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Google delays Hangouts Chat migration until mid-2020

Google won't force businesses to use Hangouts Chat until June 2020 at the earliest. The delay comes after many customers complained the previous timeline was too hasty.

Google delayed plans to force G Suite customers to begin using the team messaging app Hangouts Chat after many businesses objected to the proposed timeline.

Google had planned to begin switching businesses from an older messaging app to Hangouts Chat in October, but the company now says it will compel users to change no sooner than June 2020.

The debacle underscores how difficult it can be for software vendors to convince users to abandon technology they have grown accustomed to, even if a newer app offers more advanced features than the previous version.

The tech giant launched Hangouts Chat in early 2018 in response to the growing popularity of apps like Slack. For Google's business customers, the newer app will replace Classic Hangouts, a messaging service that supports basic one-to-one and group chats.  

Google designed Hangouts Chat to keep pace with a trend towards more robust, team-centered messaging apps that integrate with business workflows. The product is Google's counter to Microsoft Teams, a messaging and meetings app included with Office 365.

Microsoft dominated the traditional business productivity market for decades, but Google has been attempting to steal some of those customers as they move to the cloud.

Google provides Hangouts Chat to businesses subscribed to G Suite, a cloud-based bundle of email, calendar, word-processing and document-storage apps that competes with Office 365. G Suite also includes the video conferencing app Hangouts Meet.

In a blog post, Google said many of its customers had requested more time to prepare users for the switch from Classic Hangouts to Hangouts Chat. Businesses wishing to make the switch today can apply for an invitation to an accelerated transition program.

Google has yet to deliver on some critical features for Hangouts Chat. For examples, users can't chat with external parties or from within Gmail, both of which are possible through Classic Hangouts. Those features, now in beta, are scheduled to launch during the first half of 2020.

Google will continue to support Classic Hangouts for consumers, although the company previously said it would eventually move those users to free versions of Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet. Google has not provided a timeline for that change.

Microsoft has faced similar pushback from customers in its campaign to migrate users from Skype for Business to Teams. Microsoft is giving those using Skype for Business Online, a cloud-based version of the app included with Office 365, until July 2021 to adopt Teams.

Google has taken a slightly different approach to enterprise collaboration than Microsoft. It maintains separate apps for calling, messaging and meetings -- capabilities Microsoft has chosen to combine in Teams.

Google appears to be grappling with how to respond to a trend away from email.

Research shows that adoption of apps like Slack and Teams results in workers sending fewer emails, said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research. Google, however, has invested heavily in Gmail and continues to roll out new AI technologies to improve the service.

"Gmail is still bread and butter for them, but [email is] just not the ideal way to collaborate," Lazar said. At some point, he said, Google may need to commit to making Hangouts Chat its primary interface for enterprise collaboration. "That's a big leap for them to make."

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