64-bit OneDrive Sync client now available in preview…

OneDrive for Business Logo

Last night, Microsoft released a public preview of the 64-bit version of the OneDrive for Windows sync client.

This upcoming 64-bit version of the app doesn’t have any new/changed features over the current 32-bit version, but being a 64-bit app, should run much more efficiently on PCs running a 64-bit version of Windows 10 – especially where users regularly need to synchronise larger files. 

Microsoft’s OneDrive team said that “…the 64-bit version is the right choice if you plan to use large files, if you have a lot of files, and if you have a computer that’s running a 64-bit version of Windows.”.

As of today (it’s in preview after all), the OneDrive 64-bit version can only be installed on AMD64 devices, and for now Windows 10 on ARM PCs only support the 32-bit version of the sync client such as the #SurfaceProX

When officially released – expected later this April, the 64-bit version of OneDrive Sync Client will automatically replace the 32-bit version.

If you like betas and early testing, there is a public preview of the OneDrive 64-bit client available here

Poly Sync20+ “Teams Edition “- Hands-on Review

Released at the end of 2020, the Poly Sync 20 and Sync 20 + are personal Bluetooth and USB speakerphones designed for use with Microsoft Teams. Whilst nothing new in terms of form-factor – as other vendors such as Yealink, Jabra, Lenovo etc., all have similar form factor speakers, the quality design and easy to use features make the Sync 20 a great device for home workers, hybrid workers or anyone looking for a stylish, Bluetooth / smart portable speakerphone solution that has been “designed” for Microsoft Teams.

Poly Sync 20 on Desk
The Poly Sync-20

 

The Poly Sync 20 was the first in Poly’s new Sync range of USB and Bluetooth speakerphones. The Sync 20 has two bigger brothers – the Sync 40 and the Sync 60 which are aimed more for use in huddle spaces and smaller to medium sized meeting rooms – The Sync 20 and Sync 40 are available “now” and the Sync 60 is “coming “soon”. This review just looks at the Sync 20.

Poly SYnc Family of Devices

These device types are designed for those people that travel or are on the road often (outside of current COVID restrictions of course) and needing to join Teams Meetings / conference calls either alone or with one or two other people – or as a permanent set-up at the home office.  These personal speakers are great to ensure you have the best audio experience and that those on the other-end can also hear you well – certainly beats using a phone on “speaker phone” – please don’t do that!! 

Speeds and Feeds

The Poly 20 Sync costs circa £160 and measures 34mm x 95mm x 182mm so easily fits in your laptop/Surface bag or pouch.  Like many of its competition, it includes a rechargeable battery that gives about 20 hours of talk time (according to Poly – I didn’t test that) between charges and takes just 4 hours to charge using the attached USB A cable. One nifty thing about the Poly Sync 20, compared to most other similar devices in this category, is that it also doubles up as a portable battery charger allowing you to plug your smart phone or headphones into the Sync 20 to keep your other gadgets charged when working remotely. 

  • Bluetooth / USB Speakerphone
  • Portable Battery Charger
  • Windows 10 Dongle (Sync 20 + version only)

Look and Feel 

The Poly 20 Sync measures 34mm x 95mm x 182mm so easily fits in your laptop/Surface bag or pouch.

As you’d expect from Poly, the Poly Sync 20 is a good-looking device. As you can see from the images above, it has a silver bezel and a high-quality fabric mesh speaker cover. The device is also IP64 rated (meaning it is dust and water-resistant) and comes with its own equally stylish case for storage and protection against scratches etc.

Poly Sync-20 Close Up

On the front of the device, there are familiar buttons for call controls as well as a programmable button that you can use to open a voice assistant, check status, play / pause music etc., (this requires installing the Poly Customisation Software). Since this is a Teams certified device, there is also a dedicated Teams button on the device for instant access to the Teams app, joining a meeting etc.  There’s also a large call status light on the front.

Usability

As expected, the Sync 20 is incredibly easy to get going. I chose to plug mine into my Surface via the USB port. The Sync-20 was instantly recognised by Windows 10 and also showed up in Teams along with the recognition that this was a Teams Certified device.

Screenshot showing Teams recognising a teams Certified device

Pairing to my Samsung phone was also quick and easy and by using the PLT Hub app I could then simply configure the device and was even able to change the voice to British English! 

Performance and Quality

Sound Quality was tested by using my Surface (wired) and phone (via Bluetooth) to play some Spotify hits and some movie content (yes, Star Wars from Disney Plus!). Sound quality was crisp and clear. There was no distortion even with the volume “pumped” all the way up to maximum.  I am no audio expert, but for a portable device – it was loud enough for use in a meeting room, home office / hotel room. 

Bluetooth connectivity works as expected on my mobile device (I didn’t bother pairing it to my Surface since I used the USB-A cable for this and “hate” using a dongle which is needed to use the device as a Teams Certified speaker). 

USB Charging – is a nice to have and it does mean I don’t have to carry multiple devices about – Using the device as a Bluetooth speaker on my Samsung phone, I was able to charge my phone from 54% to 100% whilst playing music from it in less than an hour. 

