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MICROSOFT MESH - A REVIEW

About the author: Jonathan Stuckey


As part of our ongoing knowledge investment, we continually review Microsoft's ongoing release (and rehash) of solutions, technologies and products.

logo name for Microsoft Mesh

We assessed Microsoft Mesh what it offers, how it fit with business collaboration strategy, the perceived value vs. marketing, license and technology dependencies and much more.


Notice:

This article has been composed with support of GenerativeAI tools. The analysis and assessment are the result of combination of skills, practical testing and experience. We have used GenerativeAI services to facilitate the 'donkey-work'. See Spoke's GenerativeAI Review announcement.

Microsoft Mesh: what is it, and how does it work?

What is it?

Microsoft Mesh is a mixed reality platform developed by Microsoft that allows people to collaborate and interact in virtual environments from different locations. It enables users to join virtual meetings, conferences, or social gatherings regardless of their physical location - as avatars.


A key feature of Microsoft Mesh is its support for real-time collaboration. Users can share and manipulate digital content together, enhancing productivity and creativity in virtual meetings and collaborative sessions.


How does it work?

It is made up of:


  • Cloud-based platform: It can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection,


  • Works with Microsoft Teams and devices: You can use Mesh within Microsoft Teams on a PC, with VR headsets, AR glasses, smart-phones or a tablet.


  • Immersive spaces: creating virtual environments where people can come together as avatars. Spaces can be pre-built or customized for specific purposes and can utilise spatial mapping to model a physical environment for collaboration.


  • Avatars and spatial audio: Mesh uses avatars to represent people in the virtual space, and spatial audio to provide a better audio-experience than a web-call.

What does it bring to business communication and collaboration?

Based on this - not a lot.


Modern communications, meeting and collaboration tools all provide a range of voice, video, content editing, sharing and collaboration experiences. There are many such services, all of which provide varying levels of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality integrated in calling and meeting services.


Pros and Cons

Microsoft Mesh offers several advantages for business-centric meetings, particularly when engaging with clients.


Some of the obvious benefits are:


Pros:

1. Immersive Collaboration: Microsoft Mesh allows for immersive collaboration, enabling participants to feel like they are physically present in the same room, regardless of their physical location. This could foster more engaging and productive discussions during client meetings.

2. Enhanced Visualizations: With Mesh, complex data and ideas can be visualised in 3D, making it easier for organisations to explain concepts to clients or special interest groups. This feature can be particularly beneficial when discussing technical solutions or architectural designs.


3. Improved Client Engagement: By leveraging mixed reality technology, Mesh creates a more interactive and memorable experience for clients. This can help users to better convey the value of their services and solutions, hopefully leading to improved client engagement and satisfaction.


4. Cost Savings: Utilising Mesh for virtual meetings can result in cost savings for both the consultancy and its clients. There are reduced expenses associated with travel, accommodation, and venue rentals, making it a cost-effective solution for conducting meetings with clients located anywhere in the world.


5. Efficiency and Flexibility: Mesh offers flexibility in scheduling meetings, allowing participants to join from any device whether it's a PC, smartphone, AR wearables or VR headset. This flexibility enhances efficiency by eliminating logistical barriers and enabling seamless communication between consultants and clients.


However, there are some potential drawbacks to consider:


Cons:

1. Technology Adoption Barriers: While Microsoft Mesh offers innovative features, there will be a learning curve for users who are unfamiliar with mixed reality technology. Staff, clients and partners / suppliers may require training and support to fully utilise the platform effectively.


2. Technical Requirements: Effective use of Mesh may require specific hardware such as compatible AR devices, VR headsets or high-performance PCs. Ensuring that all participants have access to the necessary technology could be a logistical challenge, particularly for clients with limited IT infrastructure.


3. Application Development: Creating and tailoring Microsoft Mesh environments can vary in complexity depending on the desired level of customization and the skills of the development team. The primary channel is via Microsoft Teams application integration, and there are small number of applications which leverage use of Unity/Mesh experiences.


4. Security and Privacy Concerns: As with any digital collaboration platform, there may be security and privacy concerns associated with sharing sensitive business information over the internet. Consultants must ensure that proper security measures are in place to protect client data during Mesh meetings.


5. Accessibility Issues: While Mesh offers a novel way to conduct meetings, it may not be accessible to all clients, particularly those with disabilities or limited access to technology. Organisations should consider alternative communication methods to accommodate all clients' needs - particularly for those with physical Accessibility requirements.


6. Incremental Licensing: Microsoft's primary model of licensing is additive subscription for the services, the starting point for using Microsoft Mesh is through Microsoft Teams services and the pre-requisite license requirement of Microsoft 365 E3 or above, plus Microsoft Teams Premium per user.


