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Microsoft Talks Collaborative Apps at Build Conference

At the 2022 Microsoft Build conference, Microsoft announced new features and capabilities for an application type dubbed collaborative apps.
Jun 1st, 2022 9:40am by
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At last week’s Microsoft Build conference, Microsoft announced enhanced features and capabilities for a “new” application type dubbed “collaborative apps.” When assessing whether or not software is collaborative, keep these categories in mind:

  • Task Management
  • Cloud Storage
  • Video Conferencing
  • Document Management System (DMS)
  • Instant Messaging
  • Social Networking (on an enterprise-level)

A few notable collaborative apps are Slack, Discord, Asana, Flock, and of course Microsoft Teams. In a blog post detailing the latest updates to Microsoft collaborative apps, Microsoft corporate vice president Jeff Teper wrote that collaborative applications are “a new app pattern designed to bring people, processes, and data together to help users thrive in the hybrid workplace.”

One of the major updates coming soon is several Microsoft Graph chat APIs. Microsoft Graph is the 2.0 version of Office 365 APIs, rebranded as a REST API that can be used to connect to an array of Office 365 services. Most people use Microsoft Graph as a tool to access and utilize the Azure Active Directory. Teper stated that the original APIs “enable developers to embed Teams chats into their applications, enabling their users to collaborate seamlessly without having to switch back and forth across apps.” He went on to describe the upcoming API capabilities, some of which include “enabling chats with federated users (like users outside your tenant), identifying which messages are read and unread by the current user, and subscribing to user chats and membership changes.”

Microsoft’s Charles Lamanna commented on collaborative apps during a keynote session, saying they “are interwoven into collaborative surfaces like chats or meetings to surface relevant data and processes right where people are working.” Lamanna claimed that “this is the first new app type since mobile apps changed the world more than a decade ago.”

How Do Developers Create Collaborative Apps?

Microsoft first began to speak about collaborative apps last year. Microsoft Teams VP Nicole Herskowitz said in a May 2021 blog post, “We need a new class of apps that are centered around collaboration versus individual productivity. Apps that enable synchronous and asynchronous modes of collaboration with real-time meetings, ad hoc messaging, document collaboration, and the business processes automation — all in a single organizing layer.”

In a nutshell, this is what collaborative apps are all about: developers building applications that can work seamlessly across multiple platforms. As Herskowitz put it, “Build once, deploy anywhere.” That being said, it can be argued this statement is a bit weightless, given that the web in itself is a collaborative platform. Any apps built and deployed on the web would have to also be collaborative in order to be effective. Maybe what Microsoft really means is that their new apps will be the most collaborative software available for developers? From hybrid/remote work to enterprise-level development teams, collaboration is a pillar of the tech community. Herskowitz makes it clear that Microsoft hopes to see “developers build the next generation of apps where collaboration is at the core,” while using the Microsoft Teams and Power platforms (plus the tools and integration opportunities).

Using Microsoft’s Cloud for Collaborative App Building

After downloading the Teams Power App application, users have the ability to create their own apps, which eliminates the need for an organization to constantly switch between different services and external apps. Although Microsoft has a full-length guide on creating apps with Power App, the process isn’t necessarily complicated if you have prior experience building apps elsewhere.

Essentially, Microsoft’s own collaborative applications are the basis on which developers can create theirs. Teams for creating power apps, Fluid framework (which supports multi-user interactive components), and the overarching Power Platform that contains a multitude of solutions for team collaboration. While developers have to stay in the Microsoft ecosystem when creating and deploying a “Power” app, the goal is for them to be able to take that app and make it available across a variety of systems with no issues. Currently, you cannot use apps made in Teams externally, but you can integrate other applications into yours.

Fluid Set for General Availability 

At the Build conference, Microsoft unveiled a host of new capabilities designed to make building collaborative apps easy. The company also officially announced its public release of the Fluid framework. Fluid Framework, described as “a collection of open source, client-side JavaScript libraries that underpin the Live Share real-time collaboration capabilities”, has been around for the last few years. Teper stated that “developers are using Fluid Framework and Azure Fluid Relay to enable real-time interactivity on their apps.”

One of the first pieces of the Microsoft collaborative puzzle, Fluid entered the playing field as “a new framework designed to help every developer build better collaborative applications.” It was open sourced in 2020, but Microsoft is now officially productizing the framework for general use. The fully-managed cloud service Azure Fluid Relay that supports Fluid framework will also be available for public use in mid-2022, says Teper.

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