Microsoft appears to be steeling itself for something of a rarity in its corporate history; a fair fight.
After two months of rumors, it looks almost certain the tech giant will stand toe-to-toe with standout start-up Slack, and fight for the workplace messaging space the newcomer currently dominates.
It was headed down the usual path of buying up anything that presents as opportunity or opponent, until Microsoft icon Bill Gates talked the current regime out of buying Slack, and instead put the company on a–technically unofficial–collision course.
So, Slack maintains its independence for the time being, rather than become Microsoft acquisition number 198 (at a rate of six a year!), and the rest of us get to benefit from a healthy competition that, hopefully, continues the evolution of work chat workflows.
Skype Teams Means Integrated Video Calling
The news that Microsoft had chosen to compete directly with Slack was leaked in September–and it must be said there are other potential competitors here, including HipChat by Atlassian, Google’s Allo, and Facebook Messenger.
The initial information showed a plan to leverage Skype’s formidable brand recognition and ubiquity in the video conferencing world, and create a messaging app for teams that would include chat groups, direct messaging, file and note sharing, Office 365 integration, and, naturally, instant video messaging and calls.
And so, Skype Teams.
That first leak also promised what they call “The Fun Picker,” to compete with Slack’s bountiful supply of emojis and gifs. A second leak in October contained a few more Skype Teams nuggets, including the intention to build around threaded conversations, and enable group video chat, both things missing from Slack’s arsenal.
Slack has teased users with the promise of its own video call function, but at the moment you have to be content with a third-party integration. Still, Slack has already proven that its few flaws will not make this an easy kill for Microsoft.
Slack’s Cloud-Based Work Chat Revolution
Slack’s leadership team is not new to the takeover game. They’re the team behind Flickr, which was sold to Yahoo for $35 million. Now they have a product with a valuation of $3.8 billion, and 2.7 million daily active users.
The key to Slack’s success is its ease of use. It links between devices, lets people communicate instantly through chat, and it hands over a number of minor tasks to bots. It’s an operation designed for small teams who want to share anything and everything digitally.
Skype Team’s challenge is to maintain all that functionality while remaining confined to the Office 365 world, and to a video conferencing platform that, while literally synonymous with video calling, is considered about as exciting as white bread.
But there’re a couple of items already in the Microsoft pipeline that should help.
Skype Room Systems and Windows 10 Messaging
Microsoft used the recent Ignite event in Atlanta to launch a new suite of all-in-one, always ready Skype Room Systems that can be centrally controlled through its new SmartDock device.
The systems, in partnership with Logitech, Polycom, and Crestron, offer a direct link to Skype for Business, and should do well among small businesses looking to streamline their existing VC by making it easier to use Skype for Business.
That development, together with the fact that the Windows 10 messaging app that was supposed to let you access text messages on your computer will instead be migrated over to Skype beginning next year, means Skype Teams will have a ready-made audience and multi-platform communication Slack could find hard to beat.
If it all works we could have the entire office integrated into Skype, with staff sending messages and files to each other, video chatting with one another, and gathering for internal and external video conferencing meetings all within the same suite of products.
Hopefully, Microsoft will find space enough to allow us to record and embed video chat within Skype Teams, integrate chat windows in Office 365 programs, make it easy to transfer between the laptop and tablet so we can bring all this collaboration directly to our new Skype Room System.
However, if they don’t, and Skype Teams proves as vanilla as Skype itself, Microsoft may still win out over Slack on sheer size alone. While Slack’s number are impressive, they don’t compare to the fact 500 million people have made a Skype call, and there are more than 74 million Skype users.
It seems Microsoft acquisition number 146, Skype, was a good choice.