Microsoft is bringing some of its most popular remote working software to the metaverse, announcing during the recent Meta Connect 2022 event that it is entering a new productivity-focused VR and AR partnership.
In a blog post, Microsoft highlighted that as workplace environments evolve in the aftermath of the pandemic, it’s important to adapt with the times. The company points to recent data it collected showing “50 percent of Gen Z and millennials [envision] doing some of their work in the metaverse [within] the next two years.”
It’s in this context that Microsoft is expanding beyond its own HoloLens/mixed-reality efforts to help Meta establish a foothold in productivity-oriented VR and AR.
Remote work support
Within the “coming months”, four of Microsoft’s “work and productivity tools” will be making their way to both the Quest 2 VR headset and the newly announced Meta Quest Pro (the official name for the long-awaited Project Cambria). Some of the tools include integration with Microsoft Teams as well as support for a variety of work apps.
To be more precise, the companies are adding Microsoft Mesh to the Quest headsets. This feature will allow people to join Teams meetings being held in Horizon Workrooms, which are virtual boardrooms. You’ll be able to interact with others through Meta Avatars and brainstorm ideas via virtual tools.
It appears the Quest devices will support all the apps from the Microsoft 365 suite. The announcement specifically mentions support for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and SharePoint, but nothing for OneDrive or OneNote. There are also reports stating the apps won’t be special VR versions. Rather, the apps will be a direct port of the desktop version done through Progressive Web App (PWA) technology. Windows 365 will be supported on Quest headsets, too, allowing users to stream a Cloud PC complete with personalized settings.
Security is also being taken into consideration. Microsoft Intune and Azure Active Directory will support the Quest headsets, allowing IT professionals to protect the devices “with a Quest for Business subscription.” Put more simply, Intune helps manage hardware to protect company data while Active Directory protects software against cyberattacks.
Outside of the remote work integrations, both companies briefly mentioned a plan to bring Xbox Cloud Gaming over to the Meta Quest Store. A giant screen will be projected inside the headset giving you access to Xbox Game Pass and whatever titles you have, but it doesn’t cover the whole view. Think of a movie screen at a theater.
It’s unknown if services like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will be supported. We reached out to Microsoft so we can learn more. This story will be updated if we hear back
Potential end of Hololens
After going through the reveal, we were left with one question: what will happen to Hololens?
Hololens is Microsoft’s own take on mixed reality headsets, but it never really took off. The current state of this tech is a bit of a mystery. Earlier this year, reports came out that Microsoft scrapped all work on the HoloLens 3 in the middle of development. But then the company said those claims were exaggerated and that Hololens was being repurposed for the US Army. Sure enough, the company revealed IVAS (Integrated Visual Augmented System) for the US military in early September.
So when it comes to virtual reality for consumers and businesses, Microsoft looks like it’s more interested in providing support via software over hardware. Hololens may truly be gone now, outside of niche uses.