One distinctly unfortunate side effect of a global pandemic appears to be that video conferencing software and its associated behaviour are now considered acceptable norms and its so entrenched in our day to day lives that Microsoft have decided to integrate Teams into Windows 11.
There's nothing wrong with the concept. Using things like Skype of Facetime can be incredibly useful for keeping in touch with family or friends who live a distance away from us, but on a day to day basis, as a matter of routine it's a drag. Worse still is that there exists a certain type of person that we will all come across in our lives and that is the one person who believes that all problems must be solved by calling a meeting. Indeed, they love meetings so much that meetings are called to arrange future meeting schedules and if, god forbid, something could be communicated in a single paragraph via email, they can and will arrange a meeting for that too. Just in case we need to discuss important things like contingencies for minutiae such as who should be on tea making duty should the office be plagued by moths, the cat hasn't been put out and it happens to be a waning crescent moon. Teams and Zoom have normalised their behaviour, made it more acceptable to the point where there doesn't appear to be an end in sight for that awful phrase "I'll send you a teams invite!!"
No, please don't, whenever it is I'm fairly sure I have an appointment with a historic re-enactment group and have volunteered to have my legs very realistically sawn off by a 19th century "surgeon" in preference to sitting for another second in front of a webcam, listening to stuttering audio, looking at your blurry face and wondering when you'll notice that actually I've turned my camera off again and gone out to mow the lawn instead whilst you talk to yourself.
In fact, we all know that's what "online learning" was. It didn't take long to figure out. After giving the first lesson or two a proper go and wondering why no one seemed to answer questions it quickly dawned on us that the reason was because there was no one there to answer questions, all the students had logged in, turned their camera and microphone off and promptly disappeared to watch Homes Under the Hammer instead, and let's face it, Dion Dublin has a lot of staircases to show you. So much for "turn your cameras and microphones off to avoid disruption." We were blissfully undisturbed by any interruptions whether we wanted them or not.
...and this is just the point really, we have learned the hard way in recent times just how impersonal technology can be. We are not designed to sit behind a camera and be ourselves. It removes our personalities, stifles spontaneity and takes away all those subtle queues and interactions that we take for granted when we're together in person. I'd go so far as to say that over exposure to online only socialising is more damaging than not being able to interact with anyone at all, via any means.
I am forever banging the drum for usability and sensible design in software (we can all remember how much I enjoyed being a HSBC customer). Sadly, Microsoft have done another terrible job with Teams. I'm not anti Microsoft and it's very easy to criticise software that doesn't do what you, and you alone, want it to do when it's designed to perform an incalculable number of different tasks for millions of people. Generally, I don't find Office, Outlook and Windows standing in my way on a day to day basis. Anyone who can remember 1995 will tell you the fact we don't all reinstall our operating system every two weeks is testament to just how far Microsoft have come in terms of making decent software.
But Teams is not decent software. It's horrific. Just nothing you do in Teams is clear and in an effort to make up their mind about whether it's a desktop, mobile or tablet application, they've managed to make it none of those things. I could go on for some time about the number of horrific ways in which it works (not to mention them changing their pricing model for some of the features we all used when they realised half the world was about to use it and they could profit from a pandemic...) Instead, lets just focus on one "feature" which really baffles me.
Most people have a work and a personal life. I know. Imagine that, a teacher who doesn't just finish the school day, get back in the cupboard and plug themselves in to recharge for the next day. Who knew we had a life?!
Due to this, we have a work account and Teams is connected to it. No problem here, it works, pulls all your meetings and other things down without issue. Now imagine, someone invites you to a teams meeting using your personal account - maybe you're organising something, doing an interview... you need to add your personal account.
On an iPad, you just tap a couple of times, switch account and all is well. Desktop? Nah. On the desktop version for Windows 10, you click to add an account, it asks you to sign in and then... it literally tries to take over the world. I tried it yesterday and it inexplicably decided that because I used Windows Hello to log in, it also had to associate this new account with my local account which I use to log into my laptop with. Why? God only knows - you know what would be sensible? Log me in to the app and leave the operating system alone? But this isn't possible, there is literally no option to skip this step - if you do, it simply refuses to sign you in.
Out of curiosity, I followed it through and Windows promptly turned me into a woman, changed my profile picture and set this account as my Windows log in account.
How? How is it possible in 2021 to write software which is just so monumentally broken? In no way can you justify an app which has such a broken account switching implementation as Teams does. There also can be no excuse for an application which decides that if you log an account into that then it will also take over your operating system as well?
Teams is an abomination and I welcome the time I can uninstall it safe in the knowledge I'll never have to use it again. Video conferencing was a sticking plaster during the pandemic and it's time we ripped it off and returned it to the uses it was designed for. Microsoft will perhaps one day then get back to important things like... I don't know, fixing the fact that they still haven't fixed the fact that when they decided to leave Control Panel behind that it's still actually there and Settings is so unfinished you're often unceremoniously dumped back into the old control panel, but that's a topic for another day...
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