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Microsoft Teams free version takes on Slack, Cisco Webex

The new Microsoft Teams free version takes advantage of Microsoft's online Office suite to lure customers that might be considering competing products from Cisco and Slack.

Microsoft has introduced a free version of Teams that uses the vendor's online Office suite in providing a no-cost...

way for people to compare the collaboration app against rivals Slack and Cisco Webex Teams.

The Microsoft Teams free version, launched this week, is designed for small businesses or groups of people within a company that does not have a commercial Office 365 subscription. The web version of Teams works on all major browsers except Apple Safari. Support for the latter is coming "very soon," Microsoft said.

The introductory offer is meant to sell Office 365 as much as Teams. In announcing the free team collaboration app, Microsoft said users could "discover the value of Office 365 as they grow and scale." People can create content within Teams using the online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, which are all part of the cloud-based Office suite.

Collaboration vendors, such as Slack, Atlassian and Google, have used the freemium product model for years to attract people willing to test the platforms as an alternative to email. In launching its free product, "Microsoft has to learn what other players in the market know -- how to convert the free users to paid users," said Wayne Kurtzman, an analyst at IDC.

Microsoft has to learn what other players in the market know -- how to convert the free users to paid users.
Wayne Kurtzmananalyst, IDC

Microsoft's lure for conversion is its online Office suite, Kurtzman said. "It's a good differentiator that is perceived by users as valuable."

Along with integration to the Office apps, Microsoft is providing organizations with the tools for adding third-party app integrations. Teams also has a store for downloading any of 140 business apps, including Cisco's Webex online meeting software, Evernote, and Trello.

A person using the Microsoft Teams free version can create groups that collectively do not exceed 300 people. Microsoft does not restrict the number of chat messages and offers online audio and video calling. 

A Teams group has up to 10 GB of file storage, plus an additional 2 GB per member for personal storage.

Microsoft Teams free version shows vendor wants to win

With the free Teams product, Microsoft is telling it's largest rivals -- Cisco and Slack -- that the company is in the market "to win it -- or at least significantly disrupt it," Kurtzman said. However, the competitors have advantages. Slack has more than 1,500 third-party app integrations, and Cisco's Webex Teams is a video-centric collaboration platform that works well with Cisco's networking hardware and software.

Microsoft is preparing for battle by simplifying its collaboration portfolio. The company has said it will replace Skype for Business Online with Teams, a move that raised concerns that Teams won't have the same telephony tools. Microsoft has tried to ease customer anxiety by rolling out Teams calling features, such as call delegation and direct routing.

Call delegation lets a user receive someone else's call -- a necessary feature within enterprises. Direct routing enables companies to use their existing telephony infrastructure with Teams. However, accessing that function requires a company to have Teams and Phone System -- formerly called Cloud PBX -- as part of an Office 365 subscription.

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