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December 28, 2021
The metaverse, online 3-D simulated environments with avatars and holograms, is hardly a new concept. But it is typically in the purview of gamers and futurists. While Microsoft and Cisco plan to make soft entrees, others, such as Zoom, for now aren’t signaling any major moves.
Recently, the metaverse has become the next big thing in consumer and business technology. Firing the first salvo in October was Facebook, which prominently changed the name of its holding company to Meta. Besides the name change, Meta used the occasion to flesh out its metaverse vision, which it had already begun sharing. The company started telegraphing its metaverse efforts in July.
Facebook’s metaverse covers a broad set of activities, ranging from bringing virtual reality to social media, messaging, fitness and gaming. But it also has a work component called Horizon Workrooms, which it launched into beta in August. Facebook designed Horizon Workrooms, VR workspaces, to let groups collaborate using Oculus Quest 2 3-D headsets.
How quickly organizations embrace bringing virtual meetings to a metaverse remains to be seen. When the pandemic began two years ago, using Zoom, Teams and others was a natural move. Adopting them enabled meetings and communications right away.
Also to be determined is how most mainstream workgroups will benefit by gathering as 3-D avatars in simulated VR environments. For sure, there are many scenarios where has tremendous potential, such as engineering, product development, training and health care.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates is among those who are bullish about the potential of the metaverse. In his recently posted year-in-review article, Gates predicted that it would have major implications for the future of work.
Gates believes that within the next two or three years, most virtual meetings will move from “Hollywood Squares” styled 2-D camera image grids to the metaverse.
“The idea is that you will eventually use your avatar to meet with people in a virtual space that replicates the feeling of being in an actual room with them,” Gates wrote.
Microsoft’s planned rollout of Mesh for Teams uses a webcam to animate avatars in existing 2-D environments, Gates noted. But he described this as an interim solution to the metaverse of two or three years from now. One limitation he noted is that there is a limited population of those who have 3-D headsets. It was recently reported that Meta has only shipped 10 million Oculus Quest 2 headsets.
Veteran industry analyst Tom Nolle of CIMI Corp. recently opined that he sees merit to Microsoft’s Mesh for Teams vision. But Nolle also gave cause for skepticism pertaining to the pace it will materialize, noting that there are various barriers. For example, he noted that synchronizing the movement of people with their avatars is hampered today by latency.
CMI Corp.’s Tom Nolle
A more incremental introduction could start with holograms, and over time, avatars “as we improve our ability to sync the avatars to our physical movements and expressions,” Nolle noted. “Not only is Microsoft’s approach more logical from a business collaboration perspective, but it’s also much easier to implement because it doesn’t require real-time synchronization of human and avatar behavior.”
Nolle added that it doesn’t even require humans to be represented by avatars.
“You could even shift the generation of ‘digital product’ avatars from AR goggles to laser holograms in a meeting room, offering a hybrid work model.”
In the slideshow above, see the various metaverse developments of the past year.
Jeffrey Schwartz has covered the IT industry for nearly three decades, most recently as editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner. Prior to that, he held various editing and writing roles at CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek and VARBusiness (now CRN) magazines, among other publications.
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