Microsoft Security Hits $20B in Revenue

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In a blog post following Microsoft’s Q2 earning report this week, Microsoft shared how their security revenue had grown 33% from 2022 to 2023 and now stands at $20Billion driven massively by their global partners who have been helping customers strengthen their security posture while saving money through vendor consolidation. Microsoft stated that security remains the number one investment for businesses is where organisations spend the most, and easily justifiable for companies.

To put this into perspective, the $5 billion increase in Microsoft’s security business over the past twelve months is larger than the revenue generated by every pure-play cybersecurity vendor other than Palo Alto, which expects to hit $6.85 billion growth when they publish their results later this year.

We are taking share across all major categories we serve…..customers are consolidating on our security stack in order to reduce risk, complexity and cost.” – Satya Nadella.

Even in this economically challenging time, organisations still see security as the top priority.

Vasu Jakkal | CVP of Security, Compliance, Identity, & Management | Microsoft

Every Growing Market

According to McKinsey & Company, the cybersecurity market is now worth $2 trillion as more businesses realise that they lack the levels and breath of protection and detection measures to keep their data, identities, applications, devices, and networks and safe whilst the number of attacks continue to rise at alarming rates.

Despite Microsoft’s huge growth in this area, Microsoft pointed out that there is still a global shortage of cybersecurity professionals across the globe and in the USA alone, there are ~4 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs currently open, with salaries hugely inflated due to the high demand for these roles.

Organisations can save lots of money

In the Microsoft earnings call, Satya Nadella, called out their focus in helping customer “do more with less” saying that “this is a place where customers can save lots of money’
He talked about Microsoft’s breadth, depth, and integrated security portfolio, stating boldly that “Microsoft is the only vendor that has integrated tools spanning identity, security, compliance, device management and privacy“.

Much of the value and cost savings Microsoft saves their customers is through their productivity suite bundles, such as Microsoft 365 E5, which combines advanced security, privacy, and compliance, along with Teams voice and rich analytics. Recent customers to go all-in on E5 licenses include IKEA, NTT, Boots, Rio Tinto and Marks and Spencer, and leading global law firm Baker McKenzie.

Data from 2021/2022 Forester report.



Microsoft also provide dedicated Security and Compliance add-on suites as well, as the ability to purchase their security offerings as point products such including their Enterprise Mobility and Security suite which grew 16% to more than 241 billion seats.

Microsoft is the only vendor that has integrated tools spanning identity, security, compliance, device management and privacy

Satya Nadella | CEO | Microsoft

Microsoft called out an example of $4.46 billion, British Sports retailer Frasers Group, for its decision to consolidate tools and services from ten separate cybersecurity vendors to just Microsoft.

In another example, $2.76 billion, American digital media player manufacturer Roku moved its entire identity and access management business to the cloud with Azure Active Directory.

Market Bolstering Stats

  • SEIM: In October 2022, Microsoft Sentinel shot to the top of Gartner’s SIEM Magic Quadrant, zooming past IBM, Splunk, Securonix and Exabeam .
  • Identity & Access Management: IDC say Microsoft have 23.8% market share of the $13.6 billion identity and access management market, with Okta at a distant second at 9.2%.
  • Endpoint Security: Microsoft had 11.2% of the market in 2021 and 12.4% in 2022. Only CrowdStrike had a larger slice of the endpoint security market at 12.6% but has a lower growth. CrowdStrike, Microsoft &Trend Micro were of in April 22 Forrester Wave for EDR providers.

“Microsoft is the “only company” that offers “integrated end-to-end tools spanning identity, security, compliance, device management and privacy, informed and trained on over 65 trillion signals each day.”

Satya Nadella | CEO | Microsoft

The Role of Microsoft Partners

Despite the global shortage of Cyber Security professionals, Microsoft’s pointed out that their security business is surging partly due to the work many of their global Modern Work and Security partners are driving. Microsoft continues to invest significantly in partner skills enablement along with resources and funding to help their partners to help their customers. This ranges from funded discover and usage workshops, technology enablement funding, end user adoption funding (to help users work more securely), technical training initiatives, third party vendor displacement support and more.

As such Microsoft partners can certify and specialise in different security and compliance areas, helping their customers find partners that can help them understand their risk profile, identity weaknesses or risks, deploy and adopt new tools and platforms and migrate from point product to improve their security whilst reducing cost.

Organisations can reach out to their Microsoft representative or speak to their Microsoft Partner for more information

Microsoft technology (through the help of their partners) can save the average 10,000 seat organisation more than $8.3M per annum through investing in Microsoft 365 E5 and Sentinel according to research conducted by Forrester.

On a recent fireside chat that I hosted, most organisations on my panel discussed how they were improving their security through investment in Microsoft 365 E5 with the help of their partners.

The Microsoft Security Portfolio

Microsoft has organised their security portfolio (which spans more than fifty product categories overall) into six product lines.

  1. Defender: The Defender portfolio includes Microsoft 365 Defender (Microsoft’s extended detection and response (XDR) platform for securing endpoints, email, applications, identities, and data, as well as their Defender solutions for endpoint, Cloud, IoT, vulnerability management, threat intelligence, DevOps and external attack surface management.
  2. Sentinel: Microsoft’s SEIM platform
  3. Entra: Microsoft’s identity management and security portfolio, which includes Azure AD
  4. Purview: Data protection, data loss prevention, inside risk management
  5. Priva: Their new privacy risk management solution following their acquisition of RiskIQ
  6. Intune: Microsoft’s multiple vendor, multi-category endpoint management suite.

Note: Whilst Microsoft do not have dedicated products that cover the network infrastructure, SIP, WAN and Wireless LAN spaces, but work in partnership with leading infrastructure vendors such as Cisco to provide seamless identity and access integration.

Microsoft is the only vendor that has integrated tools spanning identity, security, compliance, device management and privacy

Satya Nadella | CEO | Microsoft



You can read more on the official Microsoft security blog post here.

My 5 years as a Microsoft MVP

This week I was delighted to be re-awarded as a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) for the 5th year running, but what does it mean and why am so thrilled to be rewarded?

What are MVPs?

Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals, or MVPs, are “technology experts who passionately share their knowledge with the community”. They are always on the “bleeding edge” and have an unstoppable urge to get their hands on new, exciting technologies. MVPs have deep knowledge of Microsoft products and services, while also being able to bring together diverse platforms, products and solutions, to solve real world problems. MVPs make up a global community of over 4,000 technical experts and community leaders across 90 countries/regions and are driven by their passion, community spirit, and quest for knowledge. Above all and in addition to this, part of the “role” of the MVPs is our passion and desire to help others. For Microsoft, this is what sets MVPs apart, through formal product feedback, community events, forums, blogs, reviews etc and of course through social channels our mission is to drive awareness, adoption, constructive feedback, ideas and suggestions to help continually improve Microsoft products and services.

What is the MVP Award?

For more than two decades, the Microsoft MVP Award has been Microsofts’ way of saying thank you to community leaders within in their MVP catagory. The contributions MVPs make to the community, ranging from speaking engagements, to social media posts, to writing books, to helping others in online communities, have incredible impact.

As MVPs, we receive a number of technical benefits from Microsoft to help be the best at supporting our passion for technology and innovation. Key benefits to MVPs include early access to Microsoft products, direct communication channels with our product teams and an invitation to the Global MVP Summit, an exclusive annual event hosted in our global HQ in Redmond. They also have a very close relationship with the local Microsoft teams in their area, who are there to support and empower MVPs to address needs and opportunities in the local ecosystem. Other benefits include an executive recognition letter, a Visual Studio technical subscription, and an Office 365 subscription.

The Windows Insider Most Valuable Professional

The Windows Insider Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award recognises people who are passionate about Windows and are positive Windows advocates within their communities. Like other MVPs, we can be found across the globe and are driven by a passion for flighting Insider Preview builds and filing feedback to help improve the current and future generations of Windows, contributing to the technical community through forums, chats with the Windows product team and creating how-to content with the goal of helping others achieve more and making Windows the OS of choice for every person and every organisation.

I have been a Windows Insider for 11 years and seen the development and evolution of Windows 10 and Windows 11 and Windows Insiders are now looking at what comes next after the current release (Windows 11 22H2) release. As new devices and new form factors are being tested, I’m excited by what 2023 and beyond will bring to Windows.

Can I nominate someone to be an MVP?

You can!

