Posey's Tips & Tricks

3-D Makes Its Way into Office 365

With 3-D support in apps like PowerPoint and SharePoint, Microsoft is showing skeptics how mixed reality can make a lot of business sense.

A few months ago, while attending Microsoft Ignite in Orlando, I had the chance to try out a few demos of SharePoint Spaces. For those who might not be familiar with SharePoint Spaces, it is a blending of SharePoint and Microsoft Mixed Reality.

Imagine viewing Excel charts in 3-D through a virtual reality (VR) headset, and you will begin to understand what the experience is like.

In the months that have passed since the Ignite conference, I have heard a few people refer to SharePoint Spaces as "the PowerPoint of mixed reality." I think that the basic idea behind this statement is that SharePoint Spaces makes it possible for knowledge workers to use a point-and-click interface to create 3-D environments, which they can then share with co-workers. Just as PowerPoint makes it easy for a person who is artistically challenged to assemble an aesthetically pleasing presentation, SharePoint Spaces allows users to create 3-D environments by adding 3-D objects, 360-degree videos and other mixed reality content.

As I explained in a previous column, I do believe that SharePoint Spaces has its place. At the same time, though, I don't think that the demos that were presented at Ignite make a compelling use case for SharePoint Spaces. I just don't see people taking the time to connect a mixed reality headset to their laptop to view a chart that they could just as easily view on a normal screen. Viewing such a chart in 3-D simply does not allow the user to derive any more information from the chart than what they could get from a 2-D view.

Even so, I think that there is a reasonably good chance that mixed reality environments could eventually become the presentation platform of choice. Workers are increasingly becoming more and more geographically disconnected from one another, and mixed reality can give users a feeling of being together in the same room when they are actually many miles apart.

While I do believe that there is a future for mixed reality use in business, people aren't going to embrace the technology overnight. That's OK, though. I have always believed in the old saying that you have to walk before you can run. I think that there will probably need to be an intermediate step before people are ready to embrace the use of mixed reality in business.

While it is hard to know for sure what that transitional step will be, it could involve getting people used to working with 3-D objects in 2-D environments. Believe it or not, this is something that Microsoft is already working on.

Earlier, I mentioned that SharePoint Spaces has increasingly been referred to as the PowerPoint of mixed reality. However, Microsoft has created a much more literal mash-up of PowerPoint and mixed reality: It is now possible to include 3-D models in a PowerPoint presentation.

This does not mean that PowerPoint has gained support for mixed reality headsets; as far as I know, that hasn't happened yet. What you can do, however, is insert 3-D models into your PowerPoint presentations. You can create these models in Paint 3D or you can download them from Remix 3D. In either case, these are the same models (or holograms) that are available to you in HoloLens or within the Microsoft Mixed Reality portal. For example, the figure below shows an animated 3-D drone that I have added to a PowerPoint presentation.

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 1: You can add 3-D models to PowerPoint presentations.

While it is easy to dismiss the drone model as being little more than a glorified GIF, you can actually do some cool things with animated 3-D models in PowerPoint. The drone model, for example, includes a few different "scenes." These scenes play out almost like videos. One of the scenes shows the drone assembly process. Another scene shows the drone's propellers being attached and the drone taking off. Because the drone is modeled in 3-D, the scenes can be viewed in whatever orientation makes the most sense for the presentation.

My guess is that PowerPoint's support for 3-D models is probably just a first step. I suspect that PowerPoint will eventually include support for other types of 3-D content, such as 3-D shapes and 3-D text.

If Microsoft can introduce a sufficient number of 3-D features into PowerPoint, then it could conceivably tweak the interface to make new presentations 3-D by default. This could make it easier to eventually steer people toward using fully immersive mixed reality environments.

Of course, Microsoft has a lot of work to do before that can happen. Right now the Remix 3D library is still somewhat sparse. There just isn't enough 3-D content available yet to drive the adoption of 3-D objects within PowerPoint.

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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