This cringeworthy Microsoft Teams feature could soon be forced upon you

Microsoft is readying an update for collaboration platform Teams that will allow admins to change the way meetings are displayed for all attendees.

As explained in a new entry to the company’s product roadmap, meeting hosts will soon be given the option to enable Together Mode for all participants. The update is still under development, but should take effect by the end of May.

Launched in the summer of 2020, Together Mode for Microsoft Teams brings all attendees into a shared virtual background, with the goal of “making it feel like you’re sitting in the same soom with everyone else”.

Together Mode

Together Mode in Microsoft Teams. (Image credit: Microsoft)

Together Mode in Microsoft Teams

Although the ambition behind Together Mode is a noble one, the execution leaves plenty to be desired. In this writer’s opinion, the virtual background filled with floating heads only serves to emphasize the fact a meeting is not, in fact, taking place in-person.

While Microsoft’s AI system does a decent enough job of cutting out each person’s home office background, and some people will get on with the feature better than others, there’s an welcome strangeness to the final result.

The idea that meeting hosts should be able to dictate that everyone uses the feature is particularly strange. While there’s something to be said for operating on a level playing field, some users are bound to find the feature more helpful (or unhelpful) than others, which makes a blanket policy counterproductive.

However, not all of Microsoft’s attempts to introduce variety to the way Teams meetings are displayed have been quite so divisive.

Last year, the company rolled out a series of new presenter modes designed to help Teams users flex their presentation style to the occasion. Standout Mode, for example, seats the presenter’s video feed in front of the slide deck, while Reporter Mode places content above the shoulder in the style of a news broadcast.

The features were an example of the way in which virtual backgrounds and clever positioning of content can legitimately improve the quality of video meetings, delivering on Microsoft’s stated ambition to “help presenters deliver content more professionally and offer meeting participants dynamic experiences”.

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This cringeworthy Microsoft Teams feature could soon be forced upon you

Microsoft is readying an update for collaboration platform Teams that will allow admins to change the way meetings are displayed for all attendees.

As explained in a new entry to the company’s product roadmap, meeting hosts will soon be given the option to enable Together Mode for all participants. The update is still under development, but should take effect by the end of May.

Launched in the summer of 2020, Together Mode for Microsoft Teams brings all attendees into a shared virtual background, with the goal of “making it feel like you’re sitting in the same soom with everyone else”.

Together Mode

Together Mode in Microsoft Teams. (Image credit: Microsoft)

Together Mode in Microsoft Teams

Although the ambition behind Together Mode is a noble one, the execution leaves plenty to be desired. In this writer’s opinion, the virtual background filled with floating heads only serves to emphasize the fact a meeting is not, in fact, taking place in-person.

While Microsoft’s AI system does a decent enough job of cutting out each person’s home office background, and some people will get on with the feature better than others, there’s an welcome strangeness to the final result.

The idea that meeting hosts should be able to dictate that everyone uses the feature is particularly strange. While there’s something to be said for operating on a level playing field, some users are bound to find the feature more helpful (or unhelpful) than others, which makes a blanket policy counterproductive.

However, not all of Microsoft’s attempts to introduce variety to the way Teams meetings are displayed have been quite so divisive.

Last year, the company rolled out a series of new presenter modes designed to help Teams users flex their presentation style to the occasion. Standout Mode, for example, seats the presenter’s video feed in front of the slide deck, while Reporter Mode places content above the shoulder in the style of a news broadcast.

The features were an example of the way in which virtual backgrounds and clever positioning of content can legitimately improve the quality of video meetings, delivering on Microsoft’s stated ambition to “help presenters deliver content more professionally and offer meeting participants dynamic experiences”.

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Microsoft could soon improve this divisive Windows 11 feature

Windows 11 looks like it might soon support third-party widgets, as another clue that they could be imminent has popped up courtesy of an eagle-eyed Twitter user.