Summary and Close

In all a great device if you are in the market for a high-quality, Teams certified small portable smart speaker to use with your mobile or laptop/tablet then you won’t be disappointed by the Sync-20. The built-in battery charger is a definite plus point too when working remotely – though there’s not enough power in the USB to charge my Surface Go. 

At ~£160 it’s on par with similar devices in its class and has fantastic build quality. Like most devices, firmware is upgradable via the Poly management apps, but the real test will of course be when I finally return to some form of going out and working in different places. 

March 2021 Teams Display Updates enables Cortana voice search, custom backgrounds and more.

Microsoft has just started rolling out a heap of new updates and features Teams displays, such as the Lenovo ThinkSmart View.

In case you are not familiar, Teams Displays are low-cost, dedicated devices design for just Teams Meetings, Calls, and simple collaboration/presentation. The idea behind these is that having Teams on a dedicated second display means that separating out “teamwork” and individual work can make focus easier. I have a ThinkSmart View on a small table on the other side of my home office which I find helps me to focus on the meeting in situations where I don’t need to “stuck” in front of my Laptop. You can read my earlier review of the ThinkSmart here

Updates on Teams Displays

In the latest update, Microsoft has brought us the following features and improvements:

  • Voice Control: Powered by Cortana, you can now search for meetings, ask teams to join your meeting, find a message, open a file, or call a person.
  • Custom Background: Providing feature comparison with the desktop clients, you can not only blur your background but use the Microsoft provided custom backgrounds in meetings and calls.
  • Live Reactions: You can now send a range of emoticons to show support, applause, “love”, and laughter during a meeting. 
  • Cortana and Bing: Seach integration, allow users to find information hands-free with voice while collaborating or taking part in meetings and calls – For example, “what is the time in Seattle”, or “Show my latest messages from Rachel”.

These features are rolling out as part of the March 2021 update for Teams displays.

The biggest announcements from MSFT Ignite 2021

So, it wouldn’t be a Microsoft event (#MSIgnite) without a handful of “wow” demos, updates, and new products announcement both in preview and GA across Teams, the wider Microsoft 365 platform, Azure, Windows 10 and Power Platform, but without doubt the biggest “thing” to happen at Ignite this year was Mcirosoft Mesh.  Anyway, here’s my 

As in previous years), Microsoft have published their “encyclopaedia” if you like, of Ignite (the #BookOfIgnite ) which covers all the announcements in detail along with links to blogs and tech articles.

This post, on the other hand is a summary of my personal “top 3” announcements across each of the core solution areas. Of course, depending on your role, line of business and priorities, and interests, you will have your own favourites so feel free to let me know yours in the comments.

 

Microsoft Mesh

This stole the show from the moment the keynote started and was without question the biggest news of Ignite 2021. Much of the keynote and later sessions were available to watch live AltSpace VR in both Mixed and Virtual Reality. Mesh is Microsoft’s new Mixed Reality Platform which is designed to allow people who are in physically various locations to join collaborative and shared holographic experiences across many kinds of devices.

The business case for Mesh builds upon the success of HoloLens 2 and is designed (and was highlighted) for organisations to let their teams joined shared virtual spaces for collaborative meetings, where everyone will appear as virtual avatars (reminds me of the holograms in the StarWars). Microsoft say that their target audience is both enterprise and commercial customers. Microsoft Mesh can be accessed through an updated version of AltSpace VR, which is Microsoft’s VR platform. Microsoft Mesh will be coming to HoloLens via a dedicated app and solutions built through Mesh by developers will also be able to be tailored/supported to Windows Mixed Reality, PCs, Macs, Smart Phones, and headsets like Oculus.

Microsoft Teams

Teams Ignite Features
Highlight of new Teams Meeting Features

 

Always needing its very own category, my top 3 in this category are:

1. Improvements for Teams Meetings and Live Events.

    • Teams can now be used to create and run fully interactive webinars for up to 1,000 attendees and will also support webinars with up to 20,000 attendees from later this month. This will also be included for any customer with Office 365 E3 and more without any additional licenses or cost.
    • Dynamic View for Teams meetings will be released next month and is all about ensuring more inclusive and natural meetings for remote/hybrid meetings making them more engaging. Dynamic view uses AI to adjust elements of the meeting to allow for display different modes such as charts, chats, etc next to video feeds as well as an overlay of presenter video and presentation space.
    • Improved privacy and security in meetings – with meeting-only meeting controls and end-to-end encryption in one-to-one calls.
    • PowerPoint Live in Teams is available now. The much-requested feature combines slides, notes, and meeting chat in a single view to help make presentations easier for speakers and presenters and to make them more engaging for attendees.