If you include creating your own targeted application specific spaces, there are platform and service costs for a Unity license (per developer) and Azure Storage.


Fit for Purpose?

In assessing whether Microsoft Mesh is a fit-for-purpose service it's essential to consider factors such as: Who is this for? Is it for internal users engaging with your client base or partners; Are the technological capabilities necessary to support the implementation, and ongoing delivery may be more than you can internally afford to support, and business objectives. Is implementation about: looking good, being first to market, reaching new audiences - enabling new ways of engaging and supporting clients? Whatever your internal driver, its important to understand what it is supposed to be doing for you because unlike VoIP or web-meeting service, immersive experiences require a lot more up-front effort.


Conducting a pilot program or demo sessions with clients can provide valuable feedback and insights into the feasibility and benefits of integrating Mesh into your meeting processes. Additionally, researching case studies and testimonials from other businesses that have successfully implemented Mesh for user engagement can provide evidence of its effectiveness and value proposition.


Development Considerations

Creating and tailoring Microsoft Mesh environments can vary in complexity depending on the desired level of customisation and the skills of the development team. A quick assessment of the development effort required, and the skills needed for creating these experiences should consider:


1. Development Effort:

  • Basic Environments: Microsoft provides pre-built environments and templates within Mesh, which require minimal effort to set up and customize. Assets include a basic starter library of 3D models, textures, and spatial layouts.

  • Custom Environments: Developing fully custom environments from scratch requires more time and effort. This involves 3D modelling, texturing, and spatial design using tools like Unity or Unreal Engine. The effort can vary depending on the complexity of the environment and the level of detail required.

2. Required Skills:

  • 3D Modelling and Design: Proficiency in 3D modelling software such as Blender, Maya, or 3ds Max is essential for creating custom assets and environments.

  • Unity Development: Knowledge of game development engines like Unity or Unreal Engine is necessary for building and optimizing interactive experiences within Mesh environments.

  • Spatial Design: Understanding spatial design principles and user experience (UX) design is crucial for creating immersive and intuitive environments that facilitate effective communication and collaboration.

3. Operational Support:

  • Initial Development Costs: The cost of creating and tailoring Mesh environments can vary widely depending on factors such as complexity, customisation requirements, and the rates charged by development partners. It's essential to budget for design and development expenses upfront.

  • Ongoing Operational Support: Once Mesh environments are deployed, ongoing operational support may be needed to ensure smooth functioning, troubleshoot technical issues, and provide user training and support. This could involve internal resources or outsourcing to third-party providers.


Cost-Benefit Analysis:

Organisations should conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine the return on investment (ROI) of implementing Microsoft Mesh environments and include factors such as: potential cost savings from reduced travel expenses, improved client satisfaction, and increased efficiency in conducting meetings.


Overall, while there may be initial costs and effort involved in generating and tailoring Mesh environments, the potential benefits in terms of enhanced client engagement, collaboration, and cost savings could outweigh these considerations for a nascent service.


NOTE: Microsoft identify that partnering with skilled developers and allocating resources for ongoing support are crucial steps in ensuring the successful implementation and adoption of Microsoft Mesh within the consultancy's operations. This could change your overall weighting, if you dont have internal resourcing to support this.


Assessment

Microsoft Mesh and Unity have a much bigger place in the Virtual user-experiences world, but the application today for meetings in Microsoft Teams is a poor-mans gamification of collaborative business services. Even the use of avatars in meetings is usually tried and rapidly halted in most Professional Services, Financial Services, Utilities and Government agency-based organisations.


In 2024 this is a long way from being credible as an alternative meeting experience for a lot of industries outside of media, content creation or gaming generation. Application development organisations could find this an interesting option to establish their skills in creating virtual environment and getting up to speed with Unity as IDE, but as useful tool and integrated experience it's a poor offering from Microsoft.


Supplemental - Generative Responses:

The worst response for what is it, and how does it work was from Copilot which just told us we need a subscription and to get our Global Admin to turn it on. OpenAi and Gemini provided a simple summary, and useful background info with links which could be verified.


Ouch.


When questioned about licensing or subscription requirements to support use of Microsoft Mesh for immersive meetings, Copilot required the question reframing twice before it would provide any details. Other generative services provided a correct and useful answer with same initial question.


Oh dear.


Verdict

Give this a miss for the next 12 - 18 months.


If you have questions and want to understand more about if or how Microsoft's services might fit into your Intranet and Employee Experiences - give us a call: hi@timewespoke.com

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About the author: Jonathan Stuckey

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