If you know someone who is outstanding and passionate around Microsoft technology and think they should be recognised as an MVP, you can nominate them (or yourself) here: https://mvp.microsoft.com/en-us/Nomination/nominate-an-mvp

What I plan to do more of in 2023

As I look forward to 2023, the main topics of interest, content and testing for me that I will explore, showcase and blog will include:

  • Continuing to test, drive and promote some of the awesome accessibly features that span across the Windows 11 OS
  • Tracking and reporting on Windows Insider and production releases, updates, issues and fixes for Windows 11 and Windows vNext
  • Evalusations and reviews of the latest Microsoft hardware such as the Surface devices, accessiblity devices and peripherals building for Windows 11 and Windows 365
  • Dive deeper into Security features across Windows consumer, professional and enterprise editions and into the realms of Windows 365 (Cloud PC) and Microsoft 365
  • Report on my other observations and ruminations on Windows technology, changes and developments and do my best to respond to comments or asks from the community,
  • Increase my contributions to the windows communities and in-person events.

Find out more about the Windows Insider Program

To find out more about the Windows Insider Program and to get involved, visit the following pages.

What is Teams Premium?

Microsoft Teams Premium is a paid tier of Teams announced in October 2022 at the time of the Microsoft Ignite conference and is generally available from Feb 2023.

These additional capabilities (more info later) are focussed around:

  • Creating more personalised and intelligent meetings and webinars.
  • Improved and enhanced security protection for meetings
  • Advanced management and reporting capabilities for IT.
  • Advanced Virtual Appointments.

It costs around $10 pupm depending on your region, country and license agreement.

What are the differences?

Not to be confused with Teams Room Premium (now Teams Room Pro), Teams Premium is Teams add-on license that allows organisations that already have Teams with their Microsoft 365 subscriptions to further enhance their Teams experience with benefits such as more personalised and intelligent meetings, enhanced meeting protection, and advanced management and reporting capabilities.

Teams Premiums’ key features over the “standard” version included within Microsoft 365 can are summarised below. The data is taken from official Microsoft information, the source of which is here).

Meetings

Teams Premium provides additional features for customizing meetings including enhanced templates, customisable themes, company backgrounds and custom together modes.

FeatureTeams
(Standard)
Teams Premium
Host and attend Teams Meetings✔️✔️
Experience Teams’ standard look and feel✔️✔️
Use standard & custom meeting backgrounds at user level✔️✔️
Read live captions during meetings✔️✔️
Customise meeting templates for your company✔️
Add company branding to meeting lobbies✔️
Customise meeting backgrounds for your company✔️
Customise Together mode scenes for your company✔️
Read live translated captions during meetings✔️
Translate post-meeting transcriptions (coming soon)✔️
Turn on real-time data storage✔️
Turn on eCDN for Live Events✔️

Webinars and Premium events

Teams Premium provides an advanced webinar experience for organisers, presenters and attendees.

FeatureTeams
(Standard)
Teams Premium
Require attendees to register✔️✔️
Assign a co-organiser✔️✔️
Limit the number of people who can register✔️✔️
Read live captions during meetings✔️✔️
Turn on Q&A for webinars with up to 1000 attendees✔️✔️
View attendance reports✔️✔️
Integrate with Dynamics 365✔️✔️
Set up a green room for webinar presenters✔️
Manage attendees’ view✔️
Send reminder emails to registrants✔️
Create a webinar wait list✔️
Manually approve registrants✔️
Limit the day and time when people can register✔️
Allow registered users to bypass the lobby✔️
Use RTMP-In for Webinars (coming soon)

Meeting Protection / Security

Teams Premium provides additional ways to safeguard meetings with features such as sensitivity labels, meeting water marking and end to end encryption which includes video, chat and content.

FeatureTeams
(Standard)
Teams Premium
Manage meeting lobbies✔️✔️
End-to-end encryption for one-to-one calls✔️✔️
Moderate meeting chats✔️✔️
Control who can present✔️✔️
Add watermarks to meetings✔️
E2E encryption for meetings with up to 50 attendees✔️
Control who can record✔️
Prevent copy/paste in meeting chats✔️
Assign Microsoft Purview Information Protection sensitivity labels for meetings [Requires Microsoft 365 E5]✔️
Custom user policy packages✔️
Turn on advanced meeting monitoring and alerting✔️

Meetings Reporting

FeatureTeams
(Standard)
Teams Premium
View recordings of meetings✔️✔️
View meeting transcripts✔️✔️
View and use files added to meetings✔️✔️
View and use apps added to meetings✔️✔️
Navigate meeting recordings with autogenerated chapters (coming soon)✔️
View time markers in meeting recordings when you joined or left a meeting (coming soon)✔️
Search meeting transcripts with speaker suggestions (coming soon)✔️
View and act on autogenerated tasks from meetings (coming soon)✔️
View when you were @mentioned✔️

Virtual Appointments

With any Microsoft 365 license, users can use basic Virtual Appointments capabilities to schedule and join business-to-customer meetings. For example, users can schedule appointments in the Bookings calendar and external attendees can join through a browser without having to download Teams.

Teams Premium provides advanced Virtual Appointment capabilities, such as SMS notifications, custom waiting rooms, and analytics.

FeatureTeams
(Standard)
Teams Premium
Access Virtual Appointments with the Bookings app for scheduling, appointment management, and email notifications✔️✔️
Integrate Virtual Appointments using APIs✔️✔️
Join appointments from a browser✔️✔️
Join appointments in Teams✔️✔️
Allow users to join a virtual lobby waiting room✔️✔️
Integrate with Microsoft Forms✔️✔️
Customize the lobby waiting room with themes and logos✔️
Send SMS notifications✔️
Chat back and forth with attendees in the lobby waiting room✔️
Organizational and departmental analytics✔️
View and manage scheduled appointments in the queue✔️
View and manage on-demand appointments in the queue✔️
Send post-appointment follow-ups (coming soon)✔️

Who needs Teams Premium

Whilst not every organisation (or user within an organisation) may need Teams Premium.

Organisations can try Teams Premium by purchasing the zero-cost Teams Premium 30-day trial license available in the Microsoft 365 admin center.

Organisations with a Teams Premium trial license will have up to 25 licenses to assign to users. Those 25 users can experience and test Teams Premium features as they become available. Also, the admin can manage Teams Premium features for the 25 licensed users. The trail will last 30 days after which the premium features ill be disabled unless a paid license is purchased for the users that need / want them.

Most organization segments can purchase and use the Teams Premium trial license, excluding GCC High and DoD tenants.

Beware: “Some” Teams features will also move to Teams Premium

Microsoft have advised that with the general release of Teams Premium (in Feb 2023), some Teams features will in fact move from Teams licenses to Teams Premium licenses. To be fair these are mainly centered around advanced reporting, company branding and webinar premium features.

Features moving to Teams Premium are:

  • Live translated captions.
  • Timeline markers in Teams meeting recordings for when a user left or joined meetings.
  • Custom organisation settings: Together mode scenes.
  • Virtual Appointments: SMS notifications.
  • Virtual Appointments: Organizational analytics in the Teams admin center.
  • Virtual Appointments: Scheduled queue view.

Preparing for Teams Premium

To prepare your organisation for Teams Premium and to determine if, where and when it fits, the following are key IMO

  • Take advantage of the free (25 user) 1 month trail to ensure IT and your Client Success Teams can understand the user and admin features
  • Run a trial for key departments around the areas of most interest or value
  • Update or deliver end user training to ensure you get the value from the new features
  • Gather feedback from trial and live users to assess wider deployment
  • Keep your support team in the loop (so they can support your users with these new features)

Microsoft increase Cloud Services pricing inline with Global Pricing and FX

April 23 Price Increase

In what Microsoft call “price harmonisation”, it has been confirmed that Microsoft will be aligning the pricing of their Cloud products and services (for example Microsoft 365) by introducing consistent global pricing for its services across the globe. For many regions, such as the UK and EU, this means price rises as the dollar has continued to fall in recent years again the Euro and Pound.

What and why are prices changing?

Microsoft are aligning costs (like they do today with Azure) to US dollar FX rates which means that customers will have consistent pricing reflected by the exchange rate of the local currency to the US dollar (USD), which is reviewed twice a year.

While a price increase is never well received, it is worth noting that this latest increase relates to their commercial cloud products such as Microsoft 365. Azure is already priced by on regional FX rates and is not affected by this announcement. Microsoft are simply aligning their commercial pricing in line with their competition and their other cloud services.

Countries that use the Great British Pound (GBP), the Danish Krone (DKK), the Euro (EUR), the Norwegian Krone (NOK), and the Swedish Krona (SEK) will all see a price increase from April 1, 2023.

