What Microsoft Teams is and what it could be

I’ve spent a great deal of time using Microsoft Teams over the last few years. The University of Cambridge accelerated the rollout of the platform in the early months of the pandemic, reflecting the obvious practical need it served during those difficult times. I was immediately enthralled by it, imagining how it could confirm internal collaboration and communication within universities. However I was also immensely frustrated, given how terribly the software ran on my old iMac. It would often take minutes to load, crash regularly and malfunction in all manner of unpredictable ways.

It improved as the software iterated and I switched computers but it still struck me as fundamentally flawed in a way which was difficult to put my finger on. In part this reflects the modularity of the platform which operates as a kind of networked wrapper for a whole range of existing Microsoft services and add-ins. It felt like Microsoft developers had gone around their storeroom filling a big sack with everything they imagined might be useful during the pandemic. The software felt baggy and buggy.

My experience in this sense has been defined by a disjunct between what Microsoft Teams is and what it could be. It felt like it could be a social operating system for universities, linking together the range of things we do and the range of people we do them with into a seamless, enjoyable and user-friendly totality. It occurred to me yesterday how unfair it is to judge it on this basis when it could instead be compared to what it replaces e.g. mindless reproduction of narrowly functional textual exchanges, Blackboard sites designed purely for dumping documents, people searching their inboxes for attachments on old e-mails.

4 responses to “What Microsoft Teams is and what it could be”

  1. I have used it a few times, when pressed to do so by circumstances or other people I am working with. I find it both intrusive and also authoritarian in that it tries to take over other aspects of the computer I am using on a regular basis – even after uninstalling! I have also found that it fails to connect me completely during conferences, so that I can hear but others can’t hear me so that I have to type everything I want to say.

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