FireCube did some digging and spotted that the widget manifest has been updated to reference downloading widgets – tiny apps that provide at-a-glance info, such as the current weather, or local traffic – from the Microsoft Store.

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The text informing users that they can “download new widgets and widget updates in Microsoft Store” is another piece of evidence that the eventual plan is to let developers put their third-party widgets in the Store, and allow Windows 11 users to download whatever they want.

The widgets panel would then be more useful, of course, with a bigger range of options and plenty more scope for customization, compared to the current situation where people can only use Microsoft’s own widgets in the panel.

As Windows Central, which spotted this, points out, its own Zac Bowden – a prolific source of Microsoft leaks – has previously said that the widget panel is expected to be getting third-party efforts, plus new features, and indeed that developers have already been briefed as to how third-party widgets will function. Previous leaks have pointed to third-party widgets being inbound, too.


Analysis: Expanding the widget panel in more ways than one

Bowden made those comments in December 2021, four months ago now, and with this latest spotting of a nugget of evidence that Microsoft is preparing to implement third-party widgets, it seems a firm enough possibility that they will debut at some point in 2022.

Would that be with the big H2 2022 (Sun Valley 2) update? Maybe, but given that Microsoft has been adding stuff to Windows 11 as and when it likes so far this year – witness the recent arrival of some big interface changes outside of major feature updates – then maybe this clue turning up now is a sign we could be installing third-party widgets in the OS sooner rather than later.

As for the other plans Microsoft has for the widget panel, at its recent Windows 11 reveal, we did catch a glimpse of a full-screen panel; so that could be in the pipeline too (and it’d provide more screen real-estate to populate with third-party widgets).

The widget panel is, of course, a divisive feature, and some folks really don’t appreciate it, viewing it as a rather pointless element of the UI. Its usefulness is certainly limited in its current form, being restricted to Microsoft services (like OneDrive, for example, and the likes of MSN weather).

Opening up the ability to add a huge range of new widgets from all over the shop would certainly help to make the panel a more compelling feature for Windows 11, and markedly improve the perception of this part of the interface.

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This Google Chrome challenger could be the best browser for private surfing

In addition to its search engine and mobile browser, DuckDuckGo has announced the beta launch of DuckDuckGo for Mac with DuckDuckGo for Windows coming soon.

Just like its mobile app, DuckDuckGo for Mac is an all-one-privacy solution for everyday web browsing that doesn’t require complicated settings to protect your online privacy and data.

Alongside its built-in private search engine, the company’s new browser for desktop also features a number of useful security features including a powerful tracker blocker, new cookie pop-up protection, a Fire Button for one-click data clearing, email protection and more, all free of charge.

DuckDuckGo for Mac also ensures you navigate to the HTTPS version of websites more often with its built-in Smarter Encryption. Meanwhile, the company’s tracker blocker prevents users from being exposed to third-party scripts that could try to access their data.

DuckDuckGo for Mac Logins

(Image credit: DuckDuckGo)

A browser designed to protect your privacy

Unlike Incognito mode in Google Chrome which isn’t actually private, DuckDuckGo for Mac is intended to be used as an everyday browser that truly protects user privacy though it also includes other features you’d expect from a modern browser such as password management, tab management, bookmarks and more.

At the same time, DuckDuckGo for Mac is already faster than Chrome using the Motion Mark 1.2 benchmark and since it blocks trackers, the browser uses around 60 percent less data. DuckDuckGo for Mac is able to achieve these high speeds by using Apple’s WebKit rendering engine which is the same one used by Safari.

CEO and founder of DuckDuckGo, Gabriel Weinberg provided further insight on the built-in privacy protection in the company’s new browser for Mac in a statement to TechRadar Pro, saying:

“At DuckDuckGo, we make privacy simple. For too long people have been made to believe that privacy online means significant tradeoffs, but that doesn't need to be the case. Like our popular mobile app, DuckDuckGo for Mac is an all-in-one privacy solution for everyday browsing with no complicated settings, just a clean, seamless private experience, plus some other cool features we think people will love.”