“In the future, Microsoft will assess pricing in local currency as part of a regular twice-a-year cadence, taking into consideration currency fluctuations relative to the USD.

This will provide increased transparency and predictability for customers globally and move to a pricing model that is most common in our industry.

The Microsoft Cloud continues to be priced competitively, and Microsoft remains deeply committed to the success of its customers and partners.”

Microsoft

How much are prices increasing by?

Microsoft has confirmed that the price increase for the following currencies will be:

  • GBP: +9%
  • DKK, EUR and NOK: +11%
  • SEK: +15%

Microsoft have said they are committed to continuing to invest in their cloud services to “enable customers to innovate, consolidate and eliminate operating costs”.

Thoughts and Actions

While a price increase is never well received, it is worth noting that this latest increase relates to their commercial cloud products such as Microsoft 365. Azure is already priced by on regional FX rates and is not affected by this announcement. Microsoft are simply aligning their commercial pricing in line with their competition and their other cloud services.

This therefore represents a good time for organisations to do some “house keeping” to keep licenses and costs in check. For example:

  • Check 3rd party duplicate products you can displace (and use the services included in your Microsoft 365 subscription)
  • Check if you need the tier of license you are using. Would Microsoft 365 E3 deliver what you need? Do you need the same licenses for everyone?
  • Ensure you leverage Fast Track services or your partner to help you adopt and get best value of your investment in Microsoft Cloud
  • Speak to your licensing provider or Cloud Solution Provider to ensure you get the best commercial costs

Windows 365 now supports Azure AD SSO

Windows 365 now supports (Dec 2022) the creating of Azure AD Cloud PCs that use single sign-on. Previously this required a dual-sign in step.

This is a big improvement, and now means users only have to logon once to the Windows 365 Cloud PC app – from here on in, their CloudPC desktops will seamlessly sign-in (subject to any specific conditional access polices you may have applied of course.) It even works with passwordless sign-on . You can see the user experience below.

Windows 365 Cloud PC SSO Demo

Enabling the SSO setting

To enable SSO, administrators can update their existing Cloud PC provisioning profiles or create new Cloud PC policy with the “single sign on” setting enabled.

Enabling SSO for Windows 365 Cloud PC

Note: Existing Cloud PCs will not automatically support SSO – these will need to be re-provisioned, which can be done from the device pane in endpoint manager as show below.

Reprovision a Windows 365 Cloud PC

Read more from Microsoft

What’s new in Windows 365 Enterprise | Microsoft Learn

Why Cisco’s new Solution Specialisations are great for Cisco, their partners, and their customers

As tech vendors continue to modernise and revamp their partner programmes to better align with the pace of technology, changing needs of their customers, demands around hybrid work and the continual digital transformation acceleration, Cisco have recently added six new solution specialisations which aim to further build and support their partner competitiveness as well as recognise and reward partners with specific expertise and capability.

Image (c) Cisco

The six new specialisations are tied to Cisco customer priorities and represent fast-growing market opportunities for Cisco and its partners in areas where Cisco has been investing and innovating. These are heavily focussed around Hybrid Cloud and Hybrid Work and the solutions that enable these.

Cisco’s Solution Specialisations

The new solution specialisations are one of the four categories of partner specialisations available to qualified Cisco partners, like Cisilion to demonstrate their expertise to customers, including:

  • Architecture specialisations: demonstrate product expertise in specific technology areas.
  • Solution specialisations: demonstrate that a partner excels at delivering value with Cisco solutions, including cross-architectural offers prioritized by customers.
  • Cisco Powered Service specialisations: convey partner proficiency in delivering managed services and as-a-service offers.
  • Business specialisations: focused on horizontal business practices that are essential to supporting customers’ business goals.

Partners that achieve solution specialisations are recognised and rewarded based on the value delivered to customers. The requirements for each specialisation are tied to knowledge and experience, allowing partners to capitalize on their existing investments with Cisco.

The relevance of the new Solution Specialisations

Cisco say their solution specialisations are designed to “showcase partner value to customers and represent the type of solutions partners are selling today“. These specialisations (which are not simple to earn and retain), reflect how Cisco partners, like Cisilion, are using cross-architectural solutions to solve their customers’ biggest challenges (such as how to address the challenges or hybrid work) rather than just simply selling and deploying technology products. Cisco say that “the specialisations are awarded to partners that can demonstrate how they are working collaboratively with Cisco to help solve customer challenges such as balancing an organisation’s security needs with the flexibility employees want, providing the best digital experience or consistently delivering a secure user experience from anywhere.

Specialisation is ranked number one as the initial critical partner selection criterion for 74 percent of customers. By tying solution specialisations to customer buying criteria, Cisco makes it easier for customers to identify which partners to work with.

Techaisle Take: Cisco Partner Program

The six new solution specialisations

  • Full-stack Observability (FSO): Which highlights partners expertise in centralising and correlating application performance analytics across the full IT stack. This includes integrations across Cisco’s AppDynamics, Thousand Eyes, Intersight, and Secure Application. Partners with this specialisation can demonstrates expertise in prioritising actions to deliver superior customer experiences, drive revenue streams, and accelerate digital transformation for their customers.
  • Hybrid Work from Office: Which recognises partners for their skills and experience helping customers evolve traditional on-site and off-site work models, with solutions that power hybrid work, enabling people to work safely and securely from home, the office, and anywhere in between on any given day or time.
  • Secure Access Service Edge (SASE): Which highlights partners’ ability to help their customers to securely enable the growing universe of roaming users, devices, and software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps without adding complexity or reducing end-user performance.
  • Hybrid Cloud Computing: Showcases partners that provide customers with simple, secure hybrid cloud computing experiences at home, in the office, or anywhere.
  • Hybrid Cloud Networking: Recognises partners that securely and efficiently connect and manage customers’ data, workloads, and applications across data centres, edge, and multiple clouds.
  • Hybrid Cloud Software: Demonstrates expertise in managing operational complexity by helping customers streamline and unify IT operations with secure, hybrid cloud management software.

Benefits for Customers and Partners

The main benefit is that this approach takes away from an old-skool technology/product sell that was all about speeds, feeds, features, and cost, and instead encourages partners to have more meaningful “outcome-based conversation“. Cisco say this should help partners do what they do best – having a more “unified solution strategy” conversation with customers where technologies integrate and work together to provide solutions that are better than the sum of the parts.

Examples of this include the alignment between Cisco’s Webex video, calling and meeting services, the network infrastructure layer, the edge, and the Internet with integrated full stack visibility across these layers to ensure the best user experience whilst simplifying IT operations through management and support.

Yealink BH76 Teams Headset Review

The Yealink BH76 Teams certified headset is a premium Bluetooth headset featuring active adaptive noise cancelling, HD audio, retractable microphone, 35 hours talk time and 40 hours of battery life. The BH76 is Teams certified and also features wireless charging, has an array of smart sensors, and comes in black or light grey.

Price is circa £279 RRP.

Key features of Yealink BH76 headset

In the box

In the box you get everything you need including:-

  • Leather carry pouch
  • Yealink BH76 Teams Certified Headset
  • Bluetooth 5.1 USB-A dongle (or USB-C) dongle
  • USB-A to USB-C cable
  • Charging Stand and power cable
  • Getting started manual / guide.

Ease of use

This is no budget headset. Everything from the brushed metal finish to the soft cushioned leather earcup and support is premium.

Powering on the device requires a two second push on the power button, after which an audio described “power on” message is heard, followed by another audio notification of the battery power remaining. Pairing is simple with a three second push on the power button to enter pairing mode and then simply go to Bluetooth settings on your laptop or phone.

Sensors in the headset detect when you are wearing it and as such, taking the headset off when listening to music or video, automatically mutes the headphones and pauses the music/video which them resumes again when you pop it back on.

For Microsoft Teams users, there is a “Teams” button on the top of the left ear piece (this is quite easy to miss however). Pressing this, opens the Teams app is not already open. According to Microsoft, Teams Certified devices with the Teams buttons light up when connected to Teams, and provide additional teams controls -the BH76 does not appear to do this – the button also does not do anything. This appears to be a Microsoft issue though (not a Yealink one) and there is a tech community thread here if you are interested.

Yealink provide a management app which can be used to manage all your Yealink devices, update settings and firmware etc., and for IT teams, the BH76 can be managed centrally from the Yealink Management Console along with your Teams Room devices and phones.

Audio Quality and Noise Cancelling

Sound Quality when listening to music is clear and sharp. The headset isn’t super loud compared to headsets from the likes of Bose or even Surface Headphones, but more than loud enough. You can also adjust the max volume settings in the Yealink app

The BH76 includes three levels of noise cancelling (off, ambient noise and noise cancelling), which can be adjusted by a small button on one of the ear cups.

