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Microsoft Connectors adds business content to Office Groups

The Microsoft Connectors feature in Office 365's Groups has been expanded, with more than 50 third-party partnerships, months after the feature's release last November.

Microsoft has introduced software that siphons information from third-party online services and funnels it into Office 365 Groups. The feature copies similar capabilities in competing team collaboration tools, such as Slack.

Microsoft launched Connectors this month at the company's Build Developer Conference in San Francisco. Microsoft Connectors grabs information from sites frequently used by businesspeople.

Microsoft Connectors removes a reason for team members to leave Groups by dropping third-party information into a shared inbox. More than 50 companies have agreed to open their services to Microsoft Connectors, including Twitter, Trello, Wunderlist, GitHub, Salesforce and Zendesk.

Microsoft Connectors is similar to what's in products from competitors, such as Slack, Unify, Redbooth and Avaya. Microsoft has been testing Connectors since November. The feature is available only in Groups, which requires an Office 365 subscription.

Over the last few years, team communication tools have grown in popularity, with Slack gaining the most notoriety, said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research in Mokena, Ill. "[Microsoft is] trying to move to a more Slack-like user interface that melds presence, chat, real-time apps with easy access to documents and other applications."

Despite their similarities, Slack and Groups have major differences. While the former uses instant messaging for communications, the latter relies mostly on email.

Slack is popular with individual corporate groups, but it is seldom used companywide. To make the software more attractive to businesses, Slack launched an $80 million fund to entice third-party developers to build software for its platform of 2 million daily users.

Slack's momentum has caused other vendors to take notice. Last month at the Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando, Fla., Cisco announced a $150 million fund to lure developers to its team communications service, Spark.

In general, developers choose platforms based on the size of the return from their work, said Alan Lepofsky, an analyst with Constellation Research Inc. Microsoft's strength is in its global customer base and well-known brand.

"The Microsoft advantage is the 1.25 billion users of Office," Leposfky said.

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