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Get Ready to Deploy the New Teams Client to End Users
Updated March 27, 2023: The preview of the new Teams client is available.
With all the speculation that Microsoft will release a public preview of the new Teams (V2.1) client in late March 2023, it’s time to review how users can access the preview code once Microsoft makes it available.
Teams uses update policies to dictate which users have access to preview features. Teams also allows tenants to align with Office preview channels if they wish. The first job is therefore to define the user group to test the new Teams client and make sure to assign a Teams update policy that allows them to access preview features to their accounts. Once the policy is effective, users can switch between preview and production versions as they like.
A New Option in the Teams Update Policy
A hint that Microsoft will provide controls to allow customers to roll out the new Teams client at their own rate is in the PowerShell Get-CsTeamsUpdateManagementPolicy cmdlet. This reveals a UseNewTeamsClient setting. Microsoft added the setting in version 4.9.1 of the MicrosoftTeams PowerShell module in November 2022. The values accepted by the Set-CsTeamsUpdateManagementPolicy cmdlet are:
- MicrosoftChoice: Microsoft controls the use of the new client. This is likely how Microsoft will force customers to eventually move from the old to the new client.
- UserChoice: Individual users can choose to use the new client.
- AdminDisabled: The organization disables the new client for users assigned the policy.
The interpretations of the options are mine and are not formally confirmed by Microsoft. The point is that it will be possible for organizations to control when users get the new client and which users get the new client.
Building a New Teams Architecture
Microsoft has been working on the new Teams client architecture for a long time. Some hints came in my May 2021 discussion with Rish Tandon (the then VP for Teams Engineering). At the time, Rish acknowledged that client performance wasn’t where Microsoft wanted it to be. A further hint came when Microsoft revealed the Teams consumer client for Windows 11. The consumer client uses the new Teams client architecture based on ReactJS and the WebView2 Edge component.
Of course, the Teams consumer client is a pale shadow of its enterprise counterpart when it comes to features and functionality, as people will discover when they move from Teams Free (classic) to the new Teams (free) version. There are no channels to deal with (regular, private, or shared), the number of users is limited, there’s no Phone system or Teams room devices, and so on. Acknowledging these limitations, the Teams consumer client (2.0 in the architecture) proved a useful step to proving the concepts and components used in the next generation of the Teams enterprise client (2.1).
Microsoft’s recent press briefings have emphasized benchmarks like a 50% reduction in memory, less demand for CPU, and a consequent extended battery life for laptops. Cynics might say that all of this comes from removing the overhead imposed by Electron. Certainly there’s some truth in that assertion but the overall engineering effort required to move the Teams desktop and browser clients to the new architecture spans more than simply swapping code libraries.
When Production Software Arrives
After running the public preview for the new version of the Teams client for several months, Microsoft will make the client generally available (GA). At that point, a recent change will affect when organizations see the GA software.
Microsoft 365 message center notification MC510331 (February 2, Microsoft 365 roadmap item 117577) announced that Teams will support targeted release for commercial cloud customers. In other words, if your tenant opts in to use targeted release for some or all users, you’ll be amongst the first to get the new Teams client. Release preferences are in the Org settings section of the Microsoft 365 admin center (Figure 1).
Those who choose to remain with the standard release will receive the software later. Given the size of the Microsoft 365 infrastructure, the difference between first and last tenants receiving the new client could be several months.
A Big Moment Approaches for Teams
People have complained about the performance and memory consumption of the Teams client for years. Despite much tweaking and filling in performance gaps since 2016, it’s obvious that the road has run out for the original Teams client. Launching a new Teams client is an important point for Microsoft. They only have 280 million monthly active users to please. No pressure then!
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