Noise cancelling can be hard to test without a remote participant of course, so I used a colleague to help me out (thanks Adam). I performed the standard ruffling of a crisp packets and tapping of keyboard. Feedback was that he could only hear my voice and couldn’t hear the other background noises at all.

The noise cancelling is fully adaptive, and the levels automatically adjust based on the level of background noise detected. This is achieved using five microphones around the headset which create an “Acoustic Shield” that senses how far away and how loud sounds are to allow it to filter out background noises, leaving your voice loud and clear. This is essential for use in noisy offices or coffee shops for example.

Changing advanced settings on the BH76 headset

Other audio and sound settings (such as noise exposure limits, and fine tuning ACN) can be configured using the Yealink USB connect software – as shown above ⬆️

Microphone Boom

To aid in audio pick up, the microphone boom extends out from the right ear cup. When not in use, this can then be conveniently popped back away into the ear-cup, which makes it look more like a conventional stereo headset and of course ensures the mic boom does not get knocked or broken. If you push it away when on a call, it also mutes the microphone.

Comfortable and simple to use

Unlike other headsets I have tried and used over the years, the Yealink BH76 headset is really comfortable, even if you find yourself in the office on calls all day! I found that even after 4 hours of wearing, I did not feel any discomfort and almost forgot I had them on.

Simple to use too – The Yealink BH76 is really easy and intuitive to use too. I did find that the button placement took a little getting used to, since the buttons are a little small for my fat fingers, but it’s simple enough to use. Personally, I would liked to have seen more controls on the ear cups themselves rather than on the cup body (but suspect this is a personal thing).

The device supports Bluetooth pairing with 2 devices simultaneously, or you can use the USB cable that ships with device to plug in via the wire. Yealink provide a BT51 Bluetooth dongle too which provides the best connectivity and “makes the device” Teams Certified. I’m personally not a fan of dongles (I loose them), but Microsoft are slowly working to remove the need for dongles.

Charging and Storage

You can order the BH76 headset with the optional, yet highly useful charging stand. This uses a power cable (not USB powered unfortunately) and provides a convenient stand for your headset when not in use.

The base of the stand also serves as a wireless charger for your phone/tablet and of course your Yealink Headset which means no fumbling around for cables and free USB ports on your laptop.

Summary

In short – a really great quality headset with excellent battery life, good audio and great acoustic fencing qualities. There a few cosmetic improvements I’d like to see in the next version but over all, would recommend to anyone for hybrid work.

What I like

  • Great Acoustic Fencing / Sound blocking
  • Comfortable
  • Simple to use
  • Lightweight and premium Feel
  • Useful wireless charging stand

What I like less

  • Buttons are hard to see (be better if metal)
  • No on-ear controls (personal preference)
  • Carry pouch is a little flimsy and less premium

Surface Laptop 5 – “Premium and simply gorgeous”

Surface Laptop 5 is a premium, lightweight, and gorgeous l laptop which builds on the success of its predecessor. This is my one-month, hands-on review.


TL;DR

Surface Laptop 5 was released in October 2022, along with the new Surface Pro 9 and Surface Studio 2+ as part of the 10-year anniversary of Surface.

Surface Laptop 5 is available in several colours including platinum, black, sage and sandstone, this latest iteration of hasn’t changed much from last years’ Surface Laptop 4. It features the same dimensions and form factor as previous generations (which has barely changed since the original version) but has received the annual welcomed tech update and now includes the latest 12th generation Intel chipsets, built on the Intel® Evo™ platform, offering up to 50% power than previous generation. Find out more about Intel Evo?

Surface Laptop 5 starts from just under £900 (plus VAT), subject to specification.

The marketing team have done a great sizzle video as always, which you can see below.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 – “Sizzle Video”

On Test: Surface Laptop 5 | i5 | 16GB RAM | 256GB SSD

Thanks to Microsoft, I was able to get my hands on a Surface Laptop 5 on launch day and have been using it as my daily machine to allow me to put it through the paces and write this hands-on review. 

If you have never looked at the Surface line of laptops before, then you should! – Microsoft make the most gorgeous looking, premium devices on the market – all of which feature an anodized aluminum metal process, resulting in a luxury and smooth finish, which closely resembles the look and class of a MacBook. If you’ve ever used a cheaper, plastic built Laptop before, you will instantly notice the premium feel of Surface difference.

For this review, I tested testing a 13.5″ black Surface running Windows 11 22H2, powered by a 12th generation i5-1235U processor with 16GB RAM and 256GB SD.

Specifications and customisations

Like previous models, Surface Laptop 5 comes in 2 sizes and a range of different specs within each range (as well as colour options).

  • 15″: 12th-Gen Intel Core i7-1255U, 8-32GB RAM, 256GB-1TB SDD
  • 13.5″: 12th-Gen Intel Core i5-1235U or i7-1255U, 8-32GB RAM, 256GB-1TB SDD

There are a range of colours available, but the 15-inch model only offers Black or Platinum, while the 13.5″ version also provides the option of Sage and Sandstone. I like the black personally on Surface Laptop range though I do think next time I might try a colour!

Microsoft also offer Alcantara options for the keyboard area, although it is limited to the 13.5″ Platinum model only.  This gives a slightly soft and more premium finish to the keyboard deck, which provides a nice alternative to the aluminium metal. See below.

Image of Surface Laptop 5 with Alcantara finish

Overall feel and use

This is a quick laptop. I have been using a Surface Book 2 and Surface Pro X for a few years now as my two main devices, yet after just a few hours with the Surface Laptop 5, I could feel that this was a great bit of kit. Everything from the speed to power on (instant on), Windows Hello sign-in, launching apps, multitasking, and switching apps was effortless and fast. Video was smooth and audio was sharp and felt like it surrounded me.

The Surface Laptop 5 itself is thin and light – the 13.5 ” I am testing weighs just under three pounds, which is perfect for on-the-go and taking between home and office.

Both the 13.5″ and 15″ models look similar their predecessor, the Surface Laptop 4 (and those before it – a design that still looks modern and fresh. The device feels every bit premium design as you’d expect from a Surface. It is built from high quality refined aluminium in the popular minimalist design, with full size keyboard, large and responsive track pad, 120Hz, 3:2 ratio, 201 PPI pixel sense display, protected by Gorilla Glass 5.

Sensors, camera and speakers are hidden out of sight, the lid has an elegant and subtle Surface Logo on the lid, and around the sides of the device are the standard range of ports, which consist of the Surface Connector (I know many don’t like this but I like it from a consistency perspective), USB-A, USB-C (Thunderbolt 4) and a 3.5mm headphone jack (which interestingly has been removed from the latest Surface Pro 9 line up).

Microsoft have also further perfected the balance and feel of the device, with one-handed opening and nicely cut-away base that gives the impression that the device is floating above your workspace.

Screen options

Available in 13.5- or 15-inch variants, the screen is super clear and bright and features 120Hz refresh, 3:2 aspect ratio 201 PPI pixel-sense display.  The 3:2 aspect ratio is standard across all Surface devices and gives additional vertical space when working on docs or browsing the Web, but it does mean you’ll get the black pillar box lines top and bottom if watching a movie in 16:9. The screen aspect ratio works really well for work and school.

The screen features the 10-point multi-touch as is super responsive, giving it a natural advantage over other premium products like the Apple Mac Book Pro (which still doesn’t have a touch screen). The screen is super precise and supports all Surface Pen generations. The screen also supports Dolby Vision IQ which works by adjusting the colours on the screen based on the levels of ambient light to boost your viewing experience. Watching movies appeared better than my home TV (I need to upgrade) with ultra-vivid colours which are powered by Dolby Vision®3.

I personally find use any device without a touch screen cumbersome to use as touch now feels so natural across almost every other type of device we use.

The screen is protected with Gorilla Glass 5 (GG3 on the Alcantara version), which not only protects the screen but also provides great resistance to scratching.

Camera / Webcam

The front-facing camera is set in the bezel of the display. This is an HD 720p quality optic that supports Windows Hello.  To be honest, 720p seems a bit poor for a premium level laptop, but the camera is high quality and provides good images even in poor light.

Camera quality is ok – more than enough for video calls, but you wouldn’t use it for high-quality photos – a little grainy.

Image taken in doors with no filters – Surface Laptop 5

Audio and Sound

Audio quality on Surface Laptop is really good, especially compared to cheaper devices on the market. You get dual studio mics located each side of the web cam and the speakers, leverage Dolby Atmos®.4 to provide virtual surround sound. It’s great for Teams calls or watching movies etc.

