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Microsoft unveils developer-focused Teams, Outlook, and Search updates

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Microsoft 365

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Microsoft today announced a number of improvements across Microsoft 365, its line of subscription services offered as a part of Microsoft Office. During its Build developer conference, the company took the wraps off enhancements to Microsoft Graph, Microsoft Search Federation, and Organization Explorer, as well as Microsoft Teams, Outlook, and Fluid components.

“The world around us has dramatically changed since the last Build. Every customer and partner [is] now focused on the new realities of hybrid work — enabling people to work from anywhere, at any time, and on any device,” Nicole Herskowitz, Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365 platform general manager, said in a blog post. “Developers are at the heart of this transformation, and at Microsoft, we’ve seen this evidently through the apps you’ve built on top of the Microsoft Cloud.”

Microsoft Teams

Remote work is on the rise. With the need to manage distributed workforces, organizations have ramped up their usage of videoconferencing platforms. Global Market Insights predicts that the videoconferencing market will grow 19% from 2020 to reach $50 billion in value by 2026. Zoom alone now hosts 45 billion minutes of webinars a year.

“Teams has gone to 145 million daily active users, and there’s a ton of organic interest in figuring out how businesses leverage the entire Teams platform — not just for chat and meetings, but as a digital platform where they can integrate their apps and workflows,” Karan Nigam, director of product marketing for Teams, told VentureBeat in an interview. “We’ve seen a nearly 7 times increase in the usage of apps … within the Teams platform over the last one year, so there’s a ton of organic momentum there.”

Launched last year, Teams apps for meetings make it easier to build apps that let people solve goals and design challenges together. Now Microsoft is introducing features designed to help developers build more unique scenarios, including shared stage integration, new meeting event APIs, Together mode, and media APIs with resource-specific content.

Fluid components in Teams chat are now in private preview and will expand to more customers in the coming months, Microsoft says. These components can be edited in real time and work across surfaces like Teams and Office apps. In Teams, Fluid components allow chat users to send a message with a table, action items, or lists that can be coauthored and edited by everyone in line. Fluid components can also be copied and pasted throughout different Teams chats.

Currently in preview, Teams’ shared stage integration offers developers access to the main stages in meetings through a configuration in their app manifest. This delivers a new surface to enable multi-user flows for meetings apps like whiteboarding, design, and project boards, Microsoft says.

The new meeting event APIs, meanwhile, which are also in preview, enable the automation of Teams meeting-related workflows through events, like meeting start and end. Together mode extensibility — which is coming soon — will let developers create custom scenes for Teams meetings and share them with users. As for the Media APIs and resource-specific consent, they’ll offer real-time access to audio and video streams for transcription, translation, note-taking, insight-gathering, and more when they roll out in the weeks ahead.

Microsoft 365

Microsoft also unveiled new capabilities for Teams Toolkit for Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code in preview. They aim to make the Teams app development experience easier by reducing the amount of code needed, providing out-of-the-box integrations with Microsoft Azure, tapping into data from the Microsoft Graph, and more. Some of the highlights include Azure Functions integration, single-line Microsoft Graph client, and streamlined hosting to an integrated development environment. There’s also a new Developer portal for Teams, formerly App Studio, that provides a management console via the web or within Teams to register and configure apps.

Lastly, users and IT admins will soon be able to purchase third-party app license subscriptions from the Microsoft Teams app store and Teams Admin Center, Microsoft said. Invoice billing and credit cards will be accepted across both storefronts beginning in preview this summer.

“The hope is that these tools support the customers and partners utilizing Teams as a platform, as well as developers who are thinking of it as a new economic opportunity for themselves and their development cycles,” Nigam continued. “Teams will become a more extensible platform, and our developer partners will be able to utilize new services like meetings in a much … richer way.”

Microsoft Outlook and Search

On the Microsoft Outlook side, Microsoft announced that message extensions are now supported in Outlook on the web, providing a unified development experience that works with both Teams and Outlook. When users write a message, they’ll be able to select a new menu of search-based message extensions to choose from, for example, an extension that surfaces tasks from a project management Teams app.

Microsoft 365

Above: Message extensions in Outlook on the web.

