Updates coming to Microsoft Whiteboard, will they solve my frustrations?

Ashley Jolman, CSM

September 10, 2021

Microsoft has announced a bunch of new features for its Whiteboard app. I’m going to explore if these features might solve some of my biggest issues with the current Whiteboard App.

If You Didn't Already Know

New features and a revamped experience are coming soon to Microsoft Whiteboard. For those of us running virtual meetings, this is welcomed news. If you aren’t familiar, Whiteboard is a cloud-based virtual whiteboard application that is integrated into Office 365. So far, Whiteboard has really only provided the most basic features and doesn’t measure up to other alternatives like Miro or InVision. However, its deep integration into Office 365, and specifically Teams drives me to fight through the issues. My hope is this new release will address the most limiting issues and makes Whiteboard a more functional collaboration tool. Below I am going to review some of my main gripes and talk about how these new features MIGHT address them.

Cross-Platform Support

In our organization, we have users who use macOS, Windows, Android, iOS, etc. In addition, we work with many clients who are only using the browser to access meetings or Whiteboards. The current version of Whiteboard has major differences in what can be done in these different. For example, if you are using some of the more “advanced” objects like a note grid you can only view and interact with them from the Windows desktop app. This has been a huge issue for us as we can’t effectively use some of the more advanced features of Whiteboard, and some of the team members can’t co-author at all.

Once all the new changes are rolled out, the experience on all platforms is supposed to be much more inline. I am sure there will still be differences, but my hope is that we can start to use some of these more advanced features to make our experience more complete.

General Collaboration

Even if all of our participants have equal access to features and capabilities, there are a number of areas Whiteboard falls short of when it comes to collaboration. During brainstorming exercises, it would be nice to be able to identify which team member is working on which section of the Whiteboard. Currently, changes come through in real-time when multiple people are collaborating, but since I can’t tell who is working where on the board, the changes seem to just appear. While using other virtual whiteboard apps, I’ve enjoyed the identification of cursors with the user's name right above them. That identification makes for an overall easier experience and less asking each other who did what.

Along the lines of collaboration, Microsoft aims to roll out a number of features to improve collaboration and facilitation that will be very beneficial. These improvements include:

  • Collaborative cursors - view where other people are on the board and what they are editing.
  • Laser Pointer feature
  • Modernized, revamped user experience with the overall board

I hope this means that I will be able to show what area I'm speaking on without frantically moving my cursor around and the board will be quick and easy to move around and edit as there are currently some limitations and the experience is ‘choppy’.

Object Snapping

The main criticism I have on Whiteboard has been with the overall user experience and when I’m making notes or facilitating an exercise, the tool seems to make things harder for me by not automatically lining items up. I really struggle with a ‘messy’ looking board. A lot of applications available today will easily drop stickys along a grid so they are lined up with minimal effort. However, my boards are a mess unless I carefully align and drop the sticky. This forces me to slow down and make multiple attempts for items to line up cleanly. I should be able to quickly drag and drop things into line, and I really hope Microsoft delivers on their claim to improve object snapping to precisely organize content spatially.

This is not pretty.

Ink Shape Recognition

Another prominent issue I have is with drawing shapes. I swear I know how to draw a circle, but Whiteboard never ceases to make me look like a struggling kindergartner:

There are a number of thought exercises I lead teams through that involve grouping and categorizing items and ideas. The release notes for the new Whiteboard features claim to include the ability to add shapes – then I could simply drag a circle or oval around a group of sticky notes. Microsoft also says improved mouse inking is coming along with ink shape recognition so that I can create smoother ink lines that straighten automatically to the line or shape intended. This is probably the first feature I’m going to try when I have access to the new Whiteboard.

More Options

Additionally, Microsoft says more colors are coming for the ink pen, highlighter, and actual sticky notes. I can’t wait to have 10 sticky note shades to choose from! Currently, there are only 6 options.

Conclusion

The ability to run effective meetings when participants are all or partially virtual is critical. I’ve really enjoyed using some of the virtual whiteboard applications out there and see how they can enhance a meeting. Microsoft’s roadmap is presently saying that the new features and experience will be launched sometime this month (September 2021) and will continue to roll out through October. I’m looking forward to checking it out and seeing if my current frustrations with Microsoft Whiteboard are solved!

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