Connectivity

As always with super thin devices, connectivity is minimal but practical. All the ports are located on the left-hand side of the laptop with just the Surface connect port located on the right side which can be used for charging and connectivity to a Surface Dock which then gives you almost endless connectivity options as well as multiple screen support at 4k.

USB and Headphone ports on Surface Laptop 5

You get a single USB-A 3.1 and a USB-C port which supports Thunderbolt 4.0. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone socket and the Surface charging connector.

For connecting more than that you’ll need to use a Surface dock or use Bluetooth of course.

Battery Life

For a device you can carry around and use all day – it needs to be light and have great battery life, or you are forced to carry a charger around “just in case”. Good battery life of course needs to balance three things – performance, battery life and power consumption.

Microsoft say that Surface Laptop 5 can last up to 18 hours of battery life, but the test conditions used by manufacturers is rarely the environment most workers use daily.

I averaged 9 hours and 32 minutes of battery life on a single charge.

I have been using Surface Laptop 5 for just over a month now and have not had a day (yet) where I needed to plug the device in to charge to get me through the day. In my environment I didn’t do anything special – and had settings within Windows as follows:

Screen Brightness: Auto
Keyboard Backlight: Off (this is going to use power)
Screen Brightness: 60% (with auto-adjust off)
Power Saving Mode: Auto
Power mode: Recommended (default)

With these in place, and using a typical mix of Teams calls, Office apps and Web Apps, I averaged 9 hours and 32 minutes for the laptop to go from 100% to it shutting off when i ignored the “plug me in” notifications.  By best day was 11 hours 12 minutes and my worst day (which was all day on video calls), the the laptop still powered through for 8hrs 4 mins.

Sustainability

Microsoft is committed to sustainability and carbon reduction, and this applies to the Surface device family also. Microsoft Surface laptops and tablets are EPEAT gold-registered, and Microsoft are committed to carbon neutrality across the supply chain by 2030.

From a repairability perspective (which also reduced waste and prolongs device life), Surface Laptop 5 devices have a replaceable SSD, display, battery, and motherboard, amongst other swappable components. This is a huge win for consumers and business since it means they can not only stretch out the lifespan of the Surface Laptop 5 by replacing failed components, but it also goes a long way to help corporate ESG goals.  This is not unique to Surface Laptop 5 either, the slide below from Microsoft showcases just how repairable Surface now is.

Image (c) Microsoft.

Surface is also committed to:

  • Ensuring packaging is from recycled, renewable or responsibly sourced content by 2025
  • Eliminating all virgin, single use Pretoleum-based plastics by 2025
  • Being fully recyclable by 2030
  • Uses 100% recyclable packaging by 2030

In the race for king of premium, this is also another winning factor over devices like the Apple MacBook.

Microsoft even have a YouTube video showing some of this repairability. ⬇️

Verdict – Why Choose Surface?

Surface Laptop 5 may not be a radical new or wow design, but Surface Laptop just works. I’m a big fan of Surface, so you may consider me biased (but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong)!

To me there’s four main reason I choose Surface over other brands.

  1. Look: High-quality, thin, lightweight, premium design and workmanship
  2. Performance: Vast range of technical configuration (and therefore price)
  3. Support: Built to run Windows by the company that makes Windows
  4. Sustainability: Repairable, strong commitments to re-use and recycle as well as low-power and excellent battery life (easily lasts a full day of use).

Cisco Desk Camera 4K – hands-on review.

Cisco’s Desk Camera 4K camera is small, powerful and full of AI features (if you use Cisco Webex) and is also now officially certified for Microsoft Teams.

Cisco is no stranger to making high quality audio and video devices for video conferencing on their Webex platform – but with their partnership with Microsoft around building devices “made” or “certified” for Microsoft Teams a bunch of premium devices now have another route to market.

I’m lucky to have both the new Cisco Desk Camera 4K and Cisco WS-720 series headset which has recently been certified for Teams and even has the Microsoft Teams “button” on the earcup. The Cisco Webex variant has a Webex button.

This is a review of the Cisco Desk Camera 4K.

Cisco Desk Camera 4K

Cisco Webex Desk Camera 4K

The Cisco Desk Camera 4K, is a premium USB web camera for video conferencing, video streaming, and video recording. The camera provides up to 4K Ultra HD at 60 FFS video and features high-definition audio along with dual microphone for great audio pick-up on all your video meetings or streaming and is certified for Cisco Webex and also Microsoft Teams.

The HD camera comes with a range of features to make meetings from anywhere feel more professional and well-managed, including autofocus, low light management, and a custom field of view to suit your office demands. The system also works seamlessly with the Cisco Webex collaboration environment as well as now Microsoft Teams though there isn’t really anything it does in Teams that any high-quality webcam can’t do.

This is a high quality, premium device – features include:

  • 4K Ultra HD camera quality (Windows Hello®️ Certified)
  • Two built-in microphones 
  • Support for 30FFS and 60 FPS  
  • 13MP image sensor 
  • Automatic focus adjustment 
  • Adjustable field of view 
  • Multiple pre-sets (controlled via Cisco Desk Camera App)
  • Built-in background noise reduction 
  • Physical Privacy shutter 
  • Digital zoom and correction controls  
  • USB plug-and-play functionality 
  • Clip mounting for easy setup 
  • Cisco Webex Certified
  • Microsoft Teams Certified

Whilst certified for Webex and Microsoft Teams, the Desk Camera can of course be used with any video conferencing aps or streaming services and works nicely as on Xbox! The fast autofocus, face detection (where supported by the apps) and 10x digital zoom really help to enhance the video experience for your remote attendees.

Getting set up

To get started on Windows devices, set-up is as simple as plugging it via USB-C or USB-A with the supplied cables (Cisco provide both in the box for good measure).

The camera itself has an adjustable clip with a tripod screw thread offers mounting flexibility on a laptop, an external display, a tripod, or a desk stand in various open office spaces, huddle rooms, and home offices.

It is a shame there is no carry pouch for the camera though to stop it getting dirty or scratch when travelling. 

To customise and configure the device beyond the factory standards, you need to install the Cisco Desk Camera app.

Install the Webex Desk Camera App

The Cisco Webex Desk Camera App provides a host of controls to change all aspects of the device as well as manage firmware updates, which mine was eager to update once connecting to the software. You don’t need to install it to use the camera, but it if you want to change the settings and manage the hardware then you need to!

Within the app it is possible to camera, image and microphone settings such as camera zoom levels (and pre-sets), field of view, auto focus settings and even framerate and resolution.

The Cisco Desk Camera app works with the camera and allows you to record videos, take snapshots, customise the camera settings, and upgrade the firmware.

Using Desk Camera 4K within Teams meetings

As expected, the quality and sharpness of both audio and video within Teams was good. to evaluate this of course I had to seek feedback from remote colleagues which was positive. By that, my video image was clear and sharp – even when sat across the other side of the room with the camera zoomed in. Even 3m away from the camera (which I wouldn’t do when working at home), video and audio pick up was good. It is nice to have such high-quality mics in a webcam – great if you have a more “budget” laptop without premium mics.

Despite the camera supporting 4K, most video meetings services (including Microsoft Teams) only support 1080p. To test the video quality, I move to the back of my office and zoomed the camera in (around 3m). The image quality was pretty good (seeing as this isn’t a room camera. Unfortunately, Microsoft Teams itself doesn’t currently have people tracking or auto-zoom so I had to manually zoom the camera using the Desk Camera app.

You can see the video quality at both close and zoomed in the images below from a Microsoft Teams call.

Using Desk Camera 4K within Webex

The Desk Camera 4K really comes to life in Cisco Webex. Webex provides full access to device controls and settings directly via the app (as well of course within the Camera app). Within Webex, you get access to various settings from within the app.

Webex Video Controls (in app).

Device Management

Cisco have ensured that managing an army of Cisco desk cameras is simple, with integrations with the Webex Control Hub which allows for easier remote management. Today, no such controls exist within the Microsoft Teams Admin console for managing Teams webcams – though I have not tried adding the camera to a Teams MTR to see what I can do here.

The Microsoft Teams client offers limited controls over camera features and settings other than the ability to change basic controls – for everything else, you need to use the Webex Desk Pro camera app.

Webex on the other hand, provides more controls for their intelligent hardware. It will be interesting to see if some of this makes its way into Microsoft Teams since a large part of the partnership between Cisco and Microsoft is also around sharing best practice across the leading eco systems. Cisco also allow you to access advanced camera controls directly from the Webex app meetings app – which is really useful.

