Virtual meetings are here to stay. Microsoft wants to improve them



CNN Business

Microsoft is unveiling new Windows features in an effort to improve the virtual meeting experience and ensure the needs of people with disabilities are supported in a new era of hybrid working.

At a virtual event on Tuesday, the company showcased its vision for the future of hybrid work with a preview of new features coming to Windows 11 nearly six months after launch.

The tools largely focus on productivity with AI-powered features like attenuation of background noises like lawnmowers and baby cries, and auto-framing to make the camera follow the movements of the speaker. There’s also a feature that subtly raises a speaker’s eyes to make it look like they’re looking directly at the camera during video calls, and a security tool that reduces phishing.

But some of the most notable features focus on inclusiveness with a subset of tools developed in part by Microsoft (MSFT) employees with disabilities.

For example, its new live captioning feature was born from an idea by Swetha Machanavajhala, senior deaf product manager at Azure Cognitive Services, who said she struggled to follow meetings. She needed a device to read captions generated by a human captionist and a computer to take notes, while focusing on the presentation. The pandemic has intensified the need for change, she said.

“The meetings were extremely daunting, involving a lot of visual coordination between content presented on one screen and captions on another screen. I was often missing information and felt left out,” Machanavajhala told CNN Business. I couldn’t be as productive as my peers.”

At a hackathon, she led a team of 10 Microsoft employees to bring universal captions to the Windows platform, allowing any type of audio coming out of the computer to be captioned in time. whether it’s a Windows product like Teams or other services. , such as YouTube, a podcast, FaceTime, or a website. She then presented the tool to executives who agreed to make it an official feature of Windows 11. The new tool can also caption audio captured by the microphone, providing subtitles to the user if he is talking to someone in person.

Similarly, another new Windows 11 tool called Focus was developed in part by a Windows product manager with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Alexis Kane said she often felt overwhelmed by the influx of notifications while working from home and sought to help Microsoft identify ways to reduce distractions.

“As someone with ADHD, how my computer behaves over the course of a day influences my mood, productivity, and energy level,” Kane said. “It became more evident with virtual work when I didn’t have a break from my computer. The number of notifications I was getting increased dramatically, as did my anxiety level.”

Now users enable a Do Not Disturb button from any notification, allowing them to mute alerts, emails, and other messages for a period of time. Although the company told CNN Business that it had a previous interest in adding this kind of functionality to Windows – which is already available in some form on Apple and Samsung software – it accelerated the concept when Kane said the notifications were impacting his productivity.

“I now use the tune-up timer throughout my working day when I feel really overwhelmed; it helps me collect my thoughts in a structured way,” she said. “These features will extend to everyone but will have a specific impact on those who are neurodiverse.”

During the event, Microsoft said it was also rolling out a tool to pin favorite files, content and websites for quick access. A new feature called Windows 365 Switch will make it easier for users to move between their Cloud PC and their local office.

Other tools aim to proactively combat phishing and targeted malware by identifying and alerting users when they enter their Microsoft credentials into a malicious application or hacked website.

The company didn’t give a timeline for rolling out all of the new features, but the inclusivity tools and meetings enhancements will be available for download later this year.

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