2. Teams Connect

A new channel-sharing feature coming to Teams “later” this calendar year. This will enable users to share channels with anyone, internal or external. Unlike guest access, the shared channel will appear within a user’s primary Teams tenant, alongside other Teams channels meaning that “multiple organisations can share a single channel” that all members can then access from their own Teams environments. Channel sharing seems is great for scenarios where multiple organisations are collaborating on a specific project for example. Guest Access isn’t going anywhere and is still relevant as this is more suited to situations where an external organisation or person needs broad access to data, meetings, and information, beyond just a specific channel. This is currently in “private preview”.

3. Teams Calling Updates

  1. Direct Routing and Survivable Brach Appliances: With the explosion of customers enabling and migrating to PSTN calling in Teams from traditional IP PBXs, the use of Direct Routing grown 8-fold, Microsoft announced several new certified Session Border Controllers (SBC) for Direct Routing, with 6 new SBCs completing certification in just the past 3 months. Additionally, to add resiliency to the most critical locations, Survivable Branch Appliance (SBAs) are now generally available, enabling PSTN calling in the event an outage does not allow the Teams client to directly connect to Microsoft 365 global services.

  2. Operator Connect Conferencing brings an “operator-managed service” that provides “bring your own operator” for conferencing, meaning customers can keep their preferred operator contracts in place as they migrate their PSTN infrastructure to the cloud. This also allows additional geographic dial-in coverage, enhanced support, and reliability with locally agreed technical support and SLAs. This enters private preview from June, with the initial wave of qualified partners, including BT, Deutsche Telekom, Intrado, NTT, Orange Business Services, and Telenor.

  3. New Cloud Calling Plan Countries were also announced, with Microsoft native calling plans coming to 8 new markets from April 2021 including New Zealand, Singapore, Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Finland, Norway, and Slovakia, bringing native Microsoft Teams Calling Plans to 26 markets across the globe.

    Teams Calling Countries - April 2021

Identity, Security & Compliance

1. Identity

Focusing on helping organisations deliver on their Zero Trust strategy including, 

    1. Password-less authentication which is now “generally available” for cloud and hybrid environments meaning customers can move towards a truly password-less world leveraging multi-factor authentication and risk based conditional access to provide just in time, assume breach, challenge everything approach to identify and access management without the need for passwords.

    2. Azure AD Conditional Access now uses authentication context to enforce more granular policies based on user actions across the applications they are using or the sensitivity of data they’re trying to access.

    3. Azure AD verifiable credentials will be in public preview later this month. Verifiable credentials allow organisations to confirm information without collecting or storing personal data, improving security and privacy.

2. Security announcements

A wealth of announcements here as well, all of which will further strengthen, Microsoft’s commitment to deliver the absolute best security protection, detection, and response for all clouds and all platforms:

    1. Azure Sentinel now seamlessly integrates with Microsoft 365 Defender with shared incidents, schema, and user experiences to simplify investigations for a totally aligned view and remediation surface.
    2. Endpoint and Office 365 defender capabilities are now also integrated into the Microsoft 365 Defender portal.

    3. New Threat Analytics experience within the Microsoft 365 Defender portal provides a set of reports from expert Microsoft security researchers designed to help customers understand, prevent, and mitigate active threats, like the recent Solorigate / SolarWinds attacks.

    4. The Secure-core services that are now build into Surface devices (and other leading Windows 10 devices) is also coming to Windows Server and Azure edge devices to help minimise risk from firmware vulnerabilities, attacks, and advanced malware in IoT and hybrid cloud environments.

3. Compliance announcements

    1. Co-authoring of Microsoft Information Protection-protected documents will be available in “public preview” from this week. This in my experience the number one blocker of being able to properly deploy organisational wide information protect across SharePoint sites, Teams, and individual documents since currently (well, prior to this announcement) it was not possible to co-author docs that were encrypted which makes most of the power of Modern Office 365 and co-authoring useless. This feature helps significantly close the gap between security and productivity.

    2. Microsoft Azure Purview was announced in more detail. Purview provides new cross-platform support and deeper insight into data classification and protection across structured and un-structured data across on-premises, data bases, Microsoft Cloud and third-party services including Google and AWS – it’s Azure Information Protection on steroids!

    3. Microsoft 365 data loss prevention (DLP) now supports Google Chrome browsers and on-premises file shares and SharePoint Server as well as SharePoint Online and of course Microsoft’s Edge (Chromium based) browser.

    4. Microsoft 365 Insider Risk Management Analytics was released into public preview.

Power Platform

1. Power Automate Desktop was made free!

This is really really big news for any organisation that is looking, using, or intending to use Robotic Process Automation (RPA).  Power Automate Desktop is a an “attended Robotic Process Automation” solution which is a macro recorder on steroids. You can download it now if you want to try it. It will be available first for #WindowsInsiders to try (built into Windows 10), however it will eventually be rolled out to Windows 10 as a core product (most likely as an optional feature). Until now, a per user for month for the tool would cost about £12 a month. Power Automate currently has circa 400 actions to help build flows across different applications and the best part is that it enables you to build your own scripts to automate time consuming repetitive tasks which saves time and money. Microsoft’s goal here is to “democratise the development for everybody with Power Platform” by making no-code/low-code accessible to everyone not just developers.

