Microsoft's effort to reclaim its glory from $3.8 billion startup Slack begins today

Skype in Microsoft TeamsMicrosoftSkype in Microsoft Teams

Over the last few years, a red-hot startup named Slack skyrocketed to a $US3.8 billion valuation by making it easy and (depending on who you ask) almost kind of fun to chat with your coworkers.

Slack even created kind of a rising tide in tech, accelerating interest in competitors like Atlassian HipChat, and opening the way for big companies like Facebook and Cisco to release their own work chat products. Google even introduced a new version of its Hangouts for work just last week.

Enter Microsoft Teams, Microsoft’s take on the market that’s now synonymous with Slack, announced late last year and officially available today.

Microsoft Teams, available for Mac, PC, Android, and iPhone, is a bundled part of the Microsoft Office 365 productivity suite for businesses. In other words, if your company subscribes to Office 365, you’re getting access to Teams very soon, if you don’t have it already. That’s an advantage that Slack and most others will have trouble matching, though it’s not going down without a fight.

Indeed, Microsoft itself has positioned Teams as a Slack-killer. But we got to try Microsoft Teams a little bit ahead of this official launch. And it’s a little bit more than that, and simultaneously a little less. Here’s the skinny.

This is basically the screen where you're going to spending most of your time in Microsoft Teams. You choose which Team and which chatroom you want to spend time in from that box on the left.

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

It's actually a little bit like Facebook: Someone writes something in the channel, and then you type responses under it.

For comparison, here's Slack, the $3.8 billion chat app that Microsoft Teams is going up against. It's a little more freewheeling, working like a group text message chain, with messages going up in chronological order as fast as people type them. It's fun and inspires back-and-forth, but a busy chat can get chaotic.

Slack

(Slack did recently get threaded conversations, but this is still the default way to use it.)

Microsoft swiped one of Slack's best ideas, though. Meet T-Bot, a handy bot that can answer your questions about how to use Microsoft Teams directly via chat.

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

T-Bot can also lead you to more traditional manuals and help pages, too, covering all the bases for those who'd rather learn the old-fashioned way. And Microsoft promises that more bots from outside services are already on their way.

There's also an activity feed, to keep you posted on all the conversations in which you've been mentioned, so you can just pick up your phone or PC and see what's new in your world.

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

The little red 'at' signs help you quickly scroll to wherever your name is mentioned, which is a nice bonus.

Microsoft Teams supports rich formatting, so you can format your chat messages exactly the same way you would an email.

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

If you look, you can see that Outlook's famous 'redbang' exclamation mark for important images is along for the ride, too.

There are Facebook-style chat stickers, too. But Microsoft takes it a step further and adds a meme generator.

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

So I made a meme to commemorate the fact that my demo version of Microsoft Teams didn't actually have any real humans in it, only dummy test accounts.

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

When you go into a private chat with someone, it's more like a one-on-one text message conversation. Here, I'm demonstrating the built-in gif search...

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

...so I can nail this interaction with Adele Vance, the fictional human I'm chatting with here. And, um, if there IS a real Adele Vance who works at Microsoft, I'm very sorry.

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

Joking aside, Microsoft Teams boasts deep and impressive integrations with the rest of the Microsoft suite. From any conversation, you can book an Outlook meeting with the participants.

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

From those meetings, you can even directly launch a Skype video or voice call with the participants. It's pretty neat.

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

Plus, you can see all the files shared within a team...

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

...and even get access to data pulled from PowerBI, Microsoft's data dashboard software, straight from within the chat interface, so you can assign out tasks based on it. That's assuming your company uses PowerBI, that is.

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

There are other integrations, too, with popular non-Microsoft tools like Trello, Asana, and Github, so you can keep your chat and your work close together.

My first instinct is that Slack's simplicity is its greatest asset. You sign up and get chatting pretty quickly. There's very little learning curve, in my experience, and you can just focus on your conversations. To borrow Apple's words, 'It Just Works.'

Slack
Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield

Microsoft Teams is very powerful, with a lot of killer features and integrations with the rest of the Office suite. But I also feel like there's a steeper learning curve if you want to get the most out of Teams. That's excellent news for power users, but the complexity may turn off chat novices.

Microsoft
Skype in Microsoft Teams

Still, the fact that Microsoft Teams is included with Office 365 business subscriptions is going to win over a lot of converts. And it speaks well of Microsoft that they put together something usable but still powerful.

And anyway, Slack is far from the only game in town here: Google just announced Hangouts Work, its own take on the work chat app. Regardless of what happens next, it's going to get interesting.

Google

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