Microsoft Takes On Slack with Office 365-Based 'Teams'

Microsoft's plan to acquire Slack for $8.5 billion may have never gone beyond rumor, but its challenge to the popular enterprise chat platform is real.

Announced Wednesday at an event in New York, Microsoft Teams is Redmond's bid to take on Slack and other modern chat-based digital workspace platforms. Microsoft hopes Teams will emerge as the hub for user experience across Office 365 and third-party apps and services.

Teams brings together all the components of Office 365 and Skype for Business -- including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, OneNote, Planner and Power BI -- into an integrated workspace tied to the Microsoft Graph, executives explained. Doing so enables the apps to share intelligence and context, and, using Active Directory and Office 365 Groups, to associate people with information.

Microsoft also released an SDK that allows enterprise and commercial developers to build connectors, based on the same model as Exchange Server Connectors, that can allow chats to be integrated among each other. For example, Teams can integrate Twitter or GitHub notifications into the workspace.

Among other things, Teams will appeal largely to the millennial workforce, which has become accustomed to using online chat to communicate while reducing reliance on e-mail. Slack is among a number of popular tools such workers have started using in recent years.

Microsoft believes its Slack alternative provides security, governance and context enabled by the underlying Microsoft Graph, Office 365 and much of its machine learning efforts, including its new Bot Framework and the Azure Machine Learning service. The company emphasized that Teams will support the same security and compliance standards as its other services, including EU Model Clauses, ISO 27001, SOC 2 and HIPAA.

"Microsoft Teams is a chat-based workspace where people can come together in a digital forum to have casual conversations, work on content, create work plans -- integrated all within one unified experience," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at Wednesday's event. "It's designed to facilitate real-time conversations and collaboration while maintaining and building up that institutional knowledge of a team."

Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Office client team, gave an overview of the new chat platform, saying it will be added to Office 365 Business and Enterprise subscriptions in the first quarter of next year.

"It will be automatically provisioned in Office 365 and managed as any other Office 365 service," he said.

A preview of Teams is now available, along with an SDK that will allow developers to tie their own apps to the service. Currently, 70 Office 365 connectors are available in the toolkit, Koenigsbauer said. Support for Microsoft and third-party services will come via planned enhancements to the company's Bot Framework.

The APIs will also allow for customizable workspaces. Microsoft said it expects to have 150 integration partners at launch next year, including Hootsuite, Intercom, Zendesk and Asana.

For its part, Slack was certainly paying attention to Microsoft's unveiling of Teams. In addition to running a full-page ad in The New York Times, Slack noted the arrival of Teams prominently on its own site.

"Congratulations on today's announcements. We're genuinely excited to have some competition," Slack said in a blog post written as an open letter to Microsoft. "It's validating to see you've come around to the same way of thinking. ... It's not the features that matter. You're not going to create something people really love by making a big list of Slack's features and simply checking those boxes."

"We're here to stay," the letter goes on to say. "We are where work happens for millions of people around the world. ... And we're just getting started."

Slack claims it has 1 million paid subscribers (2.5 million overall), $100 million in annual recurring revenue and 6 million apps now installed among its members' teams.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.


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