2. PowerFX (a new low code programming language) was announced.

PowerFx is a low code programming language that is based on the foundation of the Microsoft Power Apps canvas. What’s great is that since Power Fx is based on Microsoft Excel, it will naturally be a great fit for a wide range of people since it will leverage skills, they “many” already know and becomes a common ground for business users and professional developers alike to express logic and solve problems. Microsoft also said they were planning make Power Fx, open source, making the language available for open contribution by the broader community on GitHub.

3. Dynamics 365 now seamlessly integrates with Microsoft Teams

This ensures conversations, calls, meetings, and chat will be available across dynamics 365 – within opportunities, sales, marketing, finance, and operations.

Windows 10

Windows 10 usually gets a backseat at Microsoft Ignite (as it typically focusses on cloud services and new things), but this year, there were some things which resonated.

1. Power Automate Desktop

As discussed above, Power Automate Desktop was announced and will be free for all Windows 10 users including Windows 10 Home and Pro and not just to Enterprise users. You can read more about this above.

2. Windows 10 in Cloud 

Simply put, cloud configuration is a Microsoft-recommended device configuration for Windows 10, cloud-optimised for users with specific workflow needs. IT admins use Microsoft Endpoint Manager to apply a standard, cloud-based, easy-to-manage configuration of Windows 10 to a selected set of new or existing devices. The configuration works on devices running Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Enterprise and may be appropriate for workers who only need a limited number of IT-curated and approved applications to meet their targeted workflow needs. User accounts are registered in Azure Active Directory and devices are enrolled for cloud management in Intune, so they are automatically updated with continuous product and security updates.

Microsoft announced that the newly announced Windows 10 in Cloud has now been integrated into Microsoft Endpoint Manager, which will make it even easier to provide a secure device configuration regardless of the type of worker. Microsoft also made a full “Windows 10 in cloud configuration overview and setup guide” available which is designed to help solution integrators, partners, and internal IT teams to apply a uniform, secure and easy-to-manage cloud-based configuration of Windows 10 Professional or Enterprise devices.

3. New version of Windows 10 Perhaps?

Well maybe! During a Fireside chat session at Ignite, Surface and Windows Lead, Panos Panay “teased” of some major updates and design changes coming to Windows. Windows 10 Insider LogoThese were very much hints and teases than any firm commitments but talked a lot about the fact that Microsoft has not “talked about the next generation of Windows for a while” and that he was “so pumped” for it – ending with “it’s going to be a massive year for Windows.”


Written: 05 March 2021

Microsoft announces “Microsoft Viva”, a new employee experience designed for the digital era that puts people first.

Satya Nadella announcing Microsoft Viva

Microsoft today (4th Feb 2021) announced Microsoft Viva, (not sure i love the name) a new employee experience platform that aims to bring tools for employee engagement, learning, wellbeing, and knowledge discovery into a single and unified place – Teams.

The Employee eXperience Platforms (EXP) is said to be a market worth more than $300 billion but is fragmented with lots of different several services, infrastructure, and tools which are in the main dis-jointed and non-integrated. With Viva, Microsoft is planning to address this “problem” through the creation of a unified experience built on Microsoft 365 and Teams along with an eco-system of partners working together for a connected and familiar experience.

I

Microsoft Viva is made up of 4 key elements:

  • Learning
  • Insights
  • Topics and
  • Connections

Viva Learning

Viva Learning makes training and professional development opportunities more discoverable and accessible in the flow of work. It aggregates all the learning resources available to an organisation in one place, including content from LinkedIn Learning; Microsoft Learn; third-party providers including Skillsoft, Coursera, Pluralsight and edX; as well as an organisation’s own content library. From traditional learning courses to microlearning content, users can discover, share, assign and track a wide variety of learning as a natural part of the workday.

The Viva Learning app is now available in private preview and starting later this year Viva Learning will offer integrations with leading learning management systems, including Cornerstone OnDemand, Saba and SAP SuccessFactors.

Viva Insights

Viva Insights gives individuals, managers and leaders personalized and actionable insights that help everyone in an organisation thrive. Personal experiences and insights, visible only to the employee, help individuals protect time for regular breaks, focused work, and learning, as well as strengthen relationships with their colleagues. Managers and leaders can see trends at team and organization level, as well as recommendations to better balance productivity and wellbeing. The insights are aggregated and deidentified by default to maintain personal privacy. In addition, a new dashboard allows organizations to combine employee feedback from LinkedIn’s Glint with collaboration data from Viva Insights, enabling leaders to more accurately identify where teams may be struggling, proactively adjust work norms, and then quantify the impact of those changes over time. In addition to using data and signals from Microsoft apps, customers will also be able to incorporate data from third-party services like Zoom, Slack, Workday and SAP SuccessFactors.

The Viva Insights app in Teams and the new Glint and Viva Insights dashboard are now available in public preview.

