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article imageMicrosoft's Slack rival is finally here

By James Walker     Nov 2, 2016 in Technology
Microsoft has officially introduced Teams, a new chat app for the workplace that's built to rival Slack. Slack has experienced extraordinary adoption, pushing existing solutions including Microsoft's Skype out of use. Teams is the company's response.
Teams was introduced at a special event in New York today. Microsoft describes it as a "chat-based workspace" that enables teams to communicate and collaborate online, using Office 365. The app has been built around "four core promises" with the aim of creating a single digital space that improves team productivity.
Teams' most important capability is its chat experience. It supports persistent and threaded chats that are visible to the entire team. There's also the option to start private discussions with specific team members. The chat interface is powered by Skype and includes support for voice and video conferences. Emojis, stickers, GIFs and memes can be uploaded, as well as files and links to other Microsoft tools.
Teams really comes to life when used with the rest of Office 365. It integrates with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, SharePoint, Planner, Power BI and Delve, letting teams access information relevant to their work from within the Teams interface. Since Teams is meant to be the default digital workspace for its users, it acts as a kind of hub for the different types of content present on Office 365.
Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams
Each team is able to customise the app's interface with new tabs and external services. By default, standard tabs for Conversation, Files and Notes are created. A team could expand this with a dedicated tab for important resources or links to frequently accessed websites. Teams can be used as a kind of productivity landing page that aids collaboration.
The fourth "core promise" of Teams is strong security. Data is encrypted at all times, including when being transferred. The app is also compliant with key standards that guarantee certain protections. Because it's hosted on Office 365, it is served from Microsoft's worldwide network of data centres, making it robust and reliable. Administrators will be able to control its behaviour in the same way as any other Office 365 service.
Teams is an evident response to Slack, launched in 2013. Slack, a comparatively new messaging app built from the ground up for the workplace, has experienced rapid growth since its introduction. That has come at the cost of other established services, including Microsoft's Skype and Skype for Business.
With increasing numbers of businesses switching to Slack, Microsoft has been forced to create a response. Teams offers similar functionality to Slack and comes packaged inside Office 365, a service that is already very widely used. Microsoft hopes this integration will help to halt the waves of customers migrating to Slack.
The Slack app
The Slack app
Slack has already acknowledged Microsoft Teams. Last night, before Teams had officially launched, the company published a blog post welcoming the new competition. The company, famed for its transparent approach to software, said it's "genuinely excited" to have a rival in the space, before giving out some "friendly advice" to Microsoft because "this is harder than it looks."
Slack warned Microsoft that an extensive feature list isn't going to stop the Slack "revolution." Instead, it needs to focus on "a degree of thoughtfulness and craftsmanship" that echoes how people communicate. It also noted that an open ecosystem is key, pointing out that over 750 third-party apps now exist for Slack. Finally, the company told Microsoft "you've got to do this with love," alluding to Microsoft's reputation for complex support procedures and poor customer service.
"We’re glad you’re going to be helping us define this new product category," Slack said to Microsoft. "We admire many of your achievements and know you’ll be a worthy competitor. We’re sure you’re going to come up with a couple of new ideas on your own too. And we’ll be right there, ready."
Slack posted the same blog post in a full-page ad in the New York Times today. While the company may appear to be confident that Teams won't be a threat, Microsoft's new product already has the credentials to be an industry hit.
Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams
Convincing customers to switch back from Slack won't be easy to achieve. Businesses that are already actively using Office 365 are likely to benefit from Teams' tight integration though. Using Slack requires bringing in another tool that's separated from team files and data.
"We built Microsoft Teams because we see both tremendous opportunity and tremendous change in how people and teams get work done," said Microsoft. "Teams are now more agile and organizational structures more flat to keep communications and information flowing. With Microsoft Teams, we aspire to create a more open, digital environment that makes work visible, integrated and accessible — across the team — so everyone can stay in the know."
Teams launches in public preview form today. Office 365 administrators can turn on the feature using the Office 365 admin centre, making it available to users across their organisation. Microsoft has finally created a response to the rise of Slack, although the fact it let enterprise chat escape its grasp for so long hints at the challenges ahead.
More about Microsoft, microsoft teams, slack, Communication, Chat