Teams to Support Targeted Release for Commercial Tenants

Targeted Release for Office 365

Targeted release is the mechanism used by Microsoft to make new features available to tenants a short time (normally four to six weeks) before general deployment (standard availability begins). Tenants can choose to use targeted release for all users or selected users via Release preferences under Org settings in the Microsoft 365 admin center (Figure 1).

Setting targeted release preferences for a tenant
Figure 1: Setting targeted release preferences for a tenant

On May 25, Microsoft announced that Teams will support targeted release for Microsoft 365 tenants. This step aligns Teams with the other major Microsoft 365 workloads which support targeted release (SharePoint Online and Exchange Online). The change applies to commercial cloud clients only. Tenants in other clouds, like GCC, will have to wait to see if Microsoft brings the change to their clouds.

Examples of important Teams features currently available to targeted release include the preview of the Teams 2.1 client and the new channels experience. Targeted release applies to the desktop and browser versions of the Teams clients (including Surface Hub). It has no impact on Teams mobile.

Supporting targeted release is a sensible change because the way Microsoft released Teams updates in the past was a tad chaotic in times. It’s reasonably common to see complaints surface in Twitter and the Microsoft Technical Community that an announced feature hasn’t turned up in some tenants several months after Microsoft highlights something in a blog post or a roadmap item says that a feature is rolling out.

The Teams preview program worked for some features and not others. To throw some more uncertainty into the mix, Microsoft changed the “P” (“preview”) indicator to “EA” (for early access) earlier this year, without explaining what was happening.

Early Teams in Many Forms

The kicker is that complexity still exists in the system. Microsoft says that:

Tenants wanting consistency in the availability of Teams features alongside the rest of Office 365 should use targeted release. Unless you’re only interested in new Teams features, in which case you should use the Teams preview program. Targeted release takes precedence over the Teams preview program when it comes to feature availability.

But if you want consistency between Teams and Office (Microsoft 365 apps for enterprise), use the Office Current Channel (preview).

Finally, if organizations want to live on the bleeding edge of technology to see new Teams features as early as possible, they can seek nomination to the Teams Technology Adoption Program (TAP) and experience the joys of chasing early bugs. However, Microsoft says that the Teams TAP is currently at capacity.

Given the size of Microsoft 365, different kinds of tenants, and the number of active users in the Teams installed base, it’s almost inevitable that software will appear immediately in some places and trickle out to others. Let’s hope that supporting targeted release will make Teams feature availability more predictable for all.

Teams Free Takes Over from Teams Chat

Also in the world of Teams, the Microsoft blog to announce the availability of Windows 11 Insider Build 23481 says that Windows 11 has replaced the Teams chat app with the Teams Free (aka Teams for Home) app.

This change makes perfect sense. The original Teams chat app was the first iteration of the Teams 2.1 client, albeit with very reduced functionality compared to the full client. It served its purpose as a replacement chat client, but Microsoft hardly wanted to keep it around for the long term. Every client variant creates more demand for engineering resources, so swapping in the Teams Free client is a reasonable strategy.

I doubt that many Windows users will notice the difference. The sad fact is that although Teams is successful in the corporate environment, it’s barely made a dent in the domination of apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger when it comes to personal usage. Teams Free is a more functional app for Windows 11 users, but it’s hardly likely to move the needle in terms of attracting millions of new users.

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