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Microsoft confirmed it expects to enable private channels in Microsoft Teams sometime this fall following years of intense customer demand for the feature. Such channels are visible only to the members within them.
Microsoft pledged to support private channels in 2017, and at one point projected the feature to launch in early 2018. But the company never delivered on those promises, despite feedback from many customers that the feature's absence was preventing the adoption of Teams.
"Private channels are one of a few features that I think are necessary for Teams adoption to really take off with our organization," said Phillip Lyle, assistant vice president of enterprise and research infrastructure at Chapman University, which is in the process of switching from Skype for Business to Teams.
Private channels are the most demanded feature on a Teams user feedback website run by Microsoft. A request for the feature has over 22,000 votes, more than double the amount of support for the capability second-most in demand, adding Office 365 group calendars to Teams.
Teams sorts users into teams and provides each of the groups with multiple channels. Right now, all channels within a team are visible to every member. If businesses want a group of users to work on a confidential project, they must create a separate team for them.
Private channels would help businesses streamline how users are organized within Teams. For example, instead of having an "IT Department" team and an "IT Director" team, Chapman University could have one team for the entire department with a private channel for its managers.
Microsoft reaffirmed its commitment to private channels in a keynote address at the Enterprise Connect conference in March, saying the feature would launch sometime in 2019. The company is currently testing private channels with a limited group of beta customers.
Microsoft has blamed the delay on the technical difficulty of engineering private teams. The company needs to make private not only the chats but also the files, which requires tinkering with the integration between Teams and Office 365 apps such as the file storage service SharePoint.
"We can only speculate as to why it's taking so long," said Raúl Castañón-Martinez, analyst at 451 Research. "Regardless, Microsoft needs to make this issue a priority."
On Microsoft's user feedback website, many users said their organizations were considering adopting Slack instead of Teams because of Microsoft's lack of support for private channels. Slack has supported private channels within workspaces (roughly equivalent to a team in Microsoft's app) since 2015.
Microsoft is likely paying close attention to complaints like that as it vies with Slack for leadership of the emerging team collaboration market. Last week, Microsoft announced Teams was used daily by 13 million people -- more than the 10 million who were using Slack as of January.