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Team Slack or Team Microsoft? A closer look at the tools.

Nov 17, 2016 by Emma Robinson

Right before Microsoft Teams was released, Slack made a pretty bold and preemptive move. They took out a full page advert in the back of the New York Times and they wrote a ‘welcome’ letter to Microsoft, offering criticism (thinly veiled as advice) on the ‘team collaboration’ marketplace in which they will now co-exist.
As expected, the letter received a lot of media attention, which largely criticised the move and suggested that Slack had made an error in judgement for the following reasons:

  • Slack’s letter assumes that Microsoft had produced a competent, more importantly comparable tool, before it had even launched. It placed the two products on the same level before finding out whether this was actually the case.
  • Their attempt at condescension and confidence reads as anxiety. Slack is an established, popular, and useful tool with a large customer base. But Microsoft is, well Microsoft – and any company in their right mind would have concerns. Slack’s letter does admit that ‘it’s a little scary’, but the line that follows set the tone for the pseudo-guidance that follows: ‘all this is harder than it looks. So, as you set out to build “something just like it”, (meaning their own product) ‘we want to give you some friendly advice.’
  • Slack points out that an  ‘open platform is essential’, which is implying that Microsoft solutions tend to operate within a closed ecosystem, and there are limited third-party integrations available. The problem with this is that Slack is not a truly open platform either, it does not permit third party clients, and – while it has over 750 integrations available – it has full control over each applications that is included in its directory, and can remove them at any point. More unfortunately still, Slack appeared to assume this limitation, rather than verify it. Microsoft Teams does offer third party integration, with plans to have 150 integrations, 70 connectors, and 85 bots available when it launches (the tool is currently in preview).

No matter what anyone thinks of the furore that surrounded the release, as Slack and Microsoft Teams go head to head, the most important thing for their potential customers is whether the tools can enable them to collaborate and communicate better. So we’re going to take a closer look at the two work spaces, including the differences and similarities between the two interfaces, and a quick look at third party integration.
User Interface
Slack weren’t wrong when they pointed out that Microsoft seem to have built ‘something just like’ their product, and the UI of both services certainly share some notable similarities.
Microsoft Teams
From the top banner promoting a desktop version of the tools, to the prompts to ‘Add more people’ or ‘Add an app’ to the left-hand navigation, holding all of your groups and conversations the placement and design of the work spaces are certainly alike. Teams definitely retains a UI that keeps it in line with other Office 365 services with explanatory text accompanying most of their icons, whereas Slack has a slightly cleaner UI that is more sparse and icon-based.
Add a third party integration
Both work spaces enable you to add connectors/ applications and integrations, and offer a substantial directory of third party services which can be added.
To select an application to integrate:
In Slack: Head up to the top left corner and click the drop-down list next to your name, then select ‘Apps and Integrations’, this will take you through to a page where you can browse the available options. Once you’ve chosen, follow the on-screen instructions, which will guide you through the process of connecting the two services.
In Microsoft Teams: Click on the ‘…’ next to the Team name and select ‘Connectors’, and it will take you through to a list of available services, choose the one you would like, click ‘add’ and then follow the steps to integrate the application.
Both services have similar offerings when it comes to third party applications, with Teams also including all Office 365 products as tab options. While Slack appears to have a more robust integration service currently, it is expected that the number of services available in Teams will grow by the time it reaches general availability – this will also be fuelled by the developer tools available (more about the Developer program for Teams here).
Which is right for you? 
Choosing which service is a better fit for your organisation depends on a number of factors (the most obvious probably being do you use Office 365?) Factors like company size, cloud solution provider (Google Apps, Office 365 or other), application use, and previous collaboration tool choice or preference will also come into play.
At the moment the preview for Microsoft Teams is available to all Office 365 business or enterprise users for free (personal accounts will not be able to access the service). This move suggests that Microsoft are leveraging penetration pricing to rapidly gain market share, as well as garnering favour by offering the service as a value-add for current users (current Slack + Office 365 users are likely to seriously evaluate a new built-in service which comes at no additional cost – when they’re currently paying for Slack). In contrast, businesses who do not use Office 365 are unlikely to be swayed into purchasing enterprise licences based on the charms of this tool alone. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft Teams progresses, as it leaves preview and enters general availability, we will definitely be keeping on eye on how the service develops!
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