You've heard this story before: Startup launches workplace software that goes viral. Then Microsoft swoops in with a clone and plans to steal the startup's oxygen.
Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) did it with Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office and Windows -- all of which followed, and destroyed, competitive products. Now Microsoft looks to do it again with Microsoft Teams, a chat-based workgroup collaboration product that looks a heck of a lot like Slack.
If you've ever used an Internet chatroom or group text messages, or participated in a chat on Twitter, you've used something like Slack or Microsoft Teams. The apps permit real-time conversations among workgroups, with integration with other workplace productivity apps. The chats are designed to replace email and phone.
Founded in 2013, Slack had 4 million users as of October, according to Reuters. It's particularly popular in media and tech companies, although users also include the US government and universities.
Microsoft's answer to Slack is integrated with Office, and runs in the Office 365 cloud. Starting Wednesday, it's available in preview in 181 countries and 18 languages to commercial customers with Office 365 Enterprise or Business plans, with general availability planned for the first quarter of 2017, according to a post on the Microsoft Office blog by Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for the Office team.
Realtime threaded discussions are at the heart of Microsoft Teams (and Slack).
Microsoft Teams supports persistent, threaded chats, visible by default to the entire team, although private discussions are also available. Teams integrates Skype for voice and video conferencing. And Teams supports emojis, stickers, GIFs and custom memes -- which sounds decidedly unprofessional and silly, but Slack enthusiasts say these capabilities help with team-building and morale.
Teams integrates with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Sharepoint, OneNote, Planner, Power BI and Delve.
Slack responded with a full-page ad in The New York Times, reproduced online:
Wow. Big news! Congratulations on today's announcements. We're genuinely excited to have some competition.
We realized a few years ago that the value of switching to Slack was so obvious and the advantages so overwhelming that every business would be using Slack, or "something just like it," within the decade. It's validating to see you've come around to the same way of thinking. And even though -- being honest here -- it's a little scary, we know it will bring a better future forward faster.
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Slack CEO and Co-Founder Stewart Butterfield tweeted:
One difference between Microsoft today and the past -- Microsoft today is less "bellicose," according to The New York Times. While the past Microsoft crowed about destroying upstart competitors, the NYTimes quotes Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella saying, "Look, my job No. 1 is to make sure that the 85 million users I have on Office 365, we go meet their needs and keep growing that base... This is not to take away any success anyone else has. We've always had lots of tools out here that have competed and also coexisted."
— Mitch Wagner, , Editor, Light Reading Enterprise Cloud