Viva Topics

Viva Topics delivers a knowledge discovery experience that helps people connect to information and experts across the company. Using AI to reason over a customer’s Microsoft 365 data, and with the ability to integrate knowledge from a variety of third-party services such as ServiceNow and Salesforce, Viva Topics automatically surfaces topic cards within conversations and documents across Microsoft 365 and Teams. Clicking on a card opens a topic page with related documents, conversations, videos, and people.

Viva Topics is now generally available as an add-on to Microsoft 365 commercial plans.

Viva Connections

Viva Connections provides a personalised gateway to your digital workplace where employees can access internal communications and company resources like policies and benefits and participate in communities like employee resource groups, all from a single customizable app in Microsoft Teams.

The Connections app for Teams will be available on desktop in public preview the first half of 2021 with a mobile app coming later this year.

Microsoft have said that a global network of services partners. starting with Accenture, Avanade, PwC and EY will provide consulting and advisory services to help customers optimize their existing employee experience investments by bringing them together with Microsoft Viva.

 

To find our more

Information above provided by Microsoft. To find out more, search for #MSFTVIVA – “combining collaboration, well-bring and learning”

Satya Nadella announcing Microsoft Viva

#Learning
#Insights
#Topics
#Connections

https://microsoft.com/en-gb/microsoft-viva

How to try out the new redesigned Microsoft Teams “public preview” design.

Since #MicrosoftTeams first launched back in 2017, the core design of the interface hasn’t really changed visually as Microsoft Teams hasn’t really seen a lot of visual or design changes with the familiar “grey and purple” coloured side-navigation bars, and the purple title bar.

Screenshot of Teams Dark mode
Screenshot of Current Microsoft Teams Desktop in dark-mode

A Fresh Lick of Paint

Back in October 2020, Microsoft announced some changes for Teams, including the introduction of new “Fluent icons” and subtle colour changes to Teams both for the light (default) mode and the more popular dark mode in which the changes are much more obvious.

Microsoft recently made it possible to users (if enabled by the Teams Global Admin) to test out some of “coming soon” changes to Teams through a new public preview feature. This new fluent design update is the latest to show itself in the preview. I’m enabled within our corporate environment to try these out, which I have done – and here’s the new fresher view that is coming to everyone soon. 

As you can see below, the dark is much more dark (just compare to your own Teams client), and the icons on the left pane are refreshed a much more modern looking and, well just cleaner. Screenshot of Teams desktop showing Fluent Design

Ooooh…so how do I try the new Teams design?

Great question and it’s really easy to do so long as your company Microsoft Teams / Office 365 admin has enabled the ability for users to “opt in” from the Teams Admin Center. 

Screenshot showing how to enable Teams preview in Teams Admin Centre

One this is done (ask them), you (as a user), need to “enroll” your Teams app into the public preview program to get the preview features.

To do this, simply click on your profile picture at the top, click “about”, and then enable the “public preview” option, as shown below. You will get a notification which will alert you that you are about to switch to the public preview version of the Teams Client. At this point you will be signed out (if you aren’t you need to manually sign-out) and will then need to sign back in.

Enabling Teams Preview in the Teams client

What else is in Preview?

Microsoft publish the features of all release and preview versions of their Office 365 apps here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/officeupdates/current-channel-preview

Additionally, any user can give feedback to Microsoft on Teams by going to the
Help > Give Feedback within the Teams client.

Finally, Microsoft has a Microsoft Teams Public Preview space on their Tech Community Site which can be found here: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/microsoft-teams-public-preview/bd-p/MicrosoftTeamsPublicPreview

Can I switch back?

Yep – simply follow the steps above but untick the option for the public preview, sign-out and back in again. 

Say Hello to the SurfacePro 7+

Surface Promo

Microsoft today have announced some subtle but important updates to their Surface family which I wanted to share with you quickly.

As always, I welcome any comments and thoughts – are you a fan or always on Surface range? What’s your thoughts on Hub 2S?

Surface Pro 7+ (not the “Pro 8”) Launched

The Surface Pro 5 shipped with an LTE variant which was and remained popular but neither the Pro 6 nor Pro 7 included an LTE variant which was extremely frustrating for organisations that wanted always on Surface Devices. Until now the only way to that was to move to the ARM based Surface Pro X or the baby Surface Go LTE...until now that is!

Announcing -the Surface Pro 7+ (yes, not sure why it’s not the Pro 8)

Image of Surface Pro 7+
Image of the Surface Pro 7 plus (courtesy Microsoft)

 

The Pro 7+ includes the following key updates to last year’s Surface Pro 7:

  • 11th Gen Processor options
    • Dual-core 11th Gen Intel® Core™ i3-1115G4 Processor (Wi-Fi)
    • Quad-core 11th Gen Intel® Core™ i5-1135G7 Processor (Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi AND LTE)
    • Quad-core 11th Gen Intel® Core™ i7-1165G7 Processor (Wi-Fi)
  • Same form factor as Pro 7
  • 2.1x faster than the Pro 7 (10th Gen) 
  • Optional LTE Support on select models
  • Battery is bigger and longer with 4.5x better than the Pro 5 LTE
  • Now includes removable SSD – like the Surface ProX

 

Surface Hub 2S 85”

The latest news here is that shipping of the latest giant 85″ Surface Hub has started shipping with US, UK and other shipping this month (existing orders) and EU following in early Feb followed by other regions such as Asia-Pac / India etc by March 2021.