Image Credit: Microsoft

In related news, developers can now build one Adaptive Card and deploy it across Teams and Outlook, using the new universal Action.Execute action model. Adaptive Cards allow developers to share user interface data so experiences remain consistent throughout multiple apps and services.

Microsoft Graph

Beyond Outlook and Teams updates, Microsoft made enhancements to its Microsoft Graph and Microsoft Search services.

Microsoft Graph data connect, a high-throughput connector designed to copy Microsoft 365 datasets into the Azure tenant, is now offered on Microsoft Azure as a metered service so developers pay only for the data they consume. And updates are arriving in Microsoft Graph connectors, which let organizations index third-party data so it appears in internal search results, allowing information from sources outside Microsoft 365 to be available through Microsoft Search results.

Most enterprises have to wrangle countless data buckets, some of which inevitably become underused or forgotten. A Forrester survey found that between 60% and 73% of all data within corporations is never analyzed for insights or larger trends. The opportunity cost of this unused data is substantial, with a Veritas report pegging it at $3.3 trillion by 2020. That’s perhaps why the corporate sector has taken an interest in solutions that ingest, understand, organize, and act on digital content from multiple digital sources.

To address this need, Microsoft is upgrading Microsoft Graph connectors to let companies add information to employee profiles from more sources, providing a more detailed view of peoples’ work and experience. In addition, new Jira and Confluence connectors will be available later this year, and Microsoft Graph connector data will come to Teams and Windows. Plus, eDiscovery support for Microsoft Graph connectors will be available this summer to let developers use the same tools in Microsoft 365 to search for content in third-party systems.

Microsoft also said Microsoft Search Federation, which creates a unified search experience across Microsoft Azure Cognitive Search and Dynamics 365, connecting systems like Microsoft Search and Azure Cognitive Search, will be generally available later this year. Beyond this, the company introduced Organization Explorer, an embedded app coming to Outlook that can help discover team relationships in an organization. Microsoft says it can help employees explore colleagues and teams and identify skills to help them complete their work.

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Lucidworks: Chatbots and recommendations boost online brand loyalty

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Who is loyal

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Pandemic-related shutdowns led consumers to divert the bulk of their shopping to online — and many of those shoppers are now hesitant about returning to stores as businesses begin to open back up. A recent survey of 800 consumers conducted by cloud company Lucidworks found that 59% of shoppers plan to either avoid in-person shopping as much as possible,  or visit in-person stores less often than before the pandemic.

Above: Shoppers across the U.S. and U.K. agree that high-quality products, personalized recommendations, and excellent customer service are the top three reasons they’re brand-loyal.

Image Credit: Lucidworks

As the world stabilizes, shoppers want brands to provide a multi-faceted shopping experience — expanded chatbot capabilities, diverse recommendations, and personalized experiences that take into account personal preferences and history, Lucidworks found in its study. More than half of shoppers in the survey, 55%, said they use a site’s chatbot on every visit. American shoppers use chatbots more than their counterparts in the United Kingdom, at 70%.

The majority of shoppers, 70%, use chatbots for customer service, and 53% said they want a chatbot to help them find specific products or check product compatibility. A little less than half, or 48%, said they use chatbots to find more information about a product, and 42% use chatbots to find policies such as shipping information and how to get refunds.

A quarter of shoppers will leave the website to seek information elsewhere if the chatbot doesn’t give them the answer. Brands that deploy chatbots capable of going beyond basic FAQs and can perform product and content discovery will provide the well-rounded chatbot experience shoppers expect, Lucidworks said.

Respondents also pointed to the importance of content recommendations. The survey found that almost a third of shoppers said they find recommendations for “suggested content” useful, and 61% of shoppers like to do research via reviews on the brand’s website where they’ll be purchasing from. A little over a third — 37% — of shoppers use marketplaces such as Amazon, Google Shopping, and eBay for their research.

Brands should try to offer something for every step in the shopping journey, from research to purchase to support, to keep shoppers on their sites longer. How online shopping will look in coming years is being defined at this very moment as the world reopens. Brands that are able to understand a shopper’s goal in the moment and deliver a connected experience that understands who shoppers are and what they like are well-positioned for the future, Lucidworks said.

