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Anyone Enabled for Teams Preview Can Test New Teams Client
March 27 marked a big day for Teams with the release into public preview of the Teams 2.1 client (code name Emblem) and mesh avatars for Teams (MC533652). The new client doesn’t support avatars at this point. You’ll have to run the Teams “classic” client to test out avatars in Teams meetings.
Teams 2.1 is a major advance because it is the first major end-to-end overhaul of the original client architecture introduced in 2016. Compared to the Teams of today, the original version supported very few features. Over the last six years, the Teams client swelled to accommodate major swathes of new functionality such as guest user access, shared channels, the Teams Phone system, radical improvements to Teams meetings like breakout rooms and webinars, thousands of first- and third-party apps, and expansions to the basic apps that constitute the Teams client like the Files channel tab (the window into SharePoint Online) and most recently, the Files app.
For now, you must use an Azure AD account with the Teams 2.1 client (including connecting as a guest to another tenant). Support for Microsoft Services Accounts (MSA), like outlook.com accounts, won’t be available until at an indeterminate time later this year.
Moving on from Electron
The Teams development group dedicates lots of effort to keeping Teams performance at an acceptable level and restricting the amount of memory demanded by the client. At best, tweaking kept pace with the demands made for additional resources by new features. At worst, the Teams client was a fat pig with poor performance, questionable reliability, and an insatiable demand for battery life. Even though Microsoft reports 280 million monthly active users for Teams, the Teams desktop wasn’t a client that anyone looked forward to running.
Changing software used by so many people is quite a task. Doing so while demand steadily grows and engineers continually add new features is doubly difficult. The first glimmer of what was going on came in the Teams chat client in Windows 11 (the 2.0 client) where the Edge WebView2 component and React gave a way forward from the original Electron-based foundation.
The Performance and Resources Question
Microsoft has been preparing for the debut of the new Teams clients for several months with limited availability to customers and MVPs through the Technology Adoption Program. I’ve been lucky enough to use the new client for quite a while and can attest to the claims of better all-round performance, especially when starting up and switching between tenants. Speaking of which, as someone who “lives” in multiple tenants, I really like the ability to be signed into multiple organizations and receive notifications for whatever happens in those tenants. The days of firing up multiple private browser sessions to run Teams in different tenants are finally gone.
In fact, switching between anything in Teams 2.1 (like chat to chat or channel to channel) is faster. Microsoft says that the average user (who’s that?) switches (presumably between different Teams components) 10,000 times monthly. In that context, creating a fast and seamless transition from one component to another is very important. Attention has also been paid to improved scrolling, something that you might not consider important until the need arises to scroll back several months in a chat to find a relevant message.
Microsoft says that the new app launches “up to” 2x faster (and joins meetings faster too) and uses up to 50% less memory. Your mileage will vary depending on what features you use in Teams, if you switch tenants, use of video in meetings, the apps you use, and so on. Figure 2 captures an example of the demand created by the Teams 2.1 client on a PC. Note the influence of WebView2!
My totally unscientific impression is that Teams 2.1 uses less memory on a consistent basis over a day’s work, but there are times when it peaks with a higher demand than the original client does. In practical terms, I suspect that the snappiness of the new client will make many forgive some minor sins of excessive demand – and remember, the new client is preview software that Microsoft is continually tuning to make it work better.
Using the New Teams
The preview is only available to commercial tenants. Switching over to the new Teams is via a toggle displayed in the top left-hand corner of the classic client. To expose the toggle, create and publish (or edit) an update policy to whatever accounts you want to access the new clients to allow them to use public preview and choose to use the new client (Figure 3). Classic clients must run version 1.6.00.4472 or later of the Windows desktop for the toggle to appear. Microsoft hasn’t released a macOS version of the preview client yet.
More about using the Teams update policy are in this article. Users can reset the toggle to switch back to the old client as they wish. The same data is available in both. To compare features and functionality on the same PC, you can run the new client alongside the classic app (in either a browser session or as a PWA).
Microsoft says that users “will likely encounter some gaps” as they use the preview. For instance, the work to implement breakout rooms for meetings is incomplete and developers of third-party apps will need to test their apps against the new client. Some minor glitches are also likely. For instance, the name I gave to the Yammer (now Viva Engage) communities app when I customized the app properties doesn’t display nicely in the app bar (visible in Figure 1). Overall, the preview is in good shape and very usable, especially for core Teams activities.
Microsoft isn’t saying when Teams 2.1 might reach general availability. A lot of work still needs to be done to fill in the gaps where functionality available in the classic client doesn’t work in 2.1 or is buggy. Microsoft is also not saying when end of life might happen for the Teams classic client. Given that Microsoft updates Teams clients automatically about once a month that time might occur a couple of months after the 2.1 client becomes generally available.
Nicer Looking and Better Performing
The size of the Teams user base makes the new Teams client an important event. However, even though it’s taken a long time for the new client to appear, this isn’t a strategic advance like the announcement of Microsoft 365 Copilot or the arrival of the Loop app in preview.
The new Teams app is a large but incremental step forward. The snappiness of the client and the visual overhaul that makes it feel more like a well-rounded Windows app instead of something that might have been built with Visual Basic makes Teams 2.1 a nicer place to work. I’ve enjoyed using the new client. I suspect that you will too.
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