Surface Hub 2S 85"

Surface Hub2S 85″ (courtesy Microsoft)

Microsoft spent a bit of time focusing on the huge achievements they have made here, not just on getting the device ready, but getting it ready for shipment and fulfilment globally – which given the pressures on manufacturing due to COVID-19 and Microsoft’s previous “challenges” in getting Surface Hub v1 into market this was well called out!

For those not familiar, Hub 2 S 85″ is a beast but a thing of beauty. If builds on the gorgeous look and familiar Surface family feel but also provides a nice upgrade to the (now 5-year-old) Surface Hub V1 84″. It’s still heavy at 85kgs but won’t require 4 of the “world’s strongest man contestants” at least to move into position and wall mount it. There’s also of course the familiar Steelcase wall mounts and roam stands available.

You can see the full spec’s in the image below

Surface Hub 2S 85" Specs

 

 

 

Updated Review: Lenovo ThinkSmart View for Teams

Lenovo ThinkSmart Display

 

Updated: December 2020

Now, I don’t need to tell you just how fast #MicrosoftTeams is being adopted across organisations globally, but one thing we are seeing is the shire explosion of new form factor devices by leading (and new) manufacturers into the Teams Collaboration space. Some of these new devices fits into the new category of Microsoft Teams Displays.

Microsoft Teams Displays – are a new category of all-in-one dedicated Teams devices featuring an ambient touchscreen, and a hands-free / touch-free experience “powered by Cortana” (though this is currently only available in the US only at this point). 

One of these vendors is Lenovo, who are no means a “new kid on the block” when it comes to end user devices such as tablets, laptops, and desktops, but they are kind of new in the Teams Collaboration Device Space. Interestingly, Lenovo are now also supplying the “PC” component of, not only their new Teams Rooms Systems, but also that of Poly!

You may ask why, when employees have access to laptops, web browsers, smart phones and tablets, all more than capable of running Microsoft Teams, so we need a dedicated Teams Collaboration Display….

Introducing the Lenovo ThinkSmart View

The Lenovo ThinkSmart View is a dedicated personal business communications device for hosting and taking part in Microsoft Teams audio and video calls – the devices of which can be managed by the Lenovo ThinkSmart Manager software, a proprietary software application built for IT departments to easily manage their fleet of ThinkSmart devices.

Lenovo ThinkSmart Display
Picture of Lenovo ThinkSmart display for Teams

Designed and certified exclusively for Microsoft Teams, Lenovo calls this a “…collaborative smart device that works from an individual’s workspace…”  – it’s a collaboration device really designed for execs or those with a pop-up home office who want to be “free from their laptop or tablet” but still need a video rich and audio rich endpoint and a price point that really appeals.

Lenovo are attempting to “reimagine the personal workspace” with Microsoft Teams displays by integrating the Teams collaboration and communication experience into the home and workplace with high fidelity audio and video.

So, what can you use it for?

Meetings – and it’s really good at them too!

Most of what the device can do is set out by, and limited by what Microsoft allows the device to do since the collaboration device is powered by the Microsoft Teams Android client that runs on the device. Initially, and when first reviewed the device earlier this year, the device was really just for joining meetings and for Teams Phone features, however the update in September 2020 brought the FULL Teams Mobile features to the device including:

  • Phone
    • Teams Call / Video Meetings with full phone UX for Calls, Meetings & Voicemail
    • Common Area and Personal Phone Support
    • Hot Desking Support
  • Meetings
    • Support Live Captions / Subtitles
    • Full video calling, screen sharing / viewing
    • Ambient display support – for notifications, and activity views
    • Raise hand support
    • Better Together for Calling & Meeting
  • IM and Chat
    • Full support for starting, participating, navigating and interacting with Chat 
  • Files
    • Full access to your recent files and full access to your OneDrive
  • Organisational View
    • View your Team and company org chart

My other favourite is the ability for colleagues (or most likely, your kids to leave you a message, voice memo or video memo) on the device if you are away from your desk (more likely..in the loo or getting a coffee!)

What’s in the box?

This is really simple.  The ThinkSmart View device and a UK plug.

What’s the Price?

The retail for these is £229 plus VAT – so I definitely put them into the affordable gadget category for most managers/exec that work at home or need a dedicated Teams Video endpoint in their office.

What’s the Spec?

