Microsoft is celebrating the second anniversary of its Microsoft Groups launch with some spectacular new options to rival Slack. The software program maker now has greater than 500,000 organizations utilizing Microsoft Groups, together with 91 of the Fortune 100. That’s seemingly because of the truth Microsoft bundles Groups with its Workplace 365 subscriptions, making it an interesting alternative for companies that already pay for the Workplace suite of apps.

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Nonetheless, Microsoft Groups is rising and rivaling Slack on the similar time, and the corporate is now including some distinctive options to enhance conferences on the service. After including background blur to Skype final month, Microsoft is constructing on the function in Microsoft Groups so as to add customizable backgrounds. This allows you to be a part of a video name and fake you’re in an workplace, on the seashore, or wherever you need actually. The personalized backgrounds function might be obtainable later this yr, and it’ll work with any picture that you just need to use.

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Essentially the most spectacular new function is one that can resolve whiteboard interactions in conferences with distant individuals. Microsoft has developed a method to masks out somebody drawing on a bodily whiteboard, permitting distant assembly members to nonetheless see the bodily whiteboard when it’s in use. This works through the use of any common webcam, and it’ll even seize the bodily whiteboard and import it digitally into Microsoft Groups so distant staff can take part in conferences or the contents of the whiteboard may be archived for future use. Microsoft is letting Groups testers entry this new function as a part of a public preview earlier than it rolls it out typically.



Reside captions are additionally making their method to Microsoft Groups conferences, enhancing accessibility to permit individuals who’re deaf or arduous of listening to to learn speaker captions in actual time. That is additionally helpful should you’re working from a loud location, and also you miss what a selected speaker says, because the captions might be displayed within the assembly. An English preview of this function might be obtainable quickly, and Microsoft plans to incorporate translation in conferences sooner or later sooner or later, too.

The final main new function coming to Microsoft Groups is Reside Occasions. It will permit Microsoft Groups customers to broadcast a gathering or occasion to as much as 10,000 folks. Viewers gained’t want a Microsoft Groups account to see the streams, they usually’ll even have the ability to take part with dwell Q&As. Consider it as Microsoft’s personal Fb Reside-style service that might be primarily used for work conferences and occasions. Microsoft additionally launched an identical service with LinkedIn not too long ago.

Microsoft is continuous to check its safe personal channels for Microsoft Groups, and they need to be obtainable later this yr. The personal channels will let admin limit channels with no need to create separate groups, and it’s a extremely requested function from present Groups customers. Microsoft is at the moment testing this internally and with some choose exterior clients.

All of those options add as much as an enormous push from Microsoft to distinguish its Groups product from Slack. Microsoft’s primary rival is valued at round $5.1 billion, and it acquired rival HipChat final yr to close the service down and migrate customers to its personal chat service. Slack has additionally been enhancing its service prior to now couple of years, together with a brand new darkish mode, improved search, and shared channels.

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