As expected, Microsoft unveiled its answer to Slack at a media event in New York City this week. Currently in beta, the new business team collaboration service, simply called Teams, is only available as part of business Office 365 plans.
The move pits Microsoft against a fast-growing startup whose platform quickly became the group collaboration standard for organizations large and small, including Samsung, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and interestingly, LinkedIn, a recent Microsoft acquisition. Last week, San Francisco-based Slack announced it had surpassed 1.25 million paid seats and 33,000 paid teams.
On Wednesday, coinciding with the Teams' reveal, Slack took out a full-page ad in The New York Times welcoming Microsoft "to the revolution," and boasting of its own growing developer community. The Slack App Directory now features 750 apps, covering a wide variety of areas, including customer service, CRM and developer tools. Collectively, the company's customer base has installed 6 million apps.
Naturally, Microsoft has no shortage of either Office users or developers.
Microsoft Teams delivers a Slack-like chat experience, with a major differentiator: threaded messaging. In Teams, users can directly reply to individual messages, creating nested conversations like those found in typical Facebook activity feed. In contrast, Slack displays replies one after the other. (Slack is working on enabling threaded messaging.)
Unsurprisingly, Teams supports the Office 365 software ecosystem, featuring integrations with the traditional Office content creation apps (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) along with SharePoint, OneNote, Planner, Power BI and Delve. It also integrates with Skype, enabling users to launch into voice or video meetings. Sticking to Microsoft's "mobile-first, cloud-first" product strategy, Teams supports Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and web-based versions of Office.
In terms of security and data privacy, Teams inherits many of the standards that govern Microsoft's Azure commercial cloud services. In a Nov. 2 blog post, Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of Microsoft Office, explained that the service complies with stringent security requirements, "EU Model Clauses, ISO 27001, SOC 2, HIPAA," among others.
"Microsoft Teams also enforces two-factor authentication, single sign on through Active Directory and encryption of data in transit and at rest," stated the company in an online FAQ.
The company also kicked off a Microsoft Teams Developer Preview, enabling organizations to incorporate the service into their own custom apps and cloud-based services. The toolkit enables developers to deliver Office content and updates using connectors and allows for the creation of branded tabs and intelligent bots. Using the same Connector model the company employs with Exchange, it supports notifications and updates from GitHub, Twitter and third-party services.
Microsoft Teams is available in preview in 181 countries and in 18 languages. The company plans to make the offering generally available sometime in the first quarter of 2017. Teams is included in the Business Essentials, Business Premium, and Enterprise E1, E3 and E5 Office 365 plans, along with E4 plans purchased before it was discontinued.