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Microsoft plans to take up slack in workplace comms market

Katie Wright reports on battle of the big two that's turning nasty

Published 12/11/2016

Fighting talk: Microsoft and Facebook are taking on Slack with business communication platforms
Fighting talk: Microsoft and Facebook are taking on Slack with business communication platforms

No, we're not talking about the US presidential election: this is Slack, the workplace communications platform, versus Microsoft, which has just launched its own work-focused software.

Called Microsoft Teams, it's essentially a chat tool, but one that allows users to share Office documents, gifs and emojis in group, or one-on-one conversations, and will be rolled out in the first quarter of 2017 as part of the Office 365 suite (a test version is already available for preview).

That the software bears such a close resemblance to Slack wasn't lost on the latter's founders, who took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to publish a sarcastic open letter before Microsoft had even officially unveiled the new product.

"Congratulations on today's announcements. We're genuinely excited to have some competition," the missive began brightly, before embarking on a list of "advice" for the 41-year-old company on how to build a successful product, insisting that the integration of third-party apps is essential.

"We know that playing nice with others isn't exactly your MO, but if you can't offer people an open platform that brings everything together into one place and makes their lives dramatically simpler, it's just not going to work," it read.

But experts reckon that, even if Teams doesn't integrate seamlessly with outside apps, it's got one major advantage. Currently, 85 million people use Office 365, so if only 5% of them started using Teams that would overtake Slack's four million daily users.

Launched in 2013, the start-up famously came to fruition as the by-product of a failed video game.

It has seen hugely impressive growth and inspires cult-like devotion from those who use it, but it could still crumble if enough users jumped ship, which is probably why the "friendly" guys at Slack also admit Microsoft's latest move is "a little scary".

Plus, there's competition from Facebook, which wants a slice of the nine-to-five pie, too.

Earlier this month, the social network launched Workplace, a paid-for platform which, it says, is already used by 1,000 companies for employee collaboration, with the UK in the top five countries for take-up of the beta version.

While Facebook says the mobile-focused platform is aimed at workers who aren't based in an office, such as retail or hospitality sector staff, it too has a major one-up on Slack thanks to its 1.8 billion monthly active users.

In every David and Goliath scenario, we all want plucky Dave to triumph, and I for one hope Slack continues to thrive, but right now it's up against a duo of seriously formidable tech giants.

Belfast Telegraph

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