EATING MY WORDS: Microsoft Teams is getting better

Dear readers,

Remember this article? Back in February, when the world was still locked down, I told you about a trick to help Teams video look better. In the months since, Microsoft has made this solution better, and also worse. And as a result, I have to step away from it. Let me explain why.

Teams isn’t going away

You’ve probably seen 100 commercials for Teams in the last year. I know I have. Microsoft was really caught unprepared for the pandemic and they let Zoom, a much smaller company, become a runaway success. In early 2020, Teams was only available to enterprise customers, and it was looked at as a high-end product to allow businesspeople to collaborate. It had a video-calling option, but it was pretty weak compared to Zoom, Webex, and the other options out there. Really, it seems like Teams was intended to compete with Slack, not with Zoom.

The company immediately started working on ways to gain the videoconferencing crown. It took a couple of months but they opened up Teams to everyone. They said it was going to be temporary but they made it permanent a few weeks ago.

In the meantime they continued to improve Teams with new features and more ease-of-use. That’s why I don’t think the app is going away. We may all, collectively, wish that we never have to attend another videoconference, but that’s not going to happen. These apps have become an essential part of the way we communicate. Even if you end up going back into the office, you’ll still use these apps for people who stay home sick, people from other offices, or anyone who wants an impromptu meeting and just doesn’t want to get out of the chair.

The Teams camera problem

Teams still has some problems. We’ve all been on Teams meetings where someone’s head was cut neatly in half, or where we can’t see every participant. But, those problems are being worked on. So too, the camera problem is being dealt with.

The big problem with Teams is that unless you are using a Microsoft camera, your Teams video looks worse than your Zoom video. It seems like Zoom does some sort of processing to improve the picture, while Teams… didn’t. I recommended a simple solution using the nearly-forgotten Skype app. For some reason, that app lets you adjust camera settings while the Teams app doesn’t. It was a very well received video and a lot of people thanked me for it.

And then, the solution became a problem.

Within a few weeks of my rolling out that video, Microsoft did something to their camera settings. Every time you rebooted, they went back to default. You could still go back into Skype and adjust things again, but it got to be a bit of a drag to do it.

And all of a sudden all of those folks who thanked me, were angry at me. Hey, folks, I didn’t make Microsoft change things! But luckily (or perhaps on purpose) it didn’t remain a problem for very long.

Enter the new versions

I don’t know if it was the rollout of Windows version 21H1 or the version upgrade to Teams 1.4. They both happened within a day of each other. Either way, I noticed an immediate improvement to Teams’ camera performance. While still not as good as Zoom and nowhere near as customizable, I did notice that the default camera settings were good enough that I didn’t have to tweak them in Skype. Clearly I’m not the only one who complained.

I’d say, that’s pretty good news. It’s a step toward making Teams a truly useful videoconference app. It still has a way to go in order to match the basic functionality of Zoom or even Google Meet. But it’s getting better at a rate that only a deep-pocketed company like Microsoft can manage.

Moral of the story

I have to believe that the recent improvements in Teams were driven by the online complaints the company read. So let’s keep talking about where Teams needs to improve. As I said, the app isn’t going anywhere, so let’s make it the best it can be.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.