Someone said it before me, but “if” is a very big little word.
You can use it to pose all kinds of alternative histories, to agonize over what could have been in a sports game, and to predict all kinds of futures–if this, then eventually that.
That last use is the one we’re going to invoke today.
If the current round of internet rumors is true, then we could soon be getting access to Microsoft Teams for free. If we get free access to Microsoft Teams, then we’ll all get to sample Microsoft’s take on workplace collaboration software, one of the most disruptive tools to hit the business world in years. If, upon our free inspection, we all find that Teams is better than the original it’s imitating (Slack, of course), we could potentially see the demise of a tech innovator.
Microsoft Thinks Slack Is the Future
Startup Slack has been twisting Microsoft into knots ever since its launch. Now with a $5.1 billion valuation and more than 6 million active daily users, the messaging and video calling app dominates a market of its own invention: workplace collaboration. This new field of business communication is the Facebook of the office, where colleagues can share files, project updates, message threads, and video links through a single, easy-to-understand central interface.
It has become such a popular way to do business that some industry experts predict that the field of workplace communication and collaboration will become a battleground as heated and important as the smartphone wars of the past decade.
Microsoft feels the market is so important that it is going to scrap its successful Skype for Business brand and start over with Microsoft Teams, a cross between that crumbling platform and Slack. Skype for Business users will be moved across to Teams by the end of this year.
The catch is, like Skype for Business, Teams is a subscription-only service, so if you’re not a paid member, or don’t have an Office 365 account, you can’t get a look inside Microsoft’s vision of the future.
Unless, of course, those rumors are true.
A Freemium Version of Microsoft Teams
So, on to the rumors. Petri.com was the first to notice the potential switch to a free version of Teams. Back in February, its team noticed that the developer preview of Teams–a public program that gives app and software creators a sneak peek at future offerings, so they can prepare their own programs–contained several references to a “freemium” tier of the platform and language advising users to “upgrade to paid version.” A freemium tier is a watered-down, teaser version of the full product used by companies to lure future customers, usually with limited options and user numbers. In this case, it would mean giving people free access to Teams without making them pay for an Office 365 account.
It would also mean an abrupt about-face for Microsoft. The tech giant expressly stated during its November 2016 rollout of Teams that it had no plans for a “free or consumer offering of Microsoft Teams.”
That statement was made only about 18 months ago–is Slack’s free version proving too difficult to compete with? Is Teams not gaining the traction Microsoft anticipated?
At any rate, there’s little reason why Microsoft would include such language in its developer preview if it weren’t at least considering the idea.
There have been several cases of similar accidental reveals in the tech world of late–in fact, Teams itself was “leaked” ahead of time. Eagle-eyed techies found a dead link to Google Meet well before its launch, and correctly predicted the arrival of Amazon Chime by following a paper trail of startup purchases.
So, maybe it is true. If it is, what does that mean?
Will Microsoft Teams for Free Vanquish Slack?
Users win if Teams offers up a free version of its software. Competitors like Slack, Workplace by Facebook, and Atlassian lose. The free, albeit trimmed, version of Slack may be the only point of difference the innovator has left. Teams has already taken a bite out of its potential audience, and bringing over the 100 million-strong Skype for Business crowd along with a bunch of newcomers might be all Teams needs to rule to market.
Teams may not even need to be a better product. Sheer weight of numbers and the potential for networking Teams provides could carry the day. And, of course, Office products are woven into the fabric of Teams, a huge plus for many offices and something Slack can never match. It’s hard to resist the lure of “free,” and if you’re a small business considering your video conferencing, internal communications, and office software needs, a big name like Microsoft will always get a look.
For now, free Teams is still an “if.” Should it come to pass, though, there’s a good chance it will leave Slack in the dust.