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Microsoft Teams users want parity between webinars, meetings

The coronavirus pandemic appears to be increasing demands for feature parity between live events and meetings in Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft Teams users are seeking greater feature parity between the app's webinar and meeting services.

The webinar service, called Microsoft Teams live events, lets users broadcast content to thousands of passive viewers. Meetings, on the other hand, are meant for collaboration among a smaller group of people.

Across numerous posts on Microsoft's online forum, users are needling the vendor over feature discrepancies between the two modes of video communication. They want Microsoft to add certain meeting features to webinars and vice versa.

A spike in remote work due to the coronavirus pandemic appears to be exacerbating user frustration over this issue. The situation could spur Microsoft -- and other video communication vendors, like Cisco and Zoom -- to more quickly address the feature gap between webinars and meetings.

"I think we're going to see a lot of these capabilities coming together," said Tim Banting, principal analyst at London-based research and analysis firm Omdia.

Participant limits in Teams are one major issue. Organizers of a virtual event with more than 250 participants must conduct it as a webinar. Some companies have asked Microsoft to let 500 people or more join meetings. That would reduce reliance on live events, which have numerous limitations.

To bring live events more on par with meetings, users have asked Microsoft to make Q&As more interactive. Currently, webinar viewers must submit questions in writing. But some companies want to let people ask their questions verbally.

Users also want the ability to show multiple video feeds simultaneously in webinars; to share PowerPoints in webinars; to schedule automatically recurring webinars; and to use third-party meeting room devices in webinars.

On the flip side, users have asked Microsoft to bring webinar-style Q&As to meetings. In live events, organizers screen written questions from viewers before deciding which ones to answer. There is no similar way to streamline Q&As in meetings. Also, users want the ability to stream a meeting as a live event.

There are signs Microsoft is responding to some of these concerns. The vendor plans to add a "raise hand" feature to meetings within the next few months. The feature will let users visually signal that they want to speak, to avoid people talking over one another during a Q&A.

Erik Kleefeldt, solutions architect at Abtis, an IT services company based in Germany, expects collaboration vendors like Microsoft to continue to harmonize features across webinars and meeting services. But the two methods of communication will remain separate, he said.

Banting, meanwhile, believes companies can expect webinars and meeting services to merge in the future.

"I see no reason why you should have two different platforms," he said.

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