As I said – think of this as a giant Teams Phone. Its runs the same native Teams Mobile app but is perfect as a Teams On-the-go collaboration device – as long as you have a power-plug to power it up as it doesn’t have a built in battery. With this device you get:

  • 5MP wide angle (720p) with a physical camera shutter to cover it for privacy.
  • Supports software background blur in Teams meetings
  • Built in microphone with mute switch to temporarily cut the audio.
  • 1.75″ 10W full-range speaker
  • Bluetooth® 4.2 (LE) – pairing allows use with a headset and support auto device lock.
  • 8″ HD (1200 x 800) IPS touchscreen with auto rotate for landscape / portrait mode

Lenovo ThinkSmart View in portrait mode

Usage

The ThinkSmart View is an interesting form factor device from Lenovo. It’s not immediately clear as to the audience it has been designed for. I think initially it’s designed for the exec or manager’s office – but with the 2020 being the year of “remote working”, this is ideally suited as a second / dedicated Teams end-point… 

Audio is surprising good – rather than the often tinny sounds you get from laptop speakers, the 10-Watt full-range speaker in the ThinkSmart View has 2 passive tweeters allowing it to produce loud, crisp and clear audio, and testing on the receiving end (yes, I called my self), the audio picked up by the 360-degree microphone array was also “room system” quality in my opinion. Audio is important…. with virtual meetings, the spoken voice is the most important aspect of the call/meeting and while video is king, now more than ever, you can more easily forgive poor quality video as long as audio is sharp and clear.

For anyone working at home, this is much better than having a Teams Phone on your desk and it’s actually something that would be great in another room (or area) of your home/office, but of course it’s limited to use within #MicrosoftTeams which probably limits that – there’s certainly no danger in your kids or other family members using it for WhatsApp calls for example – though they might inadvertently video call your boss via Teams!

Within the “office environment”, the Lenovo ThinkSmart display can also fill the need for a “walk up and use” video collab device which can be placed in a small focus space or breakout area  – especially as it supports “hot desk mode” – the lack of a handset makes it a bit in practical for a common area but you can pair it with a headset (again – great to dedicated use, no so much for common area use).

I think for anyone working at home, this is much better than having a Teams Phone on your desk and it’s actually something that would be great in another room (or area) of your home/office, but of course it’s limited to use within #MicrosoftTeams which probably limits that – there’s certainly no danger in your kids or other family members using it for WhatsApp calls for example – though they might inadvertently video call your boss via Teams!

Competition

This a new(ish) form factor, though not entirely unique to Lenovo. The other Teams Collaboration device manufacturer in this space today is Yealink – who’s device is due to launch early 2021 and is rumoured to have a battery as well as being mains powered which is the main thing missing from the Lenovo in my opinion. 

Summary

As you’d expect from Lenovo, build quality is excellent. There is a premium feel to the device and its weighted on one-side, presumably to prevent accidental movement or repositioning. Its not heavy though – no heavier than a Bluetooth speaker the weight just helps with positioning and premium feel. 

At just over £200 (RRP is £240 as of Dec 2020), it’s a great device to buy a handful of, to test out the use case within your organisation – a few of the clients I work with have done just this. 

Click here to visit the Lenovo Website

Microsoft Ignite ‘flooded’ with these incredible new #MicrosoftTeams enhancements

Day one of Ignite yesterday (Sept 22 2020), was full of many new announcements across Microsoft 365, Azure and Power Platform but day 1 was certainly dominated by a new stack of updates coming now or very soon to Microsoft Teams, with the list including well-being tools for employees, calling enhancements, new webinar features and breakout rooms and a whole lot more.

Here’s my review of the key new features. There’s also a quick video I recorded from the main Teams session…

Virtual Commute

With the virtual commute feature, Teams users will be able to schedule a virtual commute to structure their day so they can have a productive start in the morning and mindfully disconnect in the evening.

As part of Virtual Commute, Microsoft has partnered with Headspace to bring a curated set of mindfulness experiences and science-backed meditations into Teams based on the user’s day, and how busy their day appears from their activity across Teams and Office 365. This is designed to help make it easier for employees to find time to relax and recover and therefore better focus.

There’s a lot of activity happening in Teams, we can see that. We also hear people telling us that there are adverse effects and that leads us to product strategy and what you’re seeing at Ignite,” said Microsoft executive Jared Spataro.

The sudden transition to working from home during the pandemic has completely upended the lives of workers around the world.”

While many employees used to use their morning commute as a chance to relax or reflect on the day ahead of them, the switch to remote working has taken this personal time from them. To make matters worse, many organisations now expect their workers to begin their jobs right at the start of the day since they no longer need to travel to and from the office.

According to a study from Microsoft Research, commutes can serve as meaningful transitions at the beginning and end of the workday and in fact, the reflection done during this time can increase productivity by 12 to 15 percent.

New Well-being tools

New Insights in Teams powered by MyAnalytics and Workplace Analytics

With rollout starting in October and with new enhancements coming over the new few months, is a new set of well-being features and productivity insights for Microsoft Teams.

This will be powered by a combination of MyAnalytics and a new Workplace Analytics experience designed for Teams, Microsoft said that this aims to will gives individuals, managers, and business leaders powerful insights which are personalised about their roles and their teams within work and to ensure employees and employers can focus more effort and energy into their people (the heart of their business) helping everyone to focus on their work, and be their best.

Teams users will see recommended actions to help them  make changing their work habits and improving their productivity and well-being easier. Examples include suggested tasks for the day, reminders to have breaks and taking time away from the screen which will be delivered to your Outlook inbox.

