Microsoft to Developers: We're Picking Up the Slack

Microsoft's move into the team collaboration space with Microsoft Teams is aimed not only at knowledge workers but also developers, as it looks to usurp Slack.

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Microsoft's new team collaboration tool, Microsoft Teams, is aimed squarely at the Slack collaboration platform, which is a favorite of developers.

With that in mind, Microsoft announced integration between Microsoft Teams, a chat-based workspace in Office 365, and Microsoft's Visual Studio Team Services.

"Microsoft Teams is a new chat-based workspace in Office365 that makes collaborating on software projects with Team Services a breeze," said Derrick Fu, a Microsoft program manager, in a blog post. "Customers often tell us that there is a need for better chat integration in Team Services. With Microsoft Teams, we aim to provide a comprehensive chat and collaboration experience, across your Agile and development work."

Developers enjoy the collaborative capabilities Slack provides. The team-sharing nature of the tool also enables Agile and DevOps scenarios, which is the goal of Microsoft's Visual Studio Team Services application lifecycle management (ALM) solution.

Thomas Murphy, an analyst with Gartner, said he thinks Microsoft Teams is more a Yammer replacement that is newer, more modern and Slack-like. "Slack, for most people, is their ‘modern email'—it is very popular in DevOps because a topic/thread/room can be spawned for either long-living threads for a specific issue—kind of like Twitter, you can go to it when you want, be alerted to things that are important to you, or search a specific topic/thread."

Murphy noted that there may be a "bit of a 'millennial thing' here—you are trading one pain for another, but it works the way people want to work and it is strong from that ability to focus a thread to a specific work item, etc."

Microsoft brings that way of work to Teams. And the Microsoft Teams integration with Visual Studio Team Services enables Team Services to stay up to date with alerts for work items and pull requests, commits and builds using the Connectors within Microsoft Teams. Each Connector event is its own conversation, allowing users to be notified of events they care about and discuss them with their team, Fu said.

In addition, Microsoft is bringing the Visual Studio Team Services Kanban boards right into Microsoft Teams to enable developer teams to track and create new work items without leaving their team's channel. The board integration is expected to be available starting Nov. 9, and each board comes with its own conversation, Fu said. Kanban is a popular framework used by software teams practicing Agile software development that Microsoft supports in Visual Studio Team Services.

For its part, anticipating the Microsoft Teams announcement, which took place this week in New York City, Slack took out a full-page ad in The New York Times criticizing Microsoft.

"Like other solutions that gained their initial popularity/traction among developers—AWS is a good, though not perfect, example—Slack succeeded by understanding their core user audience and delivering usable, valuable services cheaply and easily," Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT, told eWEEK.

He noted that this entices end users who try out and like Slack services without a huge technical or monetary commitment to become evangelists within their own organizations. Businesses looking to pare IT costs and bolster efficiencies are often eager to join the choir, he added.

However, King lauded Microsoft's move into the space, calling it an "excellent move" for many reasons.