Microsoft and Meta looked like they were on a collision course last year, poised to compete heavily for the future of work in the metaverse. But today, both companies announced they are partnering to collaborate on how people will work and even game in virtual reality. That starts with Microsoft bringing its biggest services — Teams, Office, Windows, and even Xbox Cloud Gaming — to Meta’s Quest VR headsets.
It’s a surprise partnership that will see Microsoft and Meta combine their strengths. Microsoft sees an opportunity to bring Teams and its other productivity experiences to a capable VR headset, and Meta gets a key partner in its grand metaverse plan.
“We are bringing a Microsoft Teams immersive meeting experience to Meta Quest in order to give people new ways to connect with each other,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during Meta Connect today. “You can connect, share, collaborate as though you were together in person.”
The Teams experience the new Quest Pro and Quest 2 headsets will even include Microsoft adapting Meta’s avatar system for Teams and Teams getting support within Meta’s own Horizon Workrooms. “People will be able to join a Teams meeting directly from Workrooms,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during the event. “We think that this cross-device, cross-screen experience will be the foundation of the virtual office of the future.”
This virtual office of the future won’t just be about meetings. Microsoft is bringing Windows 365 to Quest, the company’s platform for streaming full versions of Windows to devices.
“With Windows 365 coming to Quest, you’ll have a new way to securely stream the entire Windows experience, including all the personalized apps, content, and settings to your VR device with the full power of Windows and Windows applications,” Nadella said.
Microsoft is also bringing 2D versions of its Office apps to Quest through its Progressive Web Apps (PWA) technology. These won’t be full-blown 3D versions of Office designed for VR, but if there’s an appetite for VR in the enterprise, then it’s easy to imagine Microsoft adapting them in the future.
The key here is this close and unusual partnership between Meta and Microsoft. While the pair have collaborated on Teams for Meta’s Portal devices and on some integrations for SharePoint and Outlook, this is the first big partnership since the deep Facebook integration in Windows Phone more than a decade ago.
Microsoft appears to be hedging its own bets on the future of work in VR and AR headsets, or as Microsoft likes to call them, mixed reality. Microsoft has previously experimented with Windows Mixed Reality VR headsets, but it never manufactured its own device, and the software work was lackluster compared to more established players like Oculus (now Meta Quest) or Valve and HTC. Microsoft had invested more heavily in HoloLens, its AR headset that it has pitched to businesses as the future of collaboration.
Alex Kipman, who led Microsoft teams that developed the company’s HoloLens headset and the Kinect motion controller, resigned after allegations of verbal abuse and sexual harassment earlier this year. That’s left the future of HoloLens in doubt, particularly as rumors suggest Microsoft has scrapped plans for HoloLens 3.
That makes the timing of Microsoft’s Meta partnership particularly intriguing, as Nadella seeks to align Microsoft as the software and productivity tool company for VR devices instead of the manufacturer. “We’re taking an approach to ensure that our software can benefit users on all their favorite devices, and that’s why I’m so thrilled about what we’re announcing today and how we’re bringing together the power of many of our most popular productivity tools with the new VR devices you’re announcing,” Nadella said.
Meta now has a key ally in its bid to make the metaverse a reality, just as there are clear signs it’s going to be a challenging environment to get right. Meta has tried for years to make inroads with enterprise customers through its Workplace platform, but by partnering more closely with Microsoft Teams in VR, it’s a clear admission of defeat when it comes to the future of workplace productivity and collaboration apps. Microsoft’s Mesh work for Teams was particularly impressive in virtual meetings last year, so it will be interesting to see how the company brings that to life in Meta’s Quest headsets.
It’s still early days for this partnership, with more details on exactly when these experiences will land in the coming months. You can expect to hear more about Teams and perhaps Microsoft’s 3D metaverse avatars tomorrow, as the company is holding its Ignite conference in Seattle, where it will discuss the future of work, security, and more.