Microsoft is taking the fight to Facebook and making its own play in the metaverse, including launching a virtual reality (VR) tool for Microsoft Teams.
At Microsoft’s Ignite Fall conference yesterday, chief executive Satya Nadella unveiled Microsoft’s own vision for an “entirely new platform layer … bringing people, places and things together with the digital world”.
That vision includes Mesh for Microsoft Teams, a VR platform allowing workers to connect via avatars in a digital office environment.
While workers have mastered 2D conferencing, “human presence is the ultimate connection”, allowing for shared immersive experiences, Nadella said.
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Meeting in a space where people can be present, even without being physically present, will be “the next big breakthrough”.
The news comes less than a week after tech giant Facebook unveiled its new ‘Meta’ branding for the holding company of social media sites Facebook and Instagram, chat app WhatsApp and virtual reality company Oculus.
The new name reflects the company’s vision to build a metaverse — an immersive digital world that Mark Zuckerburg said would be “the successor of the mobile internet”.
While Facebook’s metaverse will focus on social interactions and gaming — and Microsoft also has plans for the likes of Halo and Minecraft — it’s Microsoft’s introduction of VR in the office that’s got people talking.
A statement from Microsoft said bringing VR into the Teams platform is intended to make collaboration at work “personal and fun”.
However, the announcement raises a few questions too. Why don’t the avatars have legs? And perhaps more importantly: does anyone actually want this?
The world of remote work has allowed for more flexibility at work. For many, it has meant bringing babies along to virtual meetings and keeping half an eye on home-schooling.
Do we risk losing some of those benefits, and what does that mean for workplace inclusion and diversity?
It’s also arguably not a cure-all for the loss of workplace culture. One Twitter user suggested the legless corporate avatars do not amount to a metverse but “an office made of sad marionettes”.
Friends, a legless, 3D cartoon avatar of yourself inside corporate groupware isn’t a metaverse. It’s an office made of sad marionettes. https://t.co/088AizrJdm
— Ian Bogost (@ibogost) November 2, 2021