Verdict: Why buy the Cisco Webex Desk Camera? 

With the many different options available out there for professional webcams then the Cisco Desk Camera 4K is definitely one to consider. This is no is a state-of-the-art webcam solution created for business users (or serious vloggers) who want to ensure they have the best possible video quality in meetings or when streaming video. The Desk Camera 4K is really small and compact too so easy to mount on your home monitor or perch over your laptop lid if you need to. It also supports up to 60 frames per second.

As a USB powered device, this camera is ideal for hybrid work (if you have a cheaper laptop with poor webcam). Whilst certified for Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams, it can of course be used with video conferencing or streaming tool (as long as it’s supported by the OS).

The camera also supports Windows Hello®️ for business for passwordless and secure sign-on for Windows 10 and Windows 11.

When used with Cisco Webex, you also get access to smart AI enhancements such as facial recognition, tracking, auto adjustment, and more – so if you are a serious Webex user, this is definitely a webcam you want to test out.   

This isn’t your everyday webcam.  

Do we really need “Games for Work in Teams?

Games for Work

Whilst not something that ever appeared on the official Microsoft Teams Roadmap, Microsoft last week, announced and released the “Games for Work app” to both commercial and education customers. The Microsoft 365 blog article on the matter said….

“Playing games with coworkers has a powerful ability to foster relationships and collaboration. With the move to remote and hybrid work, our social capital has weakened, impacting cross-group collaboration and employee retention.”

Microsoft 365 Blog

What is Games for Work?

Games for Work is an app developed by Microsoft Casual Games and initially includes four classic Windows games: Solitaire, Minesweeper, Wordament, and Icebreakers, all of which can be played individually or with up to 250 multiple players.

Using Games for Work in Teams

As with all Teams app, the Games for Work shows up under apps in the Teams admin center, and before employees can launch the app, there needs to be a Teams app permission policy assigned to the user for them to use it (unless already permitted via a higher-level policy).

Once a user has access to the app, they can add Games for Work to their meetings before or during a meeting, just like any other app. Meeting co-organizers and presenters can also install apps in meetings.

Adding “Games for Work” to a Team or Chat

Once a user has been given access to the app, they can add Games for Work to a meeting before or during a meeting, just like any other Teams app. Meeting co-organisers and presenters can also install apps in meetings.

Adding Games for Work to Teams Meeting

Choosing and Launching a Game: When Games for Work launches, the app takes centre stage in the shared content area, just like any other shared app like whiteboard or PowerPoint would do.

Starting “Games for Work”

Once the Games for Work app opens, it connects to the Microsoft Games online site and the meeting host (or an organiser) selects the game they wish to play and launches it. As other members join the meeting the host can share their screen to agree which game is plays or launch their choice of game and wait for other members to join.

“Games for Work” in play

To Stop a Game: To stop playing, the user who starts the app (the host) stops sharing. Attendees can also leave the game at any time (to do some real work perhaps!)

Blocking Access to Games for Work

The most straightforward way to prevent employees using Games for Work is to simply ensure IT “block” the app. If it is decided to allow some employees to use the app, then a custom policy will be needed and applied to a group that contains those users.

Another thing to bear in mind is that different users may have different app permission policies (especially in larger organisations). As such it is possible that not everyone in a meeting will have access to Games for Work. If this is the case, they will receive a generic error message asking them to speak to their Teams administrator or call the help desk.

Verdict and Thoughts

Personally, I’m not sure about this and think many organisations will want to remove or block this functionality (which you can do). Microsoft believe, however that “playing games with co-workers in Teams meetings will foster relationships and build collaboration”.

I’m sure many will say that “Games for Work” may help people to relax (or take a break) but I’m sure there are better ways than adding games to a Teams meeting. This is not a pandemic “Zoom party” with your friends!

Would love to hear your thoughts on this….

Microsoft may have a solution to solve the Hybrid Hangover

The cost of real estate for business is the second largest recurring cost item (first is people) and can often be more than 20% of annual costs. Since even before the pandemic, though fueled hugely because of hybrid work practices, organisations are looking for ways to be smarter with this space and better understand, plan, and manage these expensive costs.

As we talk about ways to optimise cost within an organisation, we often think about cost optimisation with regards to cloud spend, consolidating vendors, smarter hiring and moving more power hungry, space consuming data centres to cloud.

Announced at this year’s Microsoft Ignite Conference, Microsoft Places could be the redeeming feature large organisations need to help optimise their office real estate both now and for years to come.

What is Microsoft Places?

Hybrid work promises us the best of all worlds. The ease and comfort of working from home, the connection and energy of engaging with our coworkers in the office, and the flexibility and opportunity of working where we want. But today, there are still challenges preventing this promise from becoming a reality.

Microsoft Places is a new (coming in 2023) connected workplace platform that promises to deliver on the promise of blending the best of hybrid and in-person work. Microsoft places is a new platform (yes, platform not product), that will deliver solutions that help organisations coordinate where work happens, modernise the office with intelligent technology, and optimise the workplace for the continuing ever-changing needs.

Microsoft Places – Video: Microsoft

I said before, Microsoft Places is not a product – it’s a suite of products and services which will slowly embed themselves across the wider Microsoft 365 services like Team and Outlook which is where people spend their time. In short this is all about making the office space are more responsive to everyone’s needs.

Image: (c) Microsoft

Microsoft Places, aims to intelligently leverage signals, data and building systems to provide a truly connected workspace experience, bringing the best employee experience, through a single, unified platform which builds upon the building and technology infrastructure to create an environment which can adapt to serve the unique and changing needs of hybrid work and allows leaders and facilities management to better plan and manage their real estate.

The key services will include:

  • Hybrid scheduling – which will leverage common data signals from Outlook and Teams to allow employees to view their week(s) ahead and see when co-workers and others you need to work or collaborate with are planning to be in the office.
  • Intelligent booking for meetings – will help employees discover available spaces with the right technology to match your meeting purpose and mix of in-person or remote participants. This will also feature recommendations for the shortest commute times, along with prompts that provide guidance on when to leave the office for next meeting and ensuring you don’t get booked back-to-back when you have in person meetings to travel to.
  • Wayfinding – will help employees quickly find the right meeting room, which is key for larger organisations with many locations, buildings, and rooms. Employees will be able to see live interactive maps from their mobile device that guides them to the to the right location.
  • Hot desk booking – will mean that employees can see choose where to sit and reserve desks or rooms accordingly. Updates to Microsoft Teams Rooms will bring more inclusive features for hybrid meetings such as auto-framing, content capture and more.
  • Meet-ups – will allow employees to easily create impromptu meetups and share with others in the office.
Mock-up of Microsoft Places – Image (c) Microsoft

Insights and Data for Leaders

Since all this will leverage the wider Microsoft 365 suite and power of the Microsoft Graph, Microsoft Places will provide a plethora of data driven insights such as utilisation data, energy-saving opportunities, and occupancy trends to better manage the physical space.

This data will help leaders and facilities management make any necessary dynamic space adjustments on a particular day or week such as changing excess huddle rooms to overbooked collaboration rooms or converting meeting rooms into more hot desking areas.

Microsoft Places – Image (c) Microsoft

This data will provide not only trends and usage data but will also allow organisations to better prepare, plan and optimise the real estate they have available and how it’s used to maximum potential. This may include reducing available floors on lighter foot fall days – saving energy expenditures and improving the workplace experience for everyone as well as working with managers and team leaders to better understand office trends around people, and spaces and places across their entire portfolio, creating more flexible, dynamic, and sustainable places that support new ways of working.

Working with Connected Spaces Partners

Since the building fabric, sensors and existing management platforms are critical to the success of a modern intelligent building, Microsoft have partnered with many industry and technology partners. This ecosystem of partners will build on top of the Microsoft Places platform with new and existing solutions, leveraging, and enhancing the rich data of the Microsoft Graph.

The list of partners (which will grow closer to release) include.

  • Accenture
  • Appspace
  • CBRE
  • Cisco (coming soon with DNA Spaces)
  • Conseco
  • EY
  • Honeywell
  • Johnson Controls
  • Swift Connect and
  • Many more

Availability

Microsoft say that Places will enter preview in early 2023 with general availability later next year. Microsoft will release more information on this over the next couple of months.

Microsoft Presenter + Review

Like similar clickers on the market, the Microsoft Presenter + can be used to control your PowerPoint and PowerPoint Live presentations.

The similarity ends here, however, as Presenter + is the first clicker that’s also Microsoft Teams certified, meaning it can also help you control and navigate your Teams meetings as well as providing control over your presentations when using PowerPoint Live from within Teams.

