At an event in New York City today, Microsoft raised a curtain on ‘Microsoft Teams’ for Office 365 subscribers. The service was known to be the theme of today’s press gathering and was announced by CEO Satya Nadella. Microsoft Teams is the company’s business-minded group communication service. It is a direct competitor to Slack, a company which added a twist to the Office event today.
Microsoft Teams was unveiled as a software as a service that integrates into the company’s existing Office 365 suite. This means the feature works directly in Office apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
“Microsoft teams will bring together chat, meeting, notes, Office, Planner, PowerBI, and a host of extensions and applications to help teams get work done,” explains Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
Skype is also a big part of the Teams vision. The service integrates into the Skype for Business, while other Microsoft offerings, like Power Bi, Planner, and SharePoint, are also plugged right into Microsoft Teams. As for Skype, users will be able to drop in and out of persistent video calls within Teams.
Microsoft is clearly targeting Slack with this release. In fact, it is very easy to see the similarity between the two services considering how much Teams looks like Slack. Functionality is also (inevitably) similar. Microsoft Teams presents a list of persistent chats that can be accessed as a group or individually for one-to-one meetings.
Slack users will be familiar with a UI that includes a sidebar for all notification activity and files. Also like Slack, users can use Microsoft Teams to search for people, chats, and files.
Just mimicking Slack’s general look and feel is one thing, and there are so many ways to present this kind of offering. If Microsoft Teams is to be a major success, the company has to make the service desirable away from other Microsoft services. Slack has found great success in building an ecosystem that integrates with third-party services.
This has not been lost on Microsoft, a company which has been embracing cross-platform services and outside sources in recent years. In terms of Microsoft Teams, this means such policies as open APIs and its own bot framework. Custom memes within chats, custom channels, and integration with other cloud services are also included.
To highlight this, Microsoft showcased Twitter integrations today. In this demonstration, the company showed how push messages from individual Twitter accounts could be sent to chats in Teams. Moreover, users can share custom meme images, create polls, and manage feeds.
Microsoft Teams is available from today in preview for Office 365 customers. It is already rolling out to 181 countries in 18 languages. The company says the service will be made generally available in early 2017 and will be a part of all Office 365 Enterprise and Business subscriptions.
Opening Teams up to developers is important to grow the services. With that in mind, Microsoft has also opened the developer preview program. This means at launch there will be 70 connectors, 85 bots, and 150 integrations for the new service.
Microsoft Teams and Slack
It is not lost on Slack that Microsoft Teams has been created as a direct competitor. In fact, Microsoft has painted a big target on its rival and said “we’re coming for your users”. Slack has built up a phenomenal head of steam, but Microsoft presents a very real threat. The company has 85 million active Office 365 commercial customers who could become users of Teams instantly.
Slack has been gathering four million daily active users it has been adopted by 28 out of Fortune 100 companies. However, there are many more left for Microsoft to compete for. One company Slack is currently integrated with is LinkedIn. Considering Microsoft owns the business-social network, we imagine the company will integrate Teams deeply into LinkedIn and try to limit Slack’s appeal.
As a preemptive strike at Microsoft, Slack took out a full page newspaper ad to warn the company off making Microsoft Teams a direct competitor. The “ad” in the New York Times shows a company that is concerned at best and frightened at worse. Slack boss Stewart Butterfield joked on Twitter about the ad, but the concern is real.
“You’ll need to take a radically different approach to supporting and partnering with customers to help them adjust to new and better ways of working,” warns the Slack team in the letter. “If you want customers to switch to your product, you’re going to have to match our commitment to their success and take the same amount of delight in their happiness.”
Expect Microsoft and Slack to clash many more times in the near and distant future.