Microsoft offers its own preview of the metaverse with the introduction of Mesh for Teams

The Mesh for Teams feature allows users to join meetings as their own custom avatar, shown here with camera participants. (Microsoft Image)

Microsoft presented its latest take on the post-COVID workplace on Tuesday, addressing a buzzword that has become increasingly prominent in recent weeks: the metaverse.

At its Ignite 2021 virtual conference on Tuesday morning, the company announced a new product called Mesh for Teams, which allows workers to take the form of avatars and navigate virtual working environments.

Microsoft said it was combining “shared holographic experiences” with existing communication tools such as virtual meetings, discussions and shared documents. The software, which can be used with a smartphone, laptop, or virtual reality device, is based on Microsoft’s existing Mesh technology, which the company first introduced earlier this year.

Permanent team meetings can be hosted in a Mesh for Teams virtual space that includes an interactive whiteboard, color-coded tasks, or customer photos. Prototyping products can be placed on a virtual table.

Colleagues interact and communicate through their avatars in Mesh for Teams. (Microsoft Image)

Microsoft also announced the public preview of Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces, which provides data on how people interact with factory floors, retail spaces, and other physical work settings. Connected Spaces, formerly known as Dynamics 365 Connected Store, helps businesses collect data from activity observed in a specific physical space, generate insights from that data using models based on AI, then respond to trends and models.

Both technologies are examples of the metaverse, which has long been seen as a potential next iteration of the web.

Microsoft’s announcements come less than a week after Facebook announced it would transform its business into a new parent organization known as Meta and expand its reach beyond social media to develop relevant experiences.

The metaverse, until recently the makings of science fiction, remains a mysterious concept. Overall, it is an unlimited and interactive virtual environment, often imagined in 3D, in which humans take the form of avatars.

An interactive virtual space for collaboration in Mesh for Teams. (Microsoft Image)

The term was first introduced in Neil Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel, “Snow Crash,” and the concept has appeared in other books and films, including “Ready Player One” and “The Matrix. “. In fact, the Metaverse prototypes include online multiplayer games such as Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto, Roblox, and World of Warcraft.

Frank X Shaw, Microsoft’s vice president of communications, wrote in a blog post that the metaverse is “a continuous digital world connected to many aspects of the physical world, including people, places, and things.”

In other words, it’s a new vision for the internet that uses augmented reality, virtual reality, and existing technology to create new, immersive ways for humans to interact with each other as well as ‘with the human physical world.

Microsoft, for example, said its cloud software is now able to connect to Internet of Things (IoT) devices in a way that creates a “digital twin” of the device in the virtual world. Changes to the virtual machine in the cloud – or, if you prefer, the metaverse – match the changes to the actual physical machine. In this way, a group of engineers scattered around the world can meet in a virtual space and solve a problem with the plant equipment.

Shaw wrote that the metaverse amounts to “a new medium and some kind of app.”

“The metaverse enables the exchange of experiences in the physical and digital worlds,” he wrote, adding that as businesses continue to rely on software in a post-COVID world, “the metaverse can help people meet in a digital environment, making meetings more comfortable with avatars and facilitating creative collaborations around the world.

Microsoft is expanding cloud-based applications, including Teams and Dynamics 365, as its cloud business continues to support business results. Revenue from Microsoft Cloud, formerly Commercial Cloud, grew 36% to $ 20.7 billion last quarter, surpassing $ 20 billion in one quarter for the first time in company history.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella described today’s Ignite announcements as “the next chapter of the Microsoft cloud, and how we are building it for the next era.”

A virtual lobby in Mesh for Teams. (Microsoft Image)

Microsoft and Facebook’s adoption of the metaverse is a big step forward in a new way to interact with technology and other humans.

These efforts are also not surprising as the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year. The pandemic has spurred the development of collaborative programs and the adoption by companies of cloud technologies, as most knowledge workers are forced to isolate themselves and work remotely. It was the biggest change in the way we work since the advent of the computer.

However, assuming the concept of the metaverse continues to gain traction, it will take time to develop its infrastructure, including new camera sensors in laptops and smartphones, as well as to adapt social media web, commerce. electronics and other services to a new medium. Last week, reports speculated that the metaverse could be worth $ 82 billion by 2025.

However, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said last week that he ultimately plans to reach one billion people and achieve “hundreds of billions of dollars in digital commerce every day.”

Meanwhile, executives at Facebook and Microsoft are taking a sort of hybrid approach, where metaverse technologies are available in one form or another on all existing devices and as an option that expands – rather than replaces – technologies. Today.

There is no doubt that Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality division, acquired in 2014, will help it build its vision of the metaverse. But Microsoft has many strengths to apply to the development of metaverse technologies, including widely used enterprise productivity software, Azure cloud infrastructure, Surface laptops and tablets, and the HoloLens mixed reality headset.

Microsoft is turning to the metaverse as a potential solution to a thorny post-pandemic problem: As offices begin to reopen, many employees want to continue working remotely at least on certain days of the week. At the same time, companies try to maintain the benefits of face-to-face interaction and preserve the corporate culture.

“The ability to work from anywhere and connect with colleagues online is great, but remote meetings can feel impersonal and miss the little moments that build relationships and jobs,” Microsoft said in a post. . The Mesh for Microsoft Teams blog post was published on Tuesday.

Microsoft has said many online meetings have proven to be “awkward and two-way” – once colleagues saw it as a still image or a bubble with their initials on it.

The Mesh for Teams app is expected to launch in Part 1 of next year.

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