Microsoft say that “Presenter + reflects how work has changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic“.

Presenter + costs ~£69 so is not the cheapest “clicker” but is the first designed to work with Teams and brings meeting controls into your hand.

In the Box

… Is the Presenter + device and a charging Dock plus the usual manuals etc. The Presenter + can also be charged directly with a USB type C cable meaning you can leave the charger plugged into your laptop safe knowing that should you need to you can top up the charge with any USB cable.

The back of the device has a simple on/off switch a Bluetooth pairing button.

Set-up

Set up is easy.

  • Un-box the device and turn it on (there’s a switch on the back)
  • If not already installed, install the free Microsoft Assessory centre app from the Store
  • Head over to your Windows Bluetooth settings and pair the device. It also accepts pairing to multiple devices which is useful if you use a different device at home to when out and about, and even remembers any custom settings you apply to it.
Pairing the Presenter + in Windows 11
  • Open the Microsoft Accessory Centre and follow the on-screen prompts to set-up the device and customise any of the settings you wish to.
Walk through of set up and tutorial of Presenter +

Controls and Use

Microsoft Presenter + is not just a PowerPoint clicker.

In addition to the usual slide forward and back buttons, there is an also a giant Microsoft Teams button that allows you to quickly join Teams meetings and do things such as raise or lower you hand when in a meeting without reaching for your keyboard or mouse, giving a much more natural presenter experience. Microsoft also say that you can use Presenter+ with most other meeting apps, including Zoom, though I haven’t tested this yet.

Also on the device is a giant mute button, which can mute and unmute your microphone when in a call/meeting, and the remote nicely vibrates when your turn mute off, so that you know your audience can hear you talking.

You are also able to customise the left and right buttons to your individual needs using the Microsoft Accessory Centre app.

Customising the buttons on Presenter + using the Accessory Control App

Another cool feature which sets this apart from other clicker remotes is that you can use Presenter + to grab and focus the audience’s attention with the screen pointer by pressing the middle 🔆button.

Summary

The is well built, presenter remote that makes Teams Meetings and Presenting within them simple and easy. I’ve only had the joy of using this in a couple of meetings so far and the true test will be how it enables me to true be hands free.

Benefits of Presenter +
Image: Microsoft

One thing I wish it had, would be the ability to spotlight text/highlight text when presenting or zoom in / focus to a section of the presentation. It might be possible to do this via a keyboard shortcut programmed into the device, but I haven’t found a way of doing that yet.

The latest partnership between Cisco and Microsoft is the most significant breakthrough in video conferencing interoperability we seen yet.

Overview

Don’t underestimate this announcement. This news is huge in the world of collaboration. Cisco and Microsoft have always been competitors in this space.

For years, customers have been asking for a simpler way to achieve interoperability between Cisco and Microsoft Teams Rooms. At Microsoft’s global tech conference, Ignite last week, their asks may have been answered, giving customers the option to run Microsoft Teams by default on Cisco Room and Desk devices.

Cisco Rooms Powered by Microsoft Teams

Cisco acquired Webex back in 2007 for around $3.2 billion and used their leadership in unified comms to build out a world leading collaboration and conferencing platform. Webex competes with other collab giants including Zoom and of course, Microsoft Teams. This is not simply a “if you can’t beat em join em” thing though – there are some huge benefits to Cisco’s existing customers as well as to Microsoft and Cisco and their partners.

Cisco has been an innovative leader in the collaboration devices category for over two decades and their collaboration products have always been in high demand due to their design, reliability, and security. Cisco Devices for Microsoft Teams will help any organisation considering implementing Microsoft Teams Rooms or those looking to move from Cisco Webex Meetings and Meeting Rooms to Microsoft Teams as their default collaboration and meeting platform, since they will now be able to leverage much of their existing Cisco Devices in the process.

The Teams experience you know, on Cisco collaboration devices you’ll love.

Cisco .

In short, Microsoft Teams certified devices from Cisco promise to unlock greater flexibility and improved experiences for business, IT and employees.

Why this is good for Customers

We see these three key advantages of this newly released partnership for existing and new Cisco customers:

1. Cost Efficiency and Choice

By retaining and re using the investment in Cisco Video Conferencing technology which powers their Webex Meeting experiences today, organisations moving to Microsoft Teams can achieve significant cost savings, not to mention time and effort, from not having to purchase, implement, fit out and deploy new devices.

Organisations that have already got an investment in Cisco Room Devices that will support Microsoft Teams Rooms, will receive a firmware update as part of the update schedule. Once deployed, IT will be able to factory reset the device and choose between the full Cisco RoomOS experience or tailor the software for Microsoft Teams Rooms.

Cisco Devices certified for Microsoft Teams | image (c) Cisco

This provides greater choice both now and in the future as organisations will be able to choose the primary meeting platform that meets the needs of their business without having to rip-and-replace the hardware.

Initially, six of Cisco’s most popular meeting room devices and peripherals will be certified for Microsoft Teams, with more are expected to come later in 2023. The initial wave of devices to be supported are:

(c) Cisco – Schedule teams Room Support for Cisco Devices

2. Simplified and familiar management

One of the biggest headaches when moving to a different eco system and vendor is around how IT provisions, configures and manages meeting room devices.

Managing Teams Room devices is critical to scale. With the Cisco MTR solution, organisations will get all the benefits of Teams Admin Centre (subject to whether they are leveraging Teams Rooms Basic or Teams Rooms Pro) along with access to Cisco Control Hub. Control Hub is Cisco’s unified cloud device management platform with an analytics dashboard to elevate your workspace with environmental analytics and API integrations leveraging the wider Cisco ecosystem including DNA Spaces, your building management. systems and ITSM platform.

This provides consistency for organisations already invested in Cisco Devices who are familiar with Control Hub and a powerful, intuitive management interface for customers who are new to Cisco MTRs.

3. Streamlined, yet, familiar user experience

Since Cisco is baking interoperability into their room systems, it means that not only will users will benefit from a native Microsoft Teams Room experience on their Cisco Room Devices, including full access to the full range of collaborative tools such as PowerPoint Live, Teams Apps and Polls etc, but they will also be able to still natively join Webex meetings on Cisco devices that are enrolled into Control Hub.

“By enabling the Microsoft Teams Rooms experience on Cisco devices, customers have the flexibility to choose the experience they want on the devices they love”.

Cisco

With Cisco RoomOS powering Microsoft Teams Rooms, users will get access to all the  intelligence features they have ben familiar with in Webex such as the Frames Camera Mode, which uses individual framing for participants to ensure everyone is seen equally in any meeting. They will also be able to take advantage of Cisco’s audio intelligence [aka noise cancelling] which blocks out unwanted audio distractions. The camera and audio
intelligence features will be available through device settings via Room Navigator in case of non-touch devices and the right-side swipe menu on touch screen devices in and out of call.

Being able to continue to leverage these great features, will reduce platform learning curves as well as ensure organisations are leveraging the value and uniqueness of the Cisco Devices. 


Why this is good news for Partners

For Partners, like Cisilion who specialise in both Cisco and Microsoft collaboration solutions and services, we have also been longing for this to happen for years.

We see many organisations unable to justify the expense of meeting room technology refresh and re-investment who “simply want to move their meeting and collaboration platform of chois to Microsoft Teams”.

This new partnership means that partners are now able to better serve the needs of their customers collaboration strategy, budget, deployment schedule and hardware preference. There is no doubt that Cisco has some of the best video conferencing devices and technology in the market today, coupled with their phenomenal global support and maintenance that Cisco partners have leveraged to provide the stability and uptime guarantees that their global customers expect and demand. 

Why this is great news for Microsoft

Partnership is two way of course.

Cisco is a world leader in video conferencing and meeting room technology. The majority of their Webex room kit includes a wealth of clever AI powered tech such as speaker tracking, noise cancelling, occupancy sensors, environmental monitoring and integrated digitial signage technology as well being the only vendor that creates truly immersive panoramic meeting experiences such as the Cisco Panorama.

In the past, Cisco, Microsoft and Zoom have all collaborated jointly on developing a native video interop technology which uses Web RTC technology, called Direct Guest Join. This, while useful, is really around bringing better inter company collaboration than actually allowing organisations to run Teams as their preferred meeting technology and is limited in functionality.

Customers seem to be wanted to work with their choice of a communications platform of their choice. With the small (and arguably shrinking market share), Cisco are loosing out on revenue and market share in the hardware space by only supporting their native platform. Partnering with Microsoft seems therefore a sensible move and allows them to retain their quality brand and footprint I the enterprise that has been “forced” to invest in other AV vendors in order to deliver against their collaboration strategy with a Microsoft Teams.

