Microsoft Teams debuts with a sonic boom

This is the app that could change Microsoft.

microsoft teams
Credit: Microsoft

I’m happy using Slack. I run the app in a few editorial roles and with some volunteers. I also use Convo and, in rare occasions, hop on a competing product that basically does the same thing. You chat, you share files, you go back to your normal routine.

After testing Microsoft Teams for a few days in the full production version (on a Surface tablet sent by Microsoft for that purpose), I’ve come to realize this is an app that has bigger ambitions than mere collaboration. Teams is partly an email augmentation app, partly a place to do real productivity work, partly a hub for videoconference and phone calls (with Skype built in nicely), and is quite possibly the most important app Microsoft has ever released in their decades long history.

One reason is that Teams is evolving quickly. During one phone call, a rep mentioned how I do have the latest version for testing, but by tomorrow, it might need an update. That’s an extremely encouraging sign. More bots, more tabs, more features. I won’t do the deep dive into all this app can do (check out this outstanding review that does just that). I will provide an easy summary and explain a bit about who needs this tool.

Teams is a collaborative app that is heavily integrated into the Microsoft ecosystem. It’s funny to think you could invite someone who is not on your Office 365 team into the app. It wouldn’t really make sense, because the entire point of Teams is to be tied into the platform. There’s a tab I found almost by accident called OneNote. In Slack and Convo -- and many other free collaborative workplace apps -- you click a link and it pushes you out to Google Docs or your calendar. Even in Google Hangouts Chat, which also debuted recently, if you want to schedule a meeting, you jump out to the Google Calendar. Docs is yet another tab. In Teams, the app runs local. You see the actual OneNote file and can edit it, or you see the PowerPoint slideshow. You can even add a tab YouTube vids.

When you schedule a meeting, you do that from within Teams. It’s a little surprising at first, and possibly overwhelming for new users, but it makes perfect sense. Slack doesn’t do any of this because Slack doesn’t have any of these apps. There’s also some machine learning at work. The Microsoft Graph watches what you do and can make smart suggestions. I never saw this during my test, but Graph might notice that you keep talking about the expansion to Las Vegas and suggest you join that channel for more discussion. A rep mentioned how, eventually, Teams might know the people you collaborate with the most and suggest adding them to an email chain or a meeting.

That integration, especially for a larger company, is what makes it so important. Slack should be worried about that. I mean, really worried. There isn’t a meeting client or a document client, so even if there was a bot that watched conversations, there aren’t any tools it could offer. Only Dropbox Paper seems to have a leg up on this market and was prescient enough to start building this collaboration many months ago. As I mentioned, not even Hangouts (with the Google ecosystem readily available) seems prepared for the day when you can do all of your work in one place.

And then there’s the bots. Microsoft only has a few available at launch, but it’s amazing to think about the AI that has slowly crept into Office 365 products could easily pop up here. One bot could make sure no one at Fed Ex discloses a company secret. Another could assemble an amazing PowerPoint presentation simply by watching a conversation and grabbing images. Hundreds of bots could power this thing.

Tight integration is an area of total domination for Microsoft. It should not be ignored. It’s one of the main reasons the Internet Explorer (not Edge) still pops up at some large companies. What has been tightly integrated has been tightly woven which has been deeply planted. What does that mean in the end? High revenue. Market cap. Companies like Slack going bye-bye.

We’ll see if that happens. For now, Teams has some definite perks. At times, I found the interface to be a little confusing and complex but it’s also new. We’ll see if it can win me over. For now, it has more potential than just about any Microsoft app.

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