Microsoft's Office collaboration tool just got a big new update -- here's what's new

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Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft Corp., speaks at the Microsoft Annual Shareholders Meeting in Bellevue, Washington, on November 30, 2016.

Jason Redmond | AFP | Getty Images

Microsoft on Thursday announced enhancements to its Whiteboard app that will make it easier for multiple people to doodle, leave sticky notes and paste images on a virtual canvas.

It strengthens a component of Microsoft's Office software that has faced mounting competition during the Covid-19 pandemic. Most corporate workers were forced to work from home as the virus spread, preventing people from brainstorming with physical whiteboards and blackboards in the office.

After the virus appeared, Microsoft customers "went from being interested in digital whiteboards to needing digital whiteboarding solutions yesterday," Microsoft principal product manager Ian Mikutel said. In March, the company said the number of Whiteboard's monthly active users was 12 times what it was in the previous year.

Demand for Whiteboard has accelerated since the onset of the pandemic. This led Microsoft to add features more quickly, said Nicole Herskowitz, general manager of the Microsoft Teams communication app. Microsoft introduced Whiteboard in 2017 and offered a way for people to use it from inside Teams in 2019.

Here are some of the big changes:

New cursors in Whiteboard more clearly show what different participants are doing.Circles around avatars match the colors for different participants' cursors on the screen to help users keep track of who's doing what.People can leave feedback on specific objects by adding thumbs-up, heart and star stickers.A laser pointer lets presenters highlight components during meetings.Whiteboard now lets users import data stored in Fluid Components, which can be viewed and edited in Teams, Outlook and other Office applications.New templates for kanban boards and competitive analysis are available to help people accomplish more in the app.Microsoft improved the experience of writing with just a mouse on PCs.For people drawing in the app with a stylus, Microsoft has updated Whiteboard so that the software will automatically recognize attempts to draw shapes and make them look neater.Later, the company plans to add more formal voting capabilities to Whiteboard.

People can use the updated version of Microsoft Whiteboard while holding Microsoft Teams video calls.

Microsoft

The pandemic made software whiteboards more critical. Okta — which sells software that companies use to provide access to many corporate applications — said in February that between November 2019 and October 2020, start-up Miro's whiteboard program was the second-fastest-growing app among its customers, behind only Amazon Business. Miro claims to have 20 million users on its website, and its software allows for multiple users simultaneously.

The third fastest-growing app, according to Okta, was Figma, which people use to collaborate on updates to app designs. In April San Francisco-based Figma introduced FigJam, a whiteboarding tool that's integrated with its main app.

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