To join the DuckDuckGo for Mac beta, interested users can join the private waitlist by downloading the DuckDuckGo mobile app, heading to settings and opening DuckDuckGo for Desktop from the “More from DuckDuckGo” section.

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This Google Chrome challenger could be the best browser for private surfing

In addition to its search engine and mobile browser, DuckDuckGo has announced the beta launch of DuckDuckGo for Mac with DuckDuckGo for Windows coming soon.

Just like its mobile app, DuckDuckGo for Mac is an all-one-privacy solution for everyday web browsing that doesn’t require complicated settings to protect your online privacy and data.

Alongside its built-in private search engine, the company’s new browser for desktop also features a number of useful security features including a powerful tracker blocker, new cookie pop-up protection, a Fire Button for one-click data clearing, email protection and more, all free of charge.

DuckDuckGo for Mac also ensures you navigate to the HTTPS version of websites more often with its built-in Smarter Encryption. Meanwhile, the company’s tracker blocker prevents users from being exposed to third-party scripts that could try to access their data.

DuckDuckGo for Mac Logins

(Image credit: DuckDuckGo)

A browser designed to protect your privacy

Unlike Incognito mode in Google Chrome which isn’t actually private, DuckDuckGo for Mac is intended to be used as an everyday browser that truly protects user privacy though it also includes other features you’d expect from a modern browser such as password management, tab management, bookmarks and more.

At the same time, DuckDuckGo for Mac is already faster than Chrome using the Motion Mark 1.2 benchmark and since it blocks trackers, the browser uses around 60 percent less data. DuckDuckGo for Mac is able to achieve these high speeds by using Apple’s WebKit rendering engine which is the same one used by Safari.

CEO and founder of DuckDuckGo, Gabriel Weinberg provided further insight on the built-in privacy protection in the company’s new browser for Mac in a statement to TechRadar Pro, saying:

“At DuckDuckGo, we make privacy simple. For too long people have been made to believe that privacy online means significant tradeoffs, but that doesn't need to be the case. Like our popular mobile app, DuckDuckGo for Mac is an all-in-one privacy solution for everyday browsing with no complicated settings, just a clean, seamless private experience, plus some other cool features we think people will love.”

To join the DuckDuckGo for Mac beta, interested users can join the private waitlist by downloading the DuckDuckGo mobile app, heading to settings and opening DuckDuckGo for Desktop from the “More from DuckDuckGo” section.

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Windows 11 could get this popular macOS feature

Windows 11 would appear to be bringing in a popular feature from macOS, or at least a rough equivalent to Apple’s Quick Look capability is reportedly in testing at Microsoft.

Windows Latest claims that the feature is being considered for inclusion in Windows 11 – and Windows 10 for that matter – via the PowerToys suite of tools, and it’ll supposedly be called ‘Peek’.

Like the Mac’s Quick Look, the idea is that you can highlight a file – say an image – and tap a key to see a preview of that pic pop up on the desktop (then you can tap the key again to dismiss that preview). As the name makes clear, it’s a way of quickly peeking at a preview of the file in question.

Windows Latest reckons that this feature was experimented with during a hack week at Microsoft, and was well-received, so the functionality has been drafted into internal builds of PowerToys at this stage.

Whether or not it’ll make the cut and actually get released – and how much truth there is to this report, which remains speculation, of course – we’ll just have to see.


Analysis: You can already do this in Windows (sort of) 

It’s certainly true that this is a feature that a good number of Windows users have been longing for in the past. Indeed, there’s already an app for Windows 10 called ‘QuickLook’ (ahem) which can be grabbed from the Microsoft Store, and enables swiftly previewing files (or at least some files – ‘tons’ of formats are supported, the developer claims) by tapping the spacebar.

Having an official solution, rather than a third-party app, would of course be a much more preferable situation and a generally neater state of affairs.

