Microsoft is getting into the metaverse with Mesh for Teams, but it may not be as futuristic, immersive, or exciting as some might hope.
Microsoft has announced Mesh for Teams, which it is releasing as an enterprise version of the metaverse. Teams is Microsoft’s Zoom competitor that also incorporates functionality similar to Slack. Offered as part of Office 365, Teams also features deep integration with many of Microsoft’s other applications, including Word and Excel.
The term Metaverso has been around since Neal Stephenson’s sci-fi novel Snow crash it was first published in 1992. Since then, several technology companies have adopted the phrase, each of which has come up with its own interpretation of what constitutes a metaverse. Gaming firm Epic uses metaverse to describe Fortnite, its sprawling battle royale title. Fortnite has featured characters from franchises such as Marvel and DC, and has gone beyond the game by hosting concerts by popular artists such as Travis Scott and Marshmello. Meanwhile, the conglomerate once known as Facebook has rebranded itself as Meta as part of a movement to become a metaverse company that combines the real world with augmented reality, in addition to presenting elements of fully virtual reality.
While Microsoft will focus on communications and collaboration, it is similar to Meta in that it will make use of AR and VR elements, along with video and (eventually) holographic displays. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella explained at this year’s Ignite conference, Mesh is designed to allow users to have a «Immersive experience shared directly in Teams.«
Focus on digital avatars at launch
Microsoft has a broad view of what its metaverse may be, but the company is making it relatively safe to begin with. Mesh will initially feature avatars, in this case legless digital twins, that can represent a user in a standard Teams video call. Organizations will also be able to create their own virtual reality spaces in which these avatars can float and interact with others. (Meta has something similar with its Horizon Workrooms). Mesh will launch with a set of pre-designed rooms, each one geared towards different interactions: meetings, social mixers, etc. Mesh will also take advantage of spatial audio to create the feeling of a real space.
Microsoft says Mesh will launch in 2022, although it’s unclear if the launch will include virtual reality workspaces. While this first iteration does not meet Nadella’s long-term vision of bringing “the real world in computing, ”The company positions Mesh as a first step towards the metaverse. Until users can actually get lost in realistic digital worlds or interact with each other via life-size holograms, the metaverse, either Meta or Microsoft‘s) runs the risk of being a buzzword that promises more than it can actually deliver.