Bill Gates: Microsoft is developing a killer meeting-room app

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Microsoft is actively developing a meeting-room application designed to streamline the entire process, including sharing data and recognizing participants, according to company co-founder Bill Gates.

The disclosure is buried inside a lengthy personality profile of Microsoft executives Satya Nadella, Steve Ballmer, and Gates, describing the relationships tying together—and pushing apart—each of the three. But the article by Vanity Fair also touches tangentially on what Microsoft is actually doing these days—especially Gates, who’s dedicating exactly 30 percent of his time to the company.

Gates, in one excerpt, describes an upcoming meeting with a “genius guy” who is pushing the idea for a new app. “[W]hen you write an application you don’t write an application for this thing and then another application for that thing and another application for this thing,” he told the magazine. “When you fire up the meeting-room application, everybody’s machine has a part of this meeting-room application.”

Why this matters: Microsoft has already built out a strong—some might say redundant—platform of collaborative technologies. Extending it to the meeting room or boardroom would make sense, especially as connecting a videoconferencing session still robs a meeting of valuable time. Whether this would be a standalone app, or simply a feature of an existing Microsoft technology, remains to be seen. We’d bet on the latter.

’Meeting Room Plus’

The app, which Vanity Fair dubs “Meeting Room Plus,” would do everything that needs to be done, from sharing notes to videoconferencing, without having to pause to open something else up. “On that one, I think we’ll take the lead,” Gates said. “That’s a very cool thing, and it does kind of trump what’s come before.”

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The Polycom CX8000 videoconferencing solutuion for Microsoft Lync, all told, costs over $15,000, according to Microsoft.

The idea gets buy-in from Nadella as well.

“I think that’s a great way to think about it,” Nadella said, according to the magazine. “Let’s say we walk into this room. There are cameras there that recognize each one of us, automatically log us into a shared whiteboard, rendezvous the machines you have, a phone or a tablet, so that you can share things.”

If the app did come to fruition, it would be another in a long line of different ways of sharing content and collaborating within Microsoft. At one time, that was seen as Skype’s role, but that product was integrated with Microsoft Lync in 2013. At the time, Microsoft announced Lync Room System, a hardware package combining large touch monitors and a 360-degree camera. Lync Room Systems are still sold by those partners, but they also cost more than $15,000 apiece, according to Microsoft.

Since then, Google has entered the space with Google Chromebox for Business, a solution that costs about $1,000. Startup Highfive announced a $799 system this week. Both, however, rely on the users themselves to set up the meeting, log themselves in, and share information.

It’s conceivable that the app could tie into the recently announced Microsoft Groups feature, allowing access to a shared workspace and OneDrive for Business, possibly automatically launching a PowerPoint presentation that the meeting organizer has previously selected to share. Zoho’s Showtime app takes a similar approach.

Still, namechecking a new app in a national magazine gives it a decent shot at success. And if you’re interested in how Nadella was selected (and how Ballmer was essentially booted out) the Vanity Fair article makes for an interesting lunchtime read. 

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