Posey's Tips & Tricks

Why Mixed Reality in SharePoint Is No Gimmick

Microsoft has been tinkering with mixed reality scenarios for businesses for a while now, but the new SharePoint Spaces feature promises to take office collaboration to the next level.

Out of all of the features that Microsoft has brought to Windows 10 through various updates, my favorite has undoubtedly been the Microsoft Mixed Reality Portal.

I think that Windows' mixed reality capabilities are exceptionally well-done. In fact, I have to confess that I have wasted way too much time exploring the Mixed Reality Portal and its various apps.

One of the questions that I have been asked about Windows Mixed Reality on more than one occasion is whether it has a practical use. I mean, sure, the Cliff House and Skyloft are both fun to wander around in, and some of the games and educational titles are also really compelling, but what about productivity? Up until now, there have been few, if any, productivity apps introduced for Microsoft's Mixed Reality Portal.

However, that may be about to change. Microsoft recently announced mixed reality support for SharePoint.

Initially, I was less than enthusiastic about the idea of using mixed reality for SharePoint. Bringing SharePoint into the world of mixed reality just kind of seemed like a gimmick, with little practical use. I wondered why anyone would bother browsing a SharePoint document library through a mixed reality headset, when they could do so far more easily on a normal computer monitor.

As it turns out, however, a headset is not actually a requirement. Although HoloLens and mixed reality headsets are both supported, neither are required. SharePoint's mixed reality environments can be viewed on more traditional devices such as desktops and tablets.

Of course, I still have not answered the question of how SharePoint can benefit from mixed reality integration. There are actually some compelling business use cases.

Before I get to that, however, I need to explain that Microsoft isn't just dumping a SharePoint client into a mixed reality app. After all, it's already possible to use SharePoint in mixed reality by putting on a headset, opening the Edge browser and navigating to a SharePoint site.

The new SharePoint mixed reality experience is going to be completely different from this. In fact, Microsoft isn't simply building a mixed reality version of SharePoint. Instead, it is previewing a new SharePoint feature called SharePoint Spaces that is designed to leverage the power of mixed reality.

So what can you do with SharePoint Spaces? Well, before I answer that question, consider that SharePoint has always been a collaborative platform. Mixed reality offers new opportunities for both collaboration and data visualization. In a way, this goes right along with the ways in which mixed reality is already being used.

One of the most popular Windows Mixed Reality apps right now is Bigscreen. If you haven't seen this app yet, then check it out in the Windows Store. It is a mixed reality application that allows groups of people to hang out in a shared virtual space (such as a lounge or a conference room) and chat with one another.

Microsoft hasn't said anything about virtual chats, but imagine if employees from different offices could virtually meet inside a room containing a 3-D visualization of the company's most important data. Such an environment might even allow the employees to experiment with various what-if scenarios. I could actually see such an application being very useful from a business standpoint.

When SharePoint Spaces is released, it will give SharePoint users 3-D data visualization capabilities, but it will also give users the opportunity to create new types of content. One of the examples that Microsoft gave was that new employees could be provided with a realistic-looking 3-D campus map that they could explore in mixed reality.

There are also rumors that SharePoint Spaces will support the use of hologram objects, meaning that the environment might prove useful for demonstrating or even engineering products.

Being that SharePoint Spaces is not yet available, we can only guess as to what the experience and potential use cases will be like. Microsoft is, however, making a preview site accessible to select organizations. If you would like to try out SharePoint Spaces before its official release, you can sign up for the preview here.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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