Microsoft to add new shared channels, encryption for calls, webinar features to Teams

Microsoft has a bunch of new Teams features coming and is introducing a new category of Teams Intelligent Speaker devices at Ignite this week.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: Microsoft

It wouldn't be a Microsoft event without a slew of Teams announcements. And on Day 1 of Microsoft's virtual Ignite Spring 2021 event, officials didn't disappoint.

Microsoft announced a new channel-sharing feature coming to Teams broadly later this calendar year. Called Teams Connect, the feature will enable users to share channels with anyone -- internal or external -- to one's organization. The shared channel will appear within a user's primary Teams tenant, alongside other Teams channels. The new Teams Connect feature will be available in private preview starting today.

If you're wondering how Teams Connect compares to Teams Guest Access, it seems that with Guest Access, you can add an external user to your Teams environment, where they become a guest. With Teams Connect shared channels, multiple organizations can share a single channel that all members can then access from their own Teams environments.

Channel sharing seems more suited for scenarios where multiple organizations are collaborating on a specific project. Guest Access seems more suited to situations where an external party needs broad access to organizational data and information, above and beyond the channel.

See also: Microsoft Teams Panels wants to make your meetings easier when you're back in the office |  Multi-account sign-in support added (sort of) | Teams Pro adds new webinar and 'meeting intelligence' capabilities | Outlook reminder gain a 'join meeting' button

Microsoft execs also said today that Teams will support end-to-end encryption (E2EE) for one-to-one Teams calls. IT will have discretion over which users can use E2EE. E2EE for Teams 1:1 ad-hoc VoIP calls (as the feature is known officially) will be available in preview to commercial customers later in the first half of this calendar year.

In addition, Microsoft is announcing officially the expected webinar capability for Teams which leaked last month under the name "Teams Pro." Officials said today that Teams users can organize webinars for those inside and outside an organization of up to 1,000 attendees. Webinars can make use of custom registration; rich presentation options; host controls; and post-event reporting. Officials said those who want to broadcast to larger audiences (up to 20,000 people until the end of this year, and 10,000 after that) can switch to view-only broadcast. The webinar functionality will be included for no additional cost in many existing Microsoft 365/Office 365 business plans.

Microsoft is adding to Teams a number of features that public speakers and PowerPoint jockeys will appreciate.

PowerPoint Live in Microsoft Teams is all about enabling presenters to lead meetings with notes, slides, chat, and participants in a single view. PowerPoint Live is available in Teams as of today. The new Presenter Mode in Teams lets users customize how their video feed and content appear to the audience. A mode called Standout shows the speaker's video feed in front of shared content. There are also Reporter and Side-by-Side modes coming. Standout in Presenter Mode is launching this month; Reporter and Side-by-Side are "coming soon." In addition, there is a Dynamic View which arranges elements of a meeting prioritized for an optimal video experience, officials said. Dynamic View is scheduled for rollout in April officials said.

At Ignite, Microsoft announced a new category of speakers called Teams Intelligent Speakers. Teams Intelligent Speakers can identify and differentiate the voices of up to 10 people talking in a Microsoft Teams Room. The speakers were created in partnership with EPOS and Yealink, officials said, two OEMs that both have devices certified as Intelligent Speakers. Users can turn attribution on or off at any time for privacy and security reasons. And if these devices sound familiar, yes, there is/was a precedent: A conical speaker Microsoft demonstrated publicly in 2018 which could recognize multiple speakers even when their discussions overlapped.

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