The power of Peek or Quick Look is to be able to quickly glance at an image to, say, check if it’s the right one you want to upload somewhere, rather than having to fully open the photo and wait for an app to fire up. It’s a highly convenient way of working for certain situations.

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Google Maps could help your business avoid angry late-night customers

Making sure your business' online details are accurate is set to get a lot easier thanks to an upgrade to Google Maps.

The company has outlined how it is using AI to spot any errors or issues with business listings on Maps, particularly concerning opening hours.

Google says its platform brings together information from several Maps and AI tools to predict what business hours are for most companies, and update the information accordingly, making sure potential customers aren't left lacking the details they need.

Google Maps AI

“Over the past few years, businesses have experienced a lot of change — including constantly updating operating hours based on changing pandemic-related restrictions,” Google Maps product managers Liam Bolling and Kristi Bohl wrote in a blog post

“To keep up with this pace of change, we developed a machine learning model that automatically identifies if business hours are likely wrong, then instantly updates them with AI-generated predictions.”

Along with the AI model, Google Maps also looks at when a business profile was last updated, meaning it's important to make sure your company stays on top of any changes. The platform also looks at the hours of other shops nearby, as well as noting the Popular Times data for the business in question. 

Popular Times pulls in anonymized data from users who have opted in to Google Location History to build up a profile of when a business is particularly busy, as well as offering predictions on wait times or the length of time a customer stays in a shop.

If it spots any anomalies – for example, the most popular shopping hours being around 1pm, despite a business saying it doesn't open until 5pm – then Google Maps will update opening hours accordingly.

Elsewhere, the other tools Google Maps uses range from the the obvious (checking the information on a shop's official website) to using Google Street View to spot an opening hours sign in the window. In addition, the company can also call on its local Google Maps community in certain countries to add in their expertise and verify any changes, or as a last resort, use its AI-powered Duplex conversational technology to actually call the store and ask.

“With this new AI-first approach, we’re on track to update the hours for over 20 million businesses around the globe in the next six months – helping you know exactly when your favorite store, restaurant or cafe is open for business ,” Bolling and Bohl note.

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Multisearch could make Google Lens your search sensei

Google searches are about to get even more precise with the introduction of multisearch, a combination of text and image searching with Google Lens. 

After making an image search via Lens, you’ll now be able to ask additional questions or add parameters to your search to narrow the results down. Google’s use cases for the feature include shopping for clothes with a particular pattern in different colors or pointing your camera at a bike wheel and then typing “how to fix” to see guides and videos on bike repairs. According to Google, the best use case for multisearch, for now, is shopping results. 

The company is rolling out the beta of this feature on Thursday to US users of the Google app on both Android and iOS platforms. Just click the camera icon next to the microphone icon or open a photo from your gallery, select what you want to search, and swipe up on your results to reveal an “add to search” button where you can type additional text.

This announcement is a public trial of the feature that the search giant has been teasing for almost a year; Google discussed the feature when introducing MUM at Google I/O 2021, then provided more information on it in September 2021. MUM, or Multitask Unified Model, is Google’s new AI model for search that was revealed at the company’s I/O event the same year. 

MUM replaced the old AI model, BERT; Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. MUM, according to Google, is around a thousand times more powerful than BERT.

Google Lens Multisearch

(Image credit: Google)

Analysis: will it be any good?

It’s in beta for now, but Google sure was making a big hoopla about MUM during its announcement. From what we’ve seen, Lens is usually pretty good at identifying objects and translating text. However, the AI enhancements will add another dimension to it and could make it a more useful tool for finding the information you need about what you're looking at right now, as opposed to general information about something like it.

It does, though, beg the questions about how good it’ll be at specifying exactly what you want. For example, if you see a couch with a striking pattern on it but would rather have it as a chair, will you be able to reasonably find what you want? Will it be at a physical store or at an online storefront like WayFair? Google searches can often get inaccurate physical inventories of nearby stores, are those getting better, as well?

We have plenty of questions, but they’ll likely only be answered once more people start using multisearch. The nature of AI is to get better with use, after all.

