Microsoft challenges Slack with a free version of Microsoft Teams

Micreosoft boasts that more than 200,000 businesses are using Teams, mostly large enterprises. Its free version hooks smaller businesses on the way up.

Credit: Microsoft

On Thursday, Microsoft began offering a free version of Microsoft Teams as an incentive to switch over from Slack—and is loading it up with key features such as unlimited chat messages. 

Earlier this week, Slack said it was improving its own in-app search, with automated suggestions. Slack’s free version still limits users to 10,000 searchable messages, though—and Teams does not. That’s one of the key selling points of the new free Teams service; the other is the number of users—300—which will be enough for many small businesses.

"For us, it was all about continually breaking down barriers to [Teams]," said Lori Wright, General Manager of Microsoft 365 Teamwork, in an interview. "We don’t necessarily think you should be an Office 365 subscriber to experience the power of the Teams solution."

That said, Microsoft is, in fact, reserving key features for the paid version of Teams, which is built into Office 365. Video chats that are conducted within Teams—which is replacing the standalone Skype for Business application—can be stored in the cloud, and is searchable, and features automatic captioning as well. In the future, Microsoft said, it will include facial recognition, so that viewers can search for what was said, as well as who said it. A public preview of "live events," video broadcasts that can be transcribed, archived, and timecoded, will debut this summer.

For now, though, here’s what will be in the basic version of Teams, according to Microsoft: 

microsoft teams free Mark Hachman / IDG

Microsoft sees Slack as a top competitor, and is trying to establish Teams as a one-stop repository for any document that a team collectively needs to work on. Over 140 business apps work with Teams, Microsoft said, and the 2GB/user file limit should allow plenty of storage per user. (Paid Teams members get up to a terabyte of storage, of course, as part of Office 365.)

Two additional features will be added to the free Teams version later this year, including background blurring, an invaluable tool for remote users. As the name suggests, Teams will intelligently blur your screen’s background—so if you’re conducting a video chat from your kitchen table, your dirty dishes won’t be visible in the background. Inline message translation in 36 languages is also due before the end of the year, Microsoft said. (The free version of Teams is available in 40 languages already.)

Microsoft is also making one more freebie available to Windows 10 users (not Teams): Whiteboard, the inking app that Microsoft first introduced last summer. Beginning Thursday, the Whiteboard app is freely available for Windows 10 and iOS. Whiteboard taps some of the features that it first introduced with OneNote, such as the ability to create machine-generated flowcharts and charts from inked shapes.

Microsoft mssurfacepro mkt 006 rgb no bckgrnd5 Microsoft

Microsoft’s Whiteboard app is a simplified drawing app, optimized for collaboration.

Microsoft’s 'nudges' will serve as your work coach

If your workplace subscribes to Microsoft’s MyAnalytics service, you may see something a bit odd later this summer, within Outlook. Microsoft’s MyAnalytics, which already can track how many minutes you’ve spent in meetings or reading emails, is getting a bit nosier.

If you’ve set a meeting for an hour, for example, Outlook might suggest you try to finish up n 45 minutes, to give attendees more free time. Too many meetings on your schedule? Outlook might suggest building in some personal "focus time." And if you’re trying to send emails to colleagues at 2:00 a.m., Outlook might gently suggest you downplay the urgency of the message.

hero workplace analtyics Microsoft

Microsoft’s MyAnalytics dashboard is remarkably detailed.

Microsoft hasn’t said whether these "nudges," as the company calls them, will migrate to the paid version of Outlook. If they do, expect to see a few raised eyebrows among the general public.

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Mark Hachman

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
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