In addition, a new stay connected experience will also help individuals strengthen relationships with their colleagues by making it easy to praise top collaborators for key achievements and to schedule one-on-ones to catch up.

Finally, there will be new insights tab in Teams that allow leaders to ask natural questions like, “Are employees at risk for burnout? Are people maintaining strong internal connections? Are relationships with customers being maintained?”

Webinar Registration and reporting

For more structured meetings and events such as customer webinars, meeting and event organisers will soon be able to use powerful event registration with automated emails to make it easier to manage attendance. Ater the meeting, you’ll be able view a detailed reporting dashboard that will help understand attendee engagement. These new features are expected to begin to roll out by end of 2020 – and i suspect the Advanced Communications license will be needed to use these features (just a hunch).

News Teams Webinar Experience – Coming Q4 2020

Teams Templates

Teams templates, which are now in the rollout phase, are designed to help teams get started faster and be more effective. Teams owners can now choose from common business scenarios, such as event management or crisis response, and industry-specific templates, like a hospital ward or bank branch. Each template comes with pre-defined channels, apps, and guidance and admins can create their own for your organisation.

New Teams Templates – Rolling out now

New backgrounds for Together mode

New Backgrounds to Together Mode coming Q4 2020

Promised between now and the end of 2020, Together Mode feature will see some improvements with new Together mode scenes which will include conference rooms and a coffee shop and later, the ability to add your own such as meetings rooms from your own office. Microsoft hopes these features can help people feel connected and engaged from anywhere and reduce fatigue caused by regular grid view meetings.

With these improvements, like custom backgrounds in video chats, presenters will soon be able to select a scene from the gallery as the default scene for all together mode meeting attendees. Microsoft said they will also be enhancing the feature further to automatically scale and center participants in their virtual seats, regardless of how close or far they are from their camera.

Additionally, custom layouts in Teams meeting (not just Together mode) will allow presenters to customise how meeting content is displayed for participants during the meeting.

Similar to a weather forecast or the news, participants will be able to see the presenter’s video feed transposed onto the foreground of the content being presented on screen making for a more professional presentation.

Breakout Rooms

New Breakout Rooms – Coming October 2020

Already in preview for education, Teams meetings is getting a much-anticipated breakout room feature.

This highly requested feature will allow meeting organisers to split participants into smaller groups (manually or automatically) so they can have their own discussions. It’s ideal for brainstorming and workgroup discussions or for running event with multiple streams or optional sessions for example.

This means presenters will then be able to hop between different breakout rooms and make announcements to all breakout rooms, and close the rooms to return everyone to the main meeting room. Participants will still be able to access the notes, chat, files and whiteboards from the breakout session after the breakout rooms close.

Collaborative Calling

Starting rollout from the end of this month, is a new set of calling improvements for Teams.

One of these is Collaborative Calling, which enables users better collaborate and share information from within the channel while taking calls from employees or their customers in the queue.

Also included are a host of improvements to transcription, live captions, recording, and the ability to transfer between Teams mobile and desktop apps when doing one-on-one calls seemlessly.

Microsoft also said that their new  live captions with speaker attribution is now generally available (though I don’t see it yet). This provides a live and recap service for the meeting which includes the recording, an online transcript, chat, shared files, and more.

New Microsoft Teams panels

As employees begin to return to the office, part time, occasionally or permanently, meeting rooms will provide a welcome change to their work from home setups and will likely be at a premium.

To make it easier for workers to know when a meeting room is occupied, Microsoft has unveiled a new category of devices called Microsoft Teams panels that can be mounted outside of a meeting space.

These devices are essentially small tablets that can also use information from other connected certified Teams devices such as cameras to show room capacity information and help workers follow their organisation’s social distancing guidelines.

OK.. There is more…

In addition to these main announcements yesterday, Microsoft also announced several new smaller enhancements to Teams which include:

  1. New Search Experience
  2. Ability to create tasks directly from a team’s chat or channel
  3. New Cortana powered hands-free meeting controls in Teams Rooms

Let me know what I missed….

6 new countries added to Microsoft Cloud Calling Plans

Microsoft made a big announcement today as it announced an additional 6 countries that it is adding to its coverage of Microsoft provided calling plans which will be available from the 1st October 2020.

This is big news seeing Microsoft has not added a country since May 2018 so adding 6 countries is a big deal!

What countries are being added?

  • Austria
  • Denmark
  • Italy
  • Portugal
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

The addition of these 6 countries in to the already available list of countries that support the Calling Plans Microsoft increases the total number of counties to 16, with the total list now being

  • Austria
  • Australia (via local telco)
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan (via local telco)
  • Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Puerto Rico
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Microsoft is adding the following countries to its list of countries in which customers can consume callimg plans directly from Microsoft or their license/CSP partners.

Direct Routing is also an option for customers wishing to keep their own SBCs, their own SIP provider/carriers or where callings plans are not available is specific counties.

Official notice on the Microsoft 365 Public roadmap