces, I hear voices and I occasionally smile, while admiring other people's taste in wall-adornings and casual wear.

Zooming Passions.

Yet suddenly the software salesman -- let's call him Emanuel -- offered uncommon vehemence: "Oh, Zoom is a lot better than Teams."

It is?

"It looks better," said Emanuel. "It's got more options for how the participants are arranged on the screen. Everything about it is more intuitive."

This seemed like a passionate subject for him, so I probed further.

"So which one do you use more often?" I asked.

"Teams," he replied. "I used Teams first and it was the default because my company uses Microsoft Outlook and there's always a link right there to add a Teams meeting."

"So even though you think Zoom is better, you'll always use Teams?"

"I'm on video calls eight hours a day. I just do what's easiest."

"So how do you know Zoom is better?"

"Some of the clients I work with use Zoom," he said. "They send the link. Zoom is brighter and crisper."

"And you're just too lazy to use it all the time?"

"Yeah," he said. "Some of my meetings are in the middle of the night. You want me to think then?"

Still, though, his passion was peculiar: "Teams is the dumbed-down version of Zoom. Teams is what Big 5 is to Dick's Sporting Goods."

Emanuel is something of a sports enthusiast. He often sees things in sports metaphors. But equating Teams to Big 5 -- something of a ragtag sporting goods store -- seems a little harsh.

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Zoom Is Fashionable, Teams Is Barely Tolerable?

At this point the fashion executive -- let's call her Letitia -- offered her own metaphor: "Zoom to Teams is like Sephora to Ulta. Or Lululemon to Athleta."

I was further taken aback by this brand name tsunami. I had no idea so-called power users had such powerful emotions.

Letitia is also forced to be on video for a substantial part of her day. She explained that her company, like Emanuel's, uses Microsoft Outlook.

"So you use Teams, too, because it's easier?"

"We're all Zoom," she replied.

"What?"

"We got the plugin and we always used Zoom from the very beginning of the pandemic."

"Do you remember how this began?"

"I have no idea," she said. 

The feelings in the company about its choice are just as strong as her own: "There is this guy we all really don't like and he always tries to make Teams meetings. He's an anomalous cove."

Honestly, she didn't say cove at all, but I cling to slivers of decorum around here.

Letitia continued: "As I see it, it's a cultural decision. I mean, Sephora or Ulta? Seriously? A no-brainer."

Suddenly, Letitia began to sing "All I Wanna Do Is Zoom, Zoom, Zoom," from the Wreck-X-N-Effect classic "Rump Shaker." Did I mention she works in (what might loosely be called) fashion?

Everyone Knows Zoom, Don't They?

I was tempted to consider whether all this time spent on Teams and Zoom had addled my friends' minds, but then my wife offered her own cultural perspective.

"We're on Microsoft Outlook too. We have Teams meetings," she said, referring to her deliberations with scientific colleagues.

She is, though, an alcohol researcher. Some of her research -- her Drink Less For Your Breasts campaign launched last week -- involves talking to women aged between 18 and 25.

"I always ask them to talk via Zoom," she said. "If I told them we'd be chatting on Teams, I don't think they'd know what I was talking about. Everyone knows Zoom."

The pandemic has thrown two relatively new brands into people's lives with an uncommon intensity.

Through some strange quirk of culture, some people appear to be taking deep-seated sides. It's reminiscent of Apple vs Microsoft in (mostly) olden times.

And again, as in (mostly) olden times, I sense that some people may instinctively rebel against Teams because it's being forced upon them by the interminable suite that is Microsoft.

By contrast, Zoom is seen as sweet. Many don't seem aware that it had considerable privacy issues -- something Microsoft subtly pointed out -- for quite some time. Some are still suspicious of Zoom's ties to China.

Yet Letitia, who occasionally has to have difficult meetings with staff, did point to what she believes is a Zoom advantage: "Zoom has more security protocols. You can lock the room so no one comes in."

So much of brand preference lies in what people believe about a brand from the very beginning. As long as that brand doesn't let them down, they hold on to those beliefs and don't bother even wondering whether a rival may now have a comparable product.

Both Emanuel and Letitia firmly believe that, as Emanuel described it: "Teams is always playing catchup."

They used to say that about Apple, too. Not Emanuel and Letitia, but, oh, people who didn't like Apple.

For me, I'll happily continue to use both Teams and Zoom. I fear, though, that I'll now have the image of Teams as Big 5 Sporting Goods lasered into my innards.

That is, as my wife would say, no bueno.