Are devices that run only Microsoft Teams in our future?

Microsoft Teams has consistently grown and added new functionality, so what's next for this feature-rich platform? Maybe a dedicated device for Teams could be in the future.

For many years, I've been watching Microsoft Teams from afar and noting how Microsoft continues adding features to it that are immediately useful to many Teams users.

Of course, it didn't invent many of those features. But as so often happens, other vendors make their bets, and the competition builds the customer-preferred features into their own products -- this is how things work in tech and business, so I'm not admonishing anyone. Even if you're a customer of Zoom, Webex, Chime or another vendor, you likely feel the effects of the gravity of Microsoft Teams as it pulls you into more meetings, both internal and external.

What makes Microsoft so special? Teams is included with Microsoft 365, and that means many end users have access to it without thinking twice. Couple that with seamless integration into Outlook meetings and a decent browser-based experience, and you've got a platform with some stickiness.

Teams often gets classified as a unified communications and collaboration (UCC) platform, which makes sense given the lineage that goes back to -- and briefly overlaps with -- Skype for Business. But there are so many other elements to Teams that make it much more than UCC. Within Teams, users can access their calendar, Office apps, OneDrive and SharePoint data, Wikis, Stream, Approvals, Power Apps and so much more. Plus, Teams has its own app store where partners can make their apps available, and it is partnering with lots of big names, such as Cisco, Zendesk and even Snap.

All of this makes Teams powerful, but all the features that Microsoft announced at Enterprise Connect got me thinking about a few things.

The Teams blog is an excellent resource

If you're a Teams user and you don't follow the Microsoft Teams blog, you should. Each month, Microsoft posts its updates for Teams, and each post is overflowing with feature updates targeted at all users and individual segments such as healthcare, government, education and SMBs. You can see an archive of all the What's New posts here.

Teams could be the center of many users' days

One of the features added in this latest release was a new Files app. Teams has had support for a files-based view for a while, but with this update it's clear that Microsoft is prioritizing a top-down view of all a user's files, giving users a single place to see all their files across Teams, SharePoint, OneDrive and their local machine. Users no longer need to go to the File Explorer to see their files.

Couple this with the fact that Office apps are accessible from Teams -- with an increasingly good experience that even has some exclusive features compared to each app's locally installed sibling -- and all the other features mentioned above, and I can see a future where Teams could be the go-to app for a user.

Could Teams OS be in our future?

It's logical to think that, if a user only needs Teams, why bother deploying Windows just to deliver Teams? You could deliver, say, Chromebooks and access Teams via the browser. That doesn't seem on brand for Microsoft, though, so could a device like a Chromebook that runs Microsoft Teams as an OS -- managed by Intune -- be in our future?

Teams isn't there yet, to be sure; but at the pace Microsoft is iterating the product and the clear investment it's making in it, how long could it take? Let's look at what would have to happen for that to pan out.

Support for Windows apps

There's no getting around the fact that Windows apps are still a big part of many organizations. Stop me if you've heard this, but if an organization has 200 Windows apps and migrates one per month off Windows, it will still take about 17 years to migrate them all. Windows apps will be around for a while, and it's something to consider in a scenario where we're taking Windows off the endpoint. Fortunately, the solution here is simple: remote desktops and apps.

While there are several ways to get to VDI and desktop as a service, Microsoft has a pair of offerings in Windows 365 and Azure Virtual Desktop that it could easily make available from Teams by simply including the Remote Desktop client as a Teams app. A customer that is so engaged with Microsoft that they deploy Teams-based devices would likely have no problem moving their Windows workloads to the cloud, especially since their Microsoft 365 subscription takes care of the licensing.

Support for email

You could just use Outlook in a browser, since just being able to use a browser to access apps hasn't stopped Microsoft from adding specific apps for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Calendar and many other things to Teams. For a Teams OS device to work, outright integration with Outlook would be critical for a seamless experience that keeps users in Teams all the time.

Plus, Teams doesn't have a browser, which leads me to the next support approach.

I can see a future where Microsoft -- or a direct partner -- develops devices that only run a slimmed-down OS, be it Edge or Teams-based.

Support for browser apps

To support browser apps, you of course need a browser. Since Teams doesn't have a built-in browser, it would need to have Microsoft Edge available as an app. That begs the question: If you need a browser, why make a device that runs Teams OS when you can simply make one that runs Edge, just like a Chromebook?

OK, so that's a decent point -- maybe I've got it backwards. But would the browser version of Teams running in an Edge-based OS be able to offer the same functionality? The same integration with hardware? I don't know. I guess it probably doesn't matter, really. If Microsoft were considering any sort of Chromebook-like device, what constitutes the OS comes down to strategy. What do you beef up to OS status: the browser, or Teams itself? Either way, this theoretical device needs a browser one way or the other.

Landing this hypothetical plane

I can see a future where Microsoft -- or a direct partner -- develops devices that only run a slimmed-down OS, be it Edge or Teams-based. It would keep users in an entirely Microsoft environment while also giving customers another reason to move their Windows app workloads from the endpoint to the cloud, where they can be billed on an hourly basis for accessing them. It would also put more endpoint management and security under the Intune umbrella.

Honestly, I have no idea if anything remotely like this is on the roadmap for Microsoft, but making Teams an indispensable part of a Microsoft 365 subscriber's daily life most certainly is. Given the constant drumbeat of growth and the increasingly high-profile partnerships, this is undoubtedly happening. What Microsoft does with that additional clout remains to be seen.

What do you think? Have I completely lost it?

Gabe Knuth is the senior end-user computing analyst for TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group. He writes publicly for TechTarget in addition to his analyst work. If you'd like to reach out, see his profile on LinkedIn or send an email to [email protected].

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