Part of Microsoft’s Hybrid Work Initiative
Highlighted by Microsoft in June as part of their hybrid work initiative and announced in message center notification MC279627 (last updated Aug 25, 2021), the refreshed version of the Whiteboard app for Teams is now appearing in tenants. To provide a uniform experience on all platforms, the refresh is also available now for the browser and Android clients with an update expected for the Windows native and iOS clients in October (Microsoft 365 roadmap item 82094 is for the Windows version).
Microsoft lists a bunch of new features now available for the browser and Teams clients:
- Sticky note colors: 10 colorful sticky note shades to choose from.
- Note grids – insert a grid of sticky notes in one of 12 available colors to help in workshops and ideation sessions.
- View objects created in native apps – Objects such as lists & templates inserted on native apps can be viewed on web and Teams as well.
- Ink pen colors: 15 new ink pen color options with a range of thicknesses to help visualize your content and bring your text to life.
- Highlighter colors: – 15 new highlighter color options enable users to emphasize content on the board.
- Ink shape recognition: – draw shapes with ink and then watch them straighten automatically.
- Improved mouse inking: – create smoother ink lines, making your strokes easier and cleaner when drawing with a mouse or trackpad.
- Read only mode for education accounts: – as a meeting facilitator or an educator, determine when and how students participate and collaborate by enabling or disabling their editing capabilities.
Among the objects which can be used in whiteboards are templates, stickers, and images plus the ability to customize the background of the whiteboard (change its color and pattern). I also like the ability to snap objects to lines to make sure that they line up properly. We’ll get to some of these later in this note. For more information, read Microsoft’s blog covering the highlights of the new feature set.
A further set of features are in progress and should roll out soon, including a “laser pointer” to allow users to attract the attention of other people as they share ideas in a whiteboard. Also coming is the welcome ability to cut and paste objects within a whiteboard.
The change in Whiteboard storage to use OneDrive for Business instead of Azure (MC282992) is still on course with opt-in to use OneDrive starting in late October and full transition in late February 2022.
Using Whiteboard in Teams
I’m not a whiteboard expert, but the change in the GUI is apparent immediately you start the app from the share tray in a Teams meeting. Microsoft says that the interface is clean and modern, and I think that’s fair. Figure 1 illustrates some of the new features such as adding a thumbs-up reaction to a text box, importing a graphic, and aligning posts. You can also see the new toolbox on the left. The cogwheel in the upper right offers options such as exporting the whiteboard as a graphic file or to prevent meeting participants making changes.
After a meeting finishes, the whiteboard is listed as one of the meeting resources and can be edited there.
The toolbox includes access to a bunch of templates designed to give users a flying start in sharing ideas in different contexts (Figure 2). Microsoft says that “over 30” templates are available. I didn’t count all the templates, but I that number sounds about right.
Importing a template into a whiteboard brings a complete structure ready for use or customization. It looks like many templates (such as the team alignment workshop shown in Figure 3) make extensive use of note grids, a new structure. Microsoft says: “Note grids help you create and build structure and form in your whiteboard session. Note grids present sticky notes in a clear and organized format. Customize each sticky note by color order and click to easily add extra sticky notes. You can also organize note grids by adding a title to them.”
The templates are a good base for developing whiteboards for use within an organization, or more importantly, they demonstrate what’s possible with the new whiteboard app.
My ability to use digital ink has never been great. The digital versions of my drawing and writing sometimes look as if a drunken spider crawled out of an inkpot. I was therefore impressed with the draw and hold shape conversion feature (aka ink shape recognition). If you draw a line, circle, triangle, square, rectangle, rhombus, pentagon, or hexagon using a single ink stroke and then hold the pen (or finger, which is what I used) in place for a few milliseconds, Whiteboard converts the shape into what it should be. In other words, Whiteboard removes imperfections in the shape so that it looks perfect (or at least, better than I can draw). Clever tricks like this delight app users and you can waste many minutes playing with shapes.
Naturally, Microsoft has included some extra smarts into new devices like the Surface Pro 8 or Surface Studio laptop running Windows 11, with the new Surface Slim Pen 2. By sending slight vibrations through the pen, Microsoft says they achieve “a more natural inking feel while drawing” and “inking will feel more engaging with haptic signals for gestures.” All of which is supposed to give users more confidence when they ink. I have two pens which came with Surface Book 2 devices that I have never used. Looks like I need the new pen to get the confidence to use digital ink…
The notion of a digital canvas for people to share ideas within Teams meetings is attractive. The original implementation of the Whiteboard app was pretty basic: about the best I can say is that the app was useful at times. This update contains enough to make Whiteboard much more interesting and productive. If you didn’t think much of Whiteboard beforehand, it’s time to take another look, if only to try out the shape conversion feature.
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