Microsoft plans to sell a premium Teams add-on that brings security controls, advanced webinar features and additional meeting intelligence to the collaboration platform.
At the Ignite customer and partner conference on Wednesday, Microsoft introduced Teams Premium and said it will be generally available in February. However, the company won't roll out some of its AI-powered capabilities until later in the first half of 2023. Microsoft didn't release pricing.
Analysts said they expect Premium to be helpful to large enterprises. Today, those organizations are likely paying other vendors for the same capabilities.
"Even if I pay extra for Premium, I could still save money by eliminating the cost somewhere else and absorbing it in the Teams budget," said Diane Myers, principal analyst at research and advisory firm Metrigy.
The added security is beneficial, according to analysts. Premium adds safeguards to protect confidential meetings, such as financial discussions, board meetings and reviews of upcoming product launches. The protections include watermarking to deter leaks and restricting who can record the sessions.
Other valuable features improve holding webinars in Teams. The advanced capabilities include a registration waitlist that requires manual approvals, automated email reminders and a virtual greenroom for hosts and presenters. Also, presenters can control what attendees see.
"Enhanced support for webinars has been badly needed for a while in Teams," Gartner analyst Brian Doherty said. "Teams' live events have been somewhat lagging behind the competition."
Teams' largest rivals include Zoom and Cisco Webex.
The additional intelligence in Premium includes providing highlights from Teams meetings. The recaps help people who missed the gatherings catch up with colleagues.
Other capabilities include automatically assigning tasks to a meeting's participants based on the action items discussed. To help people review past meetings, Premium will generate chapters in transcripts to help navigate meeting recordings and understand the content discussed. A more intelligent search than in standard Teams will make it easier to find specific reference points, such as the presentation from a particular speaker.
For foreign language speakers, Premium will provide immediate captions in 40 languages.
Microsoft also introduced several features to the standard Teams platform. A new capability called Excel Live lets Teams meeting participants edit Excel workbooks together in real time within the meeting window. Microsoft plans to make the feature available by year's end.
Microsoft launched in private preview a feature that lets people create and use avatars in place of live video during Teams meetings. The capability stemmed from integrating Teams with Microsoft's VR and augmented reality platform Mesh. Microsoft introduced the upcoming avatar meeting option at last year's Ignite.
Improvements to Microsoft 365
Besides the Teams enhancements, Microsoft launched a 365 app as a single location for accessing favorite Office 365 productivity software, such as Word, Excel or PowerPoint. The 365 app also provides quick access to Teams, the Outlook email client and third-party applications from Microsoft partners.
The 365 app, accessible through a browser, Windows PC or mobile device, is an update of the Office app Microsoft launched in 2019. Like its predecessor, the 365 app contains a dashboard showing various productivity applications. Clicking on an icon delivers a view of local and online content.
Microsoft built the 365 app on Graph, a back-end tool that provides access to data stored across a company's Office 365 account. Microsoft plans to make the app available to customers across its business, education and consumer segments starting in November.
The company is aiming to help companies organize their physical workspaces as well. Available in preview mode this year, Microsoft Places will help manage hybrid workplaces.
Places will provide a dashboard view of the days people on a particular team or collaboration network will be in the office. Other features include showing a person's location and workspaces booked for meetings.
Microsoft did not provide more details on how companies would deploy the software or how it would monitor physical workspaces.