Cisco and Microsoft’s new partnership will enable Microsoft to work. Collaboratively with Cisco (rather than compete) and bring a new class of innovation into Teams Rooms by borrowing some of Cisco’s smarts.

We understand that Cisco are already be working with Microsoft to integrate their DNA spaces services into the newly announced Microsoft Places bringing intelligence and analytics on how meeting spaces are used. This forms a major part of Cisco’s Smart Buildings initiative.

Cisco is giving additional flexibility and choice whilst bringing new innovation to Microsoft Teams.

Cisco

Wait – I have loads of Questions…

That’s ok – the news is still hot of the press. Cisco are running a number of partner and customer webinars and sessions over the next month or so.

We have collated the most common and obvious questions and attempted to answer them here:

1. What does this for the future of Webex?

Webex is a great product and trusted by many FTSE 100 organisations, but the market has shifted and is still shifting rapidly which Cisco clearly recognises.

Whilst we don’t have firm figures for market share from Cisco directly,  a 2021 report estimated that Zoom had a 46 percent share (though was very consumer skewed), Microsoft a 54 percent share and Webex market share of meetings was around 7 percent.

That said, Cisco does has a strong install base of Cisco Webex, which they will continue to support and develop.  Their devices will now be designed to support both Cisco and Mcirosoft Teams meeting platforms. They are committed to continuing to deliver the best user experience with Webex and will continue to invest in developments that optimise the Webex experience when running on Cisco devices.

Cisco have also said that they will provide Webex Meetings free as a ‘backup to Teams’ for customers using their devices as Mcirosoft MTRs.

2. What Cisco devices will not be supported?

Cisco Room Kit and Room Kit Plus will not be supported on Microsoft Teams since these run on hardware platforms that are currently unable to support Microsoft Teams Rooms. Cisco Desk and Cisco Desk Mini are also currently unable to run as Mcirosoft Teams devices due to hardware platforms that are unable to support native Microsoft Teams Display mode.

As such organisations can of choose from the range of non-Cisco Teams Room Certified devices from other vendors such as Yealink, Poly, Logitech or Neat.

Cisco recommend that their customers with medium sized room look to upgrade / invest in the Cisco Board Pro, which in addition to being an interactive collaboration device works, can also serve as an all-in-one meeting room system when paired with a Cisco Room Navigator.

3. How will this effect Zoom, and Microsoft Video Interop?

This will not change the either the in which third party (incuding Cisco, Pexip or Poly) Cloud Video Interop (CVI) work or the way in which the Web RTC based Direct Guest Join services work between the three VC platforms.

Cisco have said that they will continue to work with Zoom, Google, and Microsoft to enhance these meeting experiences. Both Microsoft and Cisco are also committed to
continue to enhance our respective WebRTC based guest join experiences. This  announcement means that in addition to the above, their devices can now be configured as Microsoft Teams Rooms devices – meaning they can deliver a native Teams user experience.

4. How do we license the Cisco Devices for Teams Rooms

Microsoft Teams Rooms licenses must be purchased directly from your Microsoft CSP Partner or from Microsoft as part of your Enterprise Agreement . For more information, see the core Teams Room Basic and Teams Room Pro pricing information.

Teams Rooms Plans and Pricing | Microsoft 365

5. Do we still need a Cisco Webex license for the device?

No – but Cisco strongly recommend that organisations buy the Webex Suite to ensure they can leverage the full value of running MTR on a Cisco Device. This is because customers who do not purchase a Webex Suite, will only be able to access Webex meetings via direct guest join, and will not be able to take advantage of the advanced management and workspace analytic capabilities of Control Hub.

6. How will Cisco differentiate their MTRS against the other MTRs?

Cisco’s approach here is that their existing (and new) customers will get to experience the best of breed audio and video intelligence features that have previously only been available to customers using RoomOS and Webex Meetings.

Cisco customers that have bought any part of the Webex Suite will get access to
Cisco Control Hub device management and fully featured Webex meetings within
Microsoft Teams Rooms.

“Cisco will continue to develop our hardware and software as award-winning, purpose built design, supreme hardware quality and broad device portfolio which makes Cisco Devices the best solution in market for Microsoft Teams.”

Cisco.

Want to know more?

With the digital ink still drying on the announcement, Cisilion are here to help our customers think (or re-think) and plan about how this may impact their meetings space, remote work and collaboration roadmaps.

Speak with Cisilion today to find out more about your interoperability journey from Cisco Webex to Microsoft Teams or how to achieve seemless interoperability between the two platforms.

Cisco are also hosting a customer webinar on November 8th – which can be registered for at https://cs.co/MTR

You now now annotate collaborately from any app in Microsoft Teams

Collaborative Annotations is another enhancement coming to Teams. Powered by Microsoft Whiteboard, collaborative annotations is designed to further simply the ability to collaborate with others while screen sharing in a Microsoft Teams meetings.

Thus feature brings a new dimension to screen sharing as it allows participants to collaborate on anything by essentially leveraging a whiteboard overlay to anything being shared. This is useful if you want to ask for feedback or input on a design, diagram or any other document in a one2one or when working with a group.

Presenters are able to start collaborative annotation for all participants or just the presenter to annotate on shared screen content.

Using the new feature is simple and intuitive. From within a Teams meeting, there’s a new button located in the meeting controls at the top-center of their screen.

Using Collaborative Annotations

While you’re sharing your full screen in a meeting, select Start annotation Microsoft Teams annotation icon in the meeting controls at the upper-middle area of your screen.

Collaborative Annotations

The red outline around the shared screen will turn blue and all participants will see the Microsoft Whiteboard toolset at the top of the shared screen. Everyone in the meeting can begin annotating right away, and the red pen tool is selected by default.

To begin annotating, you can simply choose one of the tools in the Whiteboard toolset such as Sticky note and start typing or drawing on the screen.

Collaborative Annotations

To use this feature, you must have a presenter role in the meeting.

Annotation settings

By default, everyone can annotate. Collaborative cursors also show the names of every participant in the meeting by default. These settings can be toggled on or off by anyone in the meeting by selection settings and toggling the options as shown below.

Annotation settings
Collaborative Annotations settings

Limitations

There are a few limitations though expect these to be fewer as the new feature develops. Most notably these are:

  • Collaborative Annotation is only available for full-screen sharing, not individual window sharing.
  • Exporting annotations is not currently supported. Microsoft recommend that you can take screenshots during the meeting
  • Meeting rooms using Android-based devices are not currently supported.

Availability

This new feature is currently in public preview and is expected to gradually roll out towards the end of this week.

You can find the details on this Microsoft 365 roadmap below. https://www.microsoft.com/en-my/microsoft-365/roadmap?filters=&searchterms=86732

Microsoft Sentinel |2022 Gartner Magic Quadrant leader | Security Information & Event Management

Microsoft has been named a Leader in the 2022 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Security Information and Event Management (SEIM) and was positioned highest on the measure of Ability to Execute axis.

Gartner Magic Quadrant for SEIM 2022

What is Sentinel?

Microsoft’s end to end security takes the best of SIEM and combines that with the best of extended detection and response (XDR) to deliver a unified security operations platform.

Microsoft Sentinel is a scalable, cloud-native solution that provides:

  • Security information and event management (SIEM) and
  • Security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR).

Sentinel delivers intelligent security analytics and threat intelligence across the enterprise with integration into almost any application, network and service. Sentinel provides a single comprehensive, intelligent, AI driven solution for attack detection, threat visibility, proactive hunting, and threat response.

It’s unique bird’s-eye view across the enterprise, helps alleviate the stress of increasingly sophisticated attacks, increasing volumes of alerts, and long resolution time frames which often cripples IT and SecOps teams.


Leaders because….?

Microsoft’s vision for protecting organisations from threats is unique compared to competitor vendors/products that only offer a SIEM platform. Just look at how far they have moved in 12 months… Incredible for a fairly new product.

In the annoucement from Microsoft on the recognition they say that “the breadth of coverage only a SIEM can provide and the depth of insight that XDR provides. That means that organisations that leverage Microsoft security solutions have more context to work from to resolve attacks faster. Customers using our XDR capabilities, such as Microsoft 365 Defender, also receive a discount on their data ingestion into Microsoft Sentinel.


You can access and read the full Gartner report here

You can also get a free trial (or free workshop) for Sentinel by following the link here or by speaking to you Microsoft Security Partner.