Video conferencing has been used in tech circles for years, though it was foretold many years earlier. 1989’s Back to the Future II showed one vision of how the future might look, and it wasn’t the only wry prediction.
Now that you’ve frouffed-up your home office backdrop and maybe thought about how you look on video calls, even going for a custom background image, maybe it’s time to mix things up and jazz up your video feed itself.
One approach could be to play with Snap Camera, a PC or Mac software solution from SnapChat that takes the feed from your regular camera and applies some effects to it, before presenting that modified stream as a virtual hardware camera to any app that wants it.
If you install Snap Camera, you can then use a catalog of “lenses” to add attributes to your video, or to alter the lighting or background, even if your chosen video conferencing app doesn’t give the option of doing so natively.
Roots or dodgy haircut starting to show in the lockdown? Perhaps try a nice tint?
Want to practice online before going out to the shops? Maybe choose a groovy mask?
Whatever your choice, if you install Snap Camera and choose (or even create) a suitable lens, then the software will run in the background and if you choose the “camera” from your video conferencing app, then the software will augment the feed from your real camera and present that image to your chosen software.
So for Teams, if you want to prank your colleagues, you can set up the lens of choice using that software, then when you go to join a meeting, click the “PC, Mic and Speakers” settings cog, to get the Device Settings pane, and choose the Snap Camera as your source.
Just remember to switch back to the regular camera before you have an important customer meeting, OK?
As another week draws to a close, in a world which is starting to feel a lot less like a temporary aberration and a lot more like The New Normal, we continue to look for things that distract, entertain (lots of good stuff on Netflix – dat’s the fact, jack), educate and give us cause us to think of others. Sadly, we lost TBT and Stirling this week, as well as too many others.
But technology marches on, sometimes a bit more slowly than we’d normally expect, and sometimes accelerated – Teams has rolled out the new background effects feature (though not everyone can yet choose a custom image – that’s on its way too, though it’s possible to add your own under the covers – create or find a picture, ideally 1920×1080 pixels, then press Start and enter %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads – drop your pic in there and it’ll show up in the list of backgrounds, right at the bottom).
Collections allows you to quickly add groups of related sites/pages into a kind-of folder which you can add notes to, quickly open or share, and it also keeps a preview of the page so it’s smarter than just favourites or bookmarks.
If you’re an Office 365 user, check out Edge PMM Eric Van Aelstyn’s post with some good tips on WFH, especially if it’s not on a work computer, including setting up the Enterprise tab (so you get Office 365 content rather than Microsoft News clickbait).
Eric also espouses using the default Bing search engine with Edge, as it can generate Microsoft Rewards for you – and with a few clicks you can give the reward points to charity.
US based Bingers can switch to Give mode, but UK users appear to have a different method and only a few target charities, but it’s free money you collect by searching, so you might as well give it away to a good cause. Take a look on your rewards page and you can choose to Shop, Win or Donate – select the latter and see if you like the look of any of the charities listed.
As the developed world stays in and starts to go a bit stir crazy, life beginning to feel like an episode of Big Brutha, we’re increasingly turning to streaming and video conferencing apps typically used for business, to keep in touch with friends and family, go dating, virtually visit a museum and many other things.
Online conferencing app Zoom has seen huge take-up over recent weeks, though its security has been questioned & tested by Zoom Bombing, leading the company to quickly release updates to give more control.
Microsoft Teams has announced some feature updates too – though there’s still more to do. Custom Backgrounds will be rolled out very soon, so users can replace their messy kitchen backdrop with a scene of serenity.
It’s getting easier to schedule and join Skype video meetings, too – from within the Skype app or even in a browser, you can Meet Now and quickly generate a URL that can be shared with others, who can join as a guest without needing to have an account or signing in.
Skype still has a huge user base, with over 40 million daily users of late.
Teams and Skype have started interoperating more, too, though it’s a limited experience at the moment. Expect Teams for Consumer, due to arrive later this year, to have tighter integration – and perhaps may eventually replace Skype.
You could look at Microsoft News – a recently-updated app and website that serves up a mixture of curated news from 3rd party sources that you can define, along with annoying click-bait adverts for sometimes dubious products that you are seemingly unable to block or hide.
There’s an FAQ that explains the rationale behind the advertising, though if you have time on your hands, you could always make your feelings known through the Feedback Hub app (here’s how), add your voice to the reviews tab on the Store, or join up to the Microsoft Old Timers group on Facebook and gripe about it while sharing photos of old t-shirts and stuff.
In the “good old days” theme, a new beta “News bar” app has been released, offering to display the same curated and presumably ad-filthy content on a sidebar reminiscent of a Vista gadget, or a ticker running along the top of the task bar like a 1990s website. Though it may be geo-locked so you can only get it in certain countries for now, read more on the News bar app here.
Whilst cooped up inside, spending your life on conference calls or Teams meetings, spare a thought for those who are new to the whole experience, and shed a tear for the technology they’re using. They could be Skyping.