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Multisearch could make Google Lens your search sensei

Google searches are about to get even more precise with the introduction of multisearch, a combination of text and image searching with Google Lens. 

After making an image search via Lens, you’ll now be able to ask additional questions or add parameters to your search to narrow the results down. Google’s use cases for the feature include shopping for clothes with a particular pattern in different colors or pointing your camera at a bike wheel and then typing “how to fix” to see guides and videos on bike repairs. According to Google, the best use case for multisearch, for now, is shopping results. 

The company is rolling out the beta of this feature on Thursday to US users of the Google app on both Android and iOS platforms. Just click the camera icon next to the microphone icon or open a photo from your gallery, select what you want to search, and swipe up on your results to reveal an “add to search” button where you can type additional text.

This announcement is a public trial of the feature that the search giant has been teasing for almost a year; Google discussed the feature when introducing MUM at Google I/O 2021, then provided more information on it in September 2021. MUM, or Multitask Unified Model, is Google’s new AI model for search that was revealed at the company’s I/O event the same year. 

MUM replaced the old AI model, BERT; Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. MUM, according to Google, is around a thousand times more powerful than BERT.

Google Lens Multisearch

(Image credit: Google)

Analysis: will it be any good?

It’s in beta for now, but Google sure was making a big hoopla about MUM during its announcement. From what we’ve seen, Lens is usually pretty good at identifying objects and translating text. However, the AI enhancements will add another dimension to it and could make it a more useful tool for finding the information you need about what you're looking at right now, as opposed to general information about something like it.

It does, though, beg the questions about how good it’ll be at specifying exactly what you want. For example, if you see a couch with a striking pattern on it but would rather have it as a chair, will you be able to reasonably find what you want? Will it be at a physical store or at an online storefront like WayFair? Google searches can often get inaccurate physical inventories of nearby stores, are those getting better, as well?

We have plenty of questions, but they’ll likely only be answered once more people start using multisearch. The nature of AI is to get better with use, after all.

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This extension could make Firefox the ideal browser for content creators

Mozilla has released a new extension for Firefox that allows users to manage color calibration in its browser across devices.

By default, Firefox uses color management from Windows, macOS, Linux and other operating systems to optimize and render colors and images to enhance users’ browsing experience. However, with its new Extended Color Management Add-On, users can disable color management and then restart Firefox so that the colors of graphics and videos are consistent across devices.

By doing this, media engineers and content creators can make consistent and reliable assumptions about the color pipeline between content shown in a browser and the actual pixel values sent to a computer’s display.

While most users are completely unaware of this, different monitors, operating systems and browsers vary in color output. In order to ensure each workstation is able to see consistent color output across images and video, color management applications need to be calibrated to the same specifications which can be quite tedious.

While creative applications like Photoshop allow you to disable color management, most browsers don’t allow you to do so. This is why Mozilla’s Extended Color Management extension can be very useful for those that need to have material reviewed by another party remotely through a browser on a well-calibrated display.

Extended Color Management

In a new blog post, Mozilla’s Extensions and Add-Ons team revealed that some of the world’s leading visual effects studios including Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) use Firefox as part of their creative process when making movies and TV shows.

As visual effects studios and their vendors began working from home during the pandemic, color calibration became especially difficult when compared to how easy it was to manage in-office. This is why Mozilla worked with ILM over the past year to develop its new Extended Color Management add-on.

With the company’s new extension, Lucasfilm and its remote partners are now able to see the intended colors and view ‘dailies’ more easily than ever before, especially when working remotely.

Global imaging supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic, J. Schulte explained how the company worked with Mozilla to make it even easier to view content with color accuracy in Firefox, saying:

“At ILM we want to ensure that all content is as color accurate as possible no matter where we view it. The updates to Firefox have allowed us to increase the color accuracy of content viewed in a browser further than any other browser. When we identified a new use case for Firefox, their team was responsive and updated their browser to fill the need.”

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