MVPs Assess Microsoft Teams Before 'General Availability' Release

Microsoft is planning the commercial release of Microsoft Teams on Tuesday, and a couple of Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) recently assessed its current state.

Microsoft Teams is the newest collaboration tool within Office 365, adding a chat capability for organizations. Microsoft is planning to announce the "global availability" of Microsoft Teams on March 14 in an online event starting at 8:30 a.m. Pacific Time. The event will feature "Microsoft Corporate Vice President Kirk Koenigsbauer and a special guest," according to Microsoft's announcement this week, which included a registration link.

The "global availability" of Microsoft Teams on Tuesday is actually a "general availability" (GA) product release. GA means the product is deemed ready by Microsoft for use in production environments.

On Friday, Microsoft issued a notice to organizations and IT pros that Microsoft Teams will get turned on as early as March 14, with a gradual rollout to eligible Office 365 tenants this quarter. All eligible users will then have access to Microsoft Teams at that time. IT pros can manage user access to Microsoft Teams "via license assignments."

"At General Availability of Microsoft Teams on March 14, we will automatically switch the tenant wide control to ON," Microsoft's notice stated. "Now is your opportunity to remove user licenses if you're not prepared, and hopefully you've been reviewing communications in the Message Center."

Koenigsbauer had indicated in January that Teams was poised for product release this quarter. He explained back then that Teams would get a WhoBot designed to help users identify experts within their organizations. It's also expected to get reporting and compliance capabilities. Teams likely also will have a "dynamic groups" capability because Teams is tied to Office 365 Groups and Active Directory.

This week, some further light on Microsoft Teams was provided in an online presentation hosted by Jeremy Thake, vice president of product technology at Hyperfish. He's also a SharePoint MVP and previously served at Microsoft for three years as a product manager. He spoke with MVP Mike Maadarani of MCM Consulting, who is an Office 365 information architect.

Thake explained that Microsoft developed Teams to address the collaboration style of post-Baby Boom office workers. Microsoft has many collaboration technologies, but end users typically have had to jump between them in the recent past.

End User Benefits
Maadarani explained that Microsoft Teams is a chat-based tool that's part of the Office 365 collaboration portfolio. It provides a "modern" collaboration experience for end users.

Microsoft Teams has threaded conversations that are persistent, which are searchable via the Office Graph, a search technology that underlies Office 365 services. All team members can see and contribute to a chat, and it's possible to create private chats with one or many people. Users can tag others to a team with an @name capability, which keeps them notified. It's possible to start a video chat from Microsoft Teams or schedule Skype for Business meetings. Microsoft Teams will be available across all devices and browsers, Maadarani said, adding that that he's seen Teams apps work well on the Windows Phone and on iOS devices.

Microsoft Teams provides users with a single place to find files and team members, and to start chats. Users can Search for people and files, and share content, Maadarani said.

Customizations in Microsoft Teams are unique, and can be done within the organization or at the team level. It's possible to add new tabs to channels in Teams. In addition, Microsoft has been working with partners and third-party software makers to permit other services into Microsoft Teams. For instance, Teams currently supports the ability to add tab links to Twitter and Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Maadarani noted.

Microsoft Teams is built on Office 365 Groups and has the same compliance support. Data are encrypted in transit and at rest. Microsoft Teams has standards support for ISO 27018/01, SOC 1 and 2, European Union Model Clauses and more, Maadarani said. Organizations own the data in Teams and Microsoft doesn't mine it for advertising purposes, he added. From a security perspective, organizations are pretty much protected and don't have to worry about data leaks, he added.

Possible Limitations
Thake provided a sketch of some Microsoft Teams limitations. Some elements need to be improved, he said, although it could change by GA time.

Right now, Teams has a basic files experience. The file tab is connected to OneDrive for Business, which Thake described as "watered-down SharePoint." He commented that most people will want to remove that tab and use SharePoint Document Libraries instead as a tab. Another feature that's "a little weak" is the e-discovery capabilities of Microsoft Teams, although Thake said that situation could change at GA.

Some things are missing from Microsoft Teams right now, Thake added. There's no external user support. Only people who have an Office 365 user accounts can be added to a team. Also, Microsoft Teams currently isn't available to education or government tenants.

Skype is supported in Microsoft Teams, but PSTN support is missing. Users can't record audio or video meetings. There are "no soft delete" or "permalinks" capabilities. There's limited UI extensibility and no naming restrictions. Also, the administrative controls for Microsoft Teams can be fairly limited, Thake said.

Microsoft Teams is also limited to 600 members in a team, Thake said, adding that "I expect that number to go up." Possibly, Microsoft has already raised it to 999 members, he conceded, during the Q&A portion of the talk.

In addition, there's currently an 80-person call limit in Skype when using Microsoft Teams, but Thake said he expected that number to "crawl up." Microsoft Teams currently has support for 19 languages and will be available in Office 365 "E" plans, he added.

There's some confusion with associating Outlook groups with Microsoft Teams. Thake explained that Microsoft has something called "groups in Outlook," which is a distribution-list capability where e-mails are stored in Exchange and are available to members of the group. With Microsoft Teams, a "connected group" gets created, which gives users access to Yammer, Skype and SharePoint Team Sites, as well as Outlook.  

"The question was, 'Can I continue to do e-mails in a distribution list way and store those as part of a team?' Well, the answer is 'Yes,'" Thake said. "But for now, there's no easy way for the Teams interface to see the group in Outlook e-mail conversations that are going on."

Thake suggested that users could add a tab in Microsoft Teams to get this information, and the same thing could be done with Yammer, but "it's a little bit confusing," he added.

Thake also raised the inevitable question, "What does Yammer have that Teams doesn't?" He said that Microsoft conceives of Yammer as its social network for work purposes that enables cross-company discussions. Nonetheless, "Yammer needs to find a new place with Teams," Thake contended.

Readers can find more about Microsoft Teams and what's to come in this February Redmond "Deep Dive" article, written by MVP Christian Buckley. Developers looking for Microsoft Teams extensibility capabilities can find information in this recent Microsoft podcast.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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