As more of the world is in lock-down and pretty much everyone who can is working at home, apps like Teams have taken a more central role in many lives. Alongside adding 12m users the other week, there was a substantial increase in resources dedicated to running the back-end – millions of additional CPU cores were provisioned to the Teams service.
Mobile Teams users are getting some new functionality, and the blog post about the 40% growth in usage teased some features that are coming later in the year, notably background noise-cancelling (to supress the tap-tap-tap of the typical team-mate’s typing), and a new action which lets attendees ask for help or offer to contribute by “raising their hand”. That might help avoid people talking over each other.
This feature is in test currently and is expected to appear a little later this year, along with a raft of other improvements, like having custom backgrounds (in addition to blurring of the existing background), and the ability to break out chats into separate windows rather than have everything in one.
When the hand-raising feature is rolled out, assuming you can see the People pane to the side of the Teams window, anyone who has their hand raised will be listed with a hand icon, meaning the organiser could ask them to chime in.
On the COVID-19 pandemic – the WHO publishes a view of the spread of the disease, with the help of Microsoft’s ISV partner ESRI, using their ArcGIS platform. See the global WHO dashboard, or look at the county-by-county map of the US, here. It’s all very sobering. There’s a Coronavirus Tracker on Bing and a load of other resources on Microsoft.com.
In these uncertain times, many organisations are scrambling to enable their workers to be able to carry on even when the rest of the world is seemingly losing control. At least the meme creators are busy.
Ex-Microsoftie Allister Frost has some wise words to share about Working From Home, and given that he was Chief Puppy Controller for a well-known marketing team, he knows things that are currently relevant.
Microsoft Teams may have had a couple of bumps since the Covid-19 virus started to cause people to stay at home; early in the week there were a couple of outages that have been swiftly resolved, but it’s since been announced that the service added 12 million daily active users in the last 7 days – that’s a 40% increase in usage, so it’s no surprise if the infrastructure creaked a little as it grew.
There are many tips for making good use of Teams –
Stay at home, stay safe, and follow Buzz Aldrin’s advice.
Microsoft Teams continues to attract more fans, as Office 365 licensees deploy it and end-users embrace and enjoy Teams as another way to other communicate and collaborate. As part of a blog post in November, some best practices and references were shared, as was the widely-reported figure of 20m active users.
If you’re having meetings with Teams, there’s always the chance you’ll want to collaborate on a virtual whiteboard, something that was discussed a bit back in ToW #440.
Just go to the Share control within the meeting and scroll over to the right – past a list of PowerPoint files you have recently opened; yes, it is possible to display PPT content without sharing your whole desktop – and you’ll see Whiteboard as a category.
The Microsoft Whiteboard that is listed within is a simplified version of the main application; as used in Teams, you get less control and fewer pens etc. You could just start then share out the main Whiteboard application, but as it would be a single-user application being displayed, you wouldn’t have the same fidelity of multi-user interaction.
It is possible, however, to open up the Whiteboard canvas associated with a Teams meeting, back in the separate Microsoft Whiteboard app. So, if you want to use the groovy tools like highlighter and ruler, start Whiteboard, then look in the gallery of existing whiteboards you’ve used.
Whiteboard is available as a Windows app, an iOS app, and also as a web app – here – and the web app provides the same kind of slightly more basic functionality as the Teams version. Who knows, they might be related…?
There’s also an even-more-capable whiteboard app that needs you to sign up for a free account and provides a commensurate web experience – Freehand by InVision. The Teams app basically embeds the web UI of that app too, but it provides a wider choice of features (like holding ALT down to force your freehand shapes to snap to real ones, or press SHIFT to force a straight line even if drawn with a mouse or a pen) and some additional organisational control. It’s worth looking at both Freehand and the simpler Microsoft Whiteboard.
It’s been a busy few weeks on the Teams team. As an aside, what do you call a team that’s set up in Teams? Is it a Teams Site, or a Teams team, just a “Team” or …? Documentation talks about creating a team, which is fine when you’re already in Teams, but talking with someone about Teams teams can be a bit like a tongue twister.
It was recently announced that Teams has 20 million daily active users, up from 13 million since July. Talk to enterprise customers who have adopted Teams, and many have a user base that really loves it. There may be more to the story, but as many Office 365 users get Teams as part of their subscription, it’s inevitable that its usage will grow. It’s great to hear stories of how customers are using technology like Teams to positively change the way they work.
At the Ignite Conference in October, some forthcoming functionality was announced, from nascent integration into Outlook (coming next year) to some nearer-term stuff like the ability to create Private channels within a Team, which has already rolled out.
Outlook Tasks and To-Do integration is also expected next year, and the app is increasingly being used as a focal point for other sources of data too – such as using PowerApps to bring business reports or other custom functionality into the same canvas.
There were quite a few Ignite sessions devoted to using Teams for calling and for meetings. One innovation to look forward to is the ability to not just blur your background, but to add a specific background image, either from a library or one of your own.