Ever since Mesh for Teams was announced, I often got asked how it related to SharePoint Spaces. Is there a connection between these two technologies, and is there a way people can choose which one to use in the future? Is there space for SharePoint Spaces in the future?
Of course, I have to state this upfront: I don’t know what plans Microsoft has or what’s been roadmapped because not there hasn’t been much information formally released on Microsoft Mesh for Teams. But I love to speculate as much as anyone else about what the future might hold, and at the end of the year it should be fun seeing how accurate or off these predictions were.
SharePoint Spaces Now
SharePoint Spaces is a feature that became available for everyone at the end of the 2020. You can very easily create Mixed Reality spaces – a bit like SharePoint pages – that can contain 3D and 2D content. Spaces are immersive and are best experienced with a Windows Mixed Reality Headset. Mixed Reality spaces have become available for everyone via web browsers and mobile clients so you don’t need a 3D headset to enjoy them. These can also be embeded into Teams so you can use them via a Microsoft Teams desktop, web, or mobile client.
In a sense, these are not true Mixed Reality spaces but, in fact, Virtual Reality spaces. What’s extra cool about Spaces is that you can create them easily and share them with your Team, Group, or organization. You can also integrate SharePoint Framework web parts into them.
SharePoint Spaces can be used to showcase models and physical locations, join virtual tours, train employees, and as a vehicle to learn that’s different than watching a video or PowerPoint presentation.
They also have limits, of course; you can’t walk around while in a space, you can only look around. It’s also possible to connect other spaces together with links so you’re not limited to looking around. For instance, you can interact with the environment a bit and manipulate 3D objects. Using different spaces and linking them together is a bit like making links between Pages in SharePoint. But you can’t meet others in spaces, nor is there any persistency to what you do while in them. You also don’t have any tools to write or create new content while outside of edit mode. Just like a SharePoint page, the spaces are static and interactions are very limited with objects.
Microsoft Metaverse and Mesh for Teams – What We Know Now
When Microsoft Mesh for Teams was announced at Microsoft Ignite November 2021, Microsoft only disclosed a few details. We know that the preview is coming during summer 2022 and will work directly via Microsoft Teams, no VR/AR headset required. Spaces will also include applications and features like Whiteboard and have the ability to show presentations. It was mentioned that you can join these immersive meetings with Teams desktop, web, mobile client, or traditionally via a headset.
What makes Mesh for Teams rock is that you don’t need to install additional applications – you can just switch your view from the 2D meeting to Together mode or to the Immersive experience (=Metaverse). These Mesh / Metaverse spaces are persistent so you can continue working on ideation later. Multiple people can join at the same time which allows you to move around to mingle, have fun, innovate, and collaborate. Forming small groups is also easy: people just move close together and start talking.
Will there be room for SharePoint Spaces in the Metaverse?
Spaces being available in Microsoft Teams channels is crucial in that it enables us to ponder the ultimate question: what of SharePoint Spaces after Mesh for Teams is generally available? While SharePoint Spaces allows users to even add in custom webparts, it’s still a very limited version of the space; you can only turn around.
The metaverse is a persistent space. We can drop in, work, and leave. When we come back again our space (or virtual room) is there like we left it. In the hybrid world it’s a must to have support for synchronous and asynchronous work. Metaverse tools that facilitate this like virtual whiteboards are handy for making funny drawings or (more commonly) planning business strategies.
The beauty of Mesh for Teams is that it can be used to build a virtual room that has the functionalities SharePoint Spaces has now, including the use of objects, pictures, videos, documents, and the ability to link spaces together to go from a single room to a vast exhibition. In AltSpace VR you can already use talking holograms, actionable elements, and other features that are not possible in SharePoint Spaces today. While scenarios like learning, onboarding, and relaxation were things that SharePoint Spaces was used for, those can now be accomplished far better in the dynamic Metaverse / Mesh for Teams.
I think that SharePoint Spaces will phase out when Mesh for Teams and Microsoft Mesh spaces will be available directly in Microsoft Teams channels and can be customized to the specific needs and performance that SharePoint Spaces currently hits. In the future, “spaces” may very well refer to immersive Mesh / Metaverse spaces rather than SharePoint Spaces.