Lucidworks used a self-serve survey tool, Pollfish, in late May 2021 to survey 800 consumers over the age of 18—400 in the U.K. and 400 in the U.S.—to understand how shoppers interact with chatbots, product and content recommendations, where they prefer to do research, and plans for future in-store shopping.

Read the full U.S./U.K. Consumer Survey Report from Lucidworks.

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Breakroom teams up with High Fidelity to bring 3D audio to online meetings

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Breakroom teams up with High Fidelity to bring 3D audio to online meetings

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Social meeting space Breakroom has integrated High Fidelity‘s 3D audio into its 3D virtual world for social and business events.

The deal is a convergence of some virtual world pioneers who have made their mark on the development of virtual life. Philip Rosedale is the CEO of High Fidelity, and he also launched Second Life in 2003. And Sine Wave Entertainment, the creator of Breakroom, got its start as a content brand in Second Life before it spun out to create its own virtual meeting spaces for real world events.

Adam Frisby, chief product officer and cofounder of Sine Wave, said in our interview conducted inside Breakroom that the High Fidelity spatial audio will help Breakroom create a triple-A quality experience in a virtual world.

“The real benefit of having 3D audio in a virtual world like this is you can have lots of conversations going on simultaneously,” said Frisby. “3D audio is the only way to replicate the real-world experience in an online environment. You can have a 150-person conference and end up with 10 groups of people talking at the same time. That has helped us with engagement.”

Above: Breakroom lets an event have dozens of simultaneous conversations where people don’t talk over each other, thanks to High Fidelity.

Image Credit: Sine Wave

Most online events get engagement times of 20 or 30 minutes. But Breakroom’s average events, ranging from 600 to 1,000 attendees, have engagement times of an hour and 40 minutes, Frisby said.

Sine Wave’s Breakroom draws heavily on lessons learned in Second Life to create a frictionless, mass market, user-friendly virtual world.

“You can hear everything better with High Fidelity,” said Rosedale, in our interview in Breakroom. “Breakroom combines low-latency server-side video and spatial audio in a way that lets you hold an event like it’s in the real world.”

High Fidelity is a real-time communications company. Its mission is to build technologies that power more human experiences in today’s digital world. The company’s patented spatial audio technology, originally developed for its VR software platform, adds immersive, high-quality voice chat to any application — for groups of any size. You can really tell how close you are to someone in a High Fidelity space when they talk to you, as voices become fainter the farther away they are.

“We are super excited about this general direction and we wound up building the audio subsystem and extracting that first,” Rosedale said. “It works well where there is no possibility of face-to-face meetings.”

breakroom 3

Above: I could hear Philip Rosedale’s voice clearly in this conversation in Breakroom.

Image Credit: Sine Wave

Spatial audio in a 3D virtual world helps encourage spontaneous conversations into a fun, productive setting, in a way that flatscreen video calls and webinars simply can’t match, Frisby said. It’s easy to tell in Breakroom who is speaking to you, and from what direction.

It took me a little while to figure out how to unmute my voice. Rosedale was jumping up and down while we were talking.

“It’s all remote rendered. And that means that we can bring people in on a variety of platforms,” Frisby said. “No matter what your target hardware is, you can actually get in here and still get good high fidelity. It’s a good quality 3D rendering experience here regardless of what device you’re on.”

I asked Rosedale if he could hear me chewing lettuce, which sounded very loud on my headsets. But he said no. It definitely helps if you have good headsets with 3D audio.

Breakroom is being used by organizations like Stanford University, the United Nations, and The Economist. Breakroom runs on any device with a Chrome browser, offering good 3D graphics and audio quality, with no installation required.

Frisby said that Breakroom is also a way for companies to enable remote workers to gather and meet each other in more relaxed environments as if it were an intermediate space between online-only environments and going back to work in offices.

breakroom 4

Above: Breakroom and High Fidelity are enabling conferences with spatial audio.

Image Credit: Sine Wave

Its full suite of communication tools includes voice chat, instant messenger, and in-world email. It has video conferencing, media sharing, and desktop sharing tools. It has a diverse range of fully customizable avatars and scenes. You can get around just by pointing and clicking on the environment.

It also has event management tools to facilitate conversation and agenda flow, branded interactive exhibition stands, and private meeting rooms, available for rent by sponsors. It has environments including dance clubs, beach and mountain retreats, casual games, quiz shows, and live music/comedy shows. It has an integrated shop where brands can upload and sell their content to customers for real cash.

