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Microsoft doubles-down on hybrid with latest software and hardware updates

Tech giant unveils new layouts for Teams Rooms, collaborations for Outlook and a new Surface Hub camera

New gallery layout on Microsoft Teams

Microsoft has revealed updates to its Teams, Outlook, and PowerPoint services to tailor them more towards the realities of hybrid and remote work.

The changes are a mix of software updates and new hardware offerings, including new components for its Surface Hub platform.

As COVID plunged the world into remote working during the early months of 2020, Microsoft was one of the first companies to warn that it would fundamentally change the way we work.

Two years later and many of its services have gone through drastic changes to accommodate dispersed workforces and that is continuing with further updates that were revealed on Wednesday.

New Microsoft Teams layouts

One area that has received considerable investment since the start of the pandemic is video conferencing and Microsoft's focus here is to improve the presence of those joining from home.

It has added a new 'Front Row' layout to Teams, which drops the video gallery to the bottom of the screen so that those physically in the office can see their remote colleagues face to face. This was first pitched almost a year as part of the company's vision for the future of meetings.

That is also the case for updates to the companion device feature within 'Teams Rooms'. Microsoft says it has made it an "easier and less distracting" experience for participants using their own devices. It has done this by hiding the user's laptop video feed from the meeting room screen as well as from the gallery of people joining from other companion devices in the room.

There will also be a prompt for users to turn their laptop video on before joining a meeting so that they can be clearly seen by remote participants no matter where they are in the room.

These enhancements will be generally available for Teams Rooms on Windows and Android in the second quarter of 2022, the tech giant said.

Neat.Board, Surface Hub 2 camera

Touchscreen devices developed specifically for Teams

The updates also include new collaboration features for hardware that have been designed for in-office video calls and presentations on Microsoft Teams. Touchscreen displays developed by Neat and Yealink were revealed almost a year ago, but they will now be able to support the shared whiteboard feature in Teams Rooms.

The Neat.Board, for instance, can be mounted to a mobile stand with wheels, enabling it to be positioned anywhere in the room or even to a separate workspace. Both Neat and Yealink touchscreens are currently in the process of being certified for Teams Rooms on Android and will be available in the second quarter of 2022, according to Microsoft.

In addition to the Teams Rooms updates, Microsoft is also launching its first AI-powered camera for the Surface Hub 2. This is a smart camera that supports automatic reframing, a wide field of view, and image correction features that will all improve meetings.

The camera has a 12MP sensor with a 136-degree field of view and will be supported by an algorithm Microsoft has developed that automatically compensates for distortions, tilt, and wide-angle corrections to ensure objects or people stay true to life. This should, in theory, allow the camera to detect everyone in a room so that they're visible during meetings.

Microsoft Outlook and PowerPoint

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Another integral part of Microsoft's vision for the future of work is its 'Loop' components feature, which was originally part of its 'Fluid Frameworks' project. These are blocks of Office content that live independently on screen that can be copied, pasted, and shared with other people. The contents of the Loop can be continuously updated after it has been shared. It's been available in Teams since January, but will now be added to Outlook.

Outlook users will also be able to test a new RSVP feature to let others know if they plan on attending meetings in-person, virtually, or not at all. This will begin as a public preview, but only in the web version of Outlook.

And, finally, there are also updates to PowerPoint with new cameo and recording studio features. The former (Cameo) integrates a Microsoft Teams camera into a presentation slide, whereas the recording studio lets users record themselves speaking to any slide. Both will be available in the second quarter of 2022.

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