It gives you the ability to seamlessly license and import any item from the Unity Asset Store (Sine Wave is a verified partner of Unity). The iOS and Android version of Breakroom is in closed beta and Breakroom for consoles and the Oculus Quest 2 coming soon. It has LinkedIn and Eventbrite integration, including ticket sales. It also has a self-serve portal for customers to quickly customize and configure their organizations’ Breakroom, as well as sub-licensing agreements which enable Breakroom customers to host and monetize events and experiences to their own customer base.

Frisby said it has been a technical challenge so that people don’t get kicked out of the room, but his team has managed to refine the technology during the pandemic. He thinks conferences are great use cases for the technology because so many people come together simultaneously and push the tech to the limit.

As for High Fidelity, Rosedale believes that the education market will come around, and the whole world will eventually move to better spatial experiences.

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Moderne helps companies automate their code migration and fixes

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uR9EPALJKjI&feature=emb_title

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While every company may well be a software company these days, the software development sphere has evolved greatly over the past decade to get to this stage, with developer operations (DevOps), agile, and cloud-native considerations at the forefront.

Moreover, with APIs and open source software now serving as critical components of most modern software stacks, tracking code changes and vulnerabilities introduced by external developers can be a major challenge. This is something fledgling startup Moderne is setting out to solve with a platform that promises to automatically “fix, upgrade, and secure code” in minutes, including offering support for framework or API migrations and applying CVE (common vulnerabilities and exposures) patches.

The Seattle-based company, which will remain in private beta for the foreseeable future, today announced a $4.7 million seed round of funding to bring its SaaS product to market. The investment was led by True Ventures, with participation from a slew of angel and VC backers, including GitHub CTO Jason Warner; Datadog cofounder and CEO Olivier Pomel; Coverity cofounder Andy Chou; Mango Capital; and Overtime.vc.

Version control

If a third-party API provider or open source framework is updated, with the older version no longer actively supported, companies need to ensure their software remains secure and compliant. “It requires revving dependencies [updating version numbers in configuration files] and changing all the call sites for the APIs that have changed — it’s tedious, repetitive, but hasn’t been automated,” Moderne CEO and cofounder Jonathan Schneider told VentureBeat.

Moderne is built on top of OpenRewrite, an open source automated code refactoring tool for Java that Schneider developed at Netflix several years ago. While developers can already use the built-in refactoring and semantic search features included in integrated development environments (IDEs), if they need to perform a migration or apply a CVE patch, they have to follow multiple manual steps. Moreover, they can only work on a single repository at a time.

“So if an organization has hundreds of microservices — which is not uncommon for even very small organizations, and larger ones have thousands — each repository needs to be loaded into [the] IDE and operated one by one,” Schneider said. “A developer can spend weeks or months doing this across the codebase.”

OpenRewrite, on the other hand, provides “building blocks” — individual search and refactoring operations — that can be composed into an automated sequence called recipes anyone can use. Moderne’s offering complements OpenRewrite and allows companies to apply these recipes in bulk to their codebases.

Above: Moderne screenshot

Enterprises, specifically, can accumulate vast amounts of code. One of Moderne’s early product design partners is a “large financial institution” that incorporates some 250 million lines of Java code — or “one-eighth of all GitHub Java code,” Schneider noted, adding that this is actually on the “low to medium” side for what a typical enterprise might have.

“Some of this code is obsolete (e.g. accrued through historical acquisitions), some is under rapid development (e.g. mobile apps) — but the majority represents super valuable business assets, such as ATM software and branch management software,” Schneider said.

And let’s say a company decides to redeploy developers internally to work on rapid development projects — it still needs to consider the core software components that underpin the business and need to be maintained. Moderne automates the code migration and CVE patching process, freeing developers to work on other mission-critical projects.

When Moderne eventually goes to market, it will adopt an open core business model, with a free plan for the open source community and individual users, while the premium SaaS plan will support larger codebases and teams with additional features for collaboration.

The company said it will use its fresh cash injection to grow a “vibrant open source community for OpenRewrite,” expand its internal engineering team, and bolster its SaaS product ahead of launch.

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