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New Slack shared channels, Microsoft Teams adds guest access

New Slack shared channels and Microsoft Teams' guest access features, introduced this week, provide collaboration tools for workers in different companies.

Microsoft and Slack have made it easier to use their respective team messaging apps for collaborating with people outside of an organization. The new Slack shared channels and Microsoft Teams' guest access features, introduced this week, are part of a trend toward accommodating multi-company work in collaboration applications.

Slack launched the open beta of its Slack shared channels at its Frontiers user conference in San Francisco. Microsoft, meanwhile, rolled out guest access for Teams to Office 365 commercial and education customers.

The Microsoft and Slack announcements came a month after Cisco said it was moving toward "universal federation" for its messaging application, Spark. The feature lets Spark users in different companies participate in the same workspace or to make audio or video calls to each other within the cloud-based software.

Moving to widespread collaboration

The three rivals are making an important step toward borderless collaboration, but more work has to be done before their applications become as universal as email, which is sent and received from any vendor's software.

"I'd still like to see a framework for federation between services -- a Spark and Slack user being able to work in the same channel, for example," said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill. "But absent that, this is a good step toward enabling cross-company collaboration."

For now, cross-vendor collaboration will require a federation app that connects the different services. Examples include Sameroom, which provides team messaging interoperability, and Cloudpipes, which links cloud-based workflow automation applications. UC vendor 8x8 acquired Sameroom in March.

While using an intermediary between collaboration services is better than nothing, "I'd like to see native federation provided by the team app vendors themselves," Lazar said.

Using Slack shared channels

Slack shared channels, which are marked to avoid confusion with internal-only workspaces, lets all participants post messages, upload files and use voice and video calling features. A channel is Slack's name for an online meeting room.

Slack shared channels work with third-party apps that are available on the Slack platform. Examples include Paper, a document collaboration app from cloud storage provider Dropbox, and video conferencing from Zoom.

Only administrators can set up shared channels, which have to be public. Slack promises to provide the option of private shared channels later. The company did not say when it would make that feature available or how long the beta program would last. Only paid subscribers of Slack's standard and premium plans get access to the new service.

Also at Frontiers, Slack launched French, German and Spanish versions of the messaging service. Fifty-five percent of Slack's 6 million daily users are from outside the U.S., according to the company. Slack has 2 million paid users.

Microsoft Teams, on the other hand, is available at no additional charge to the company's 100 million Office 365 users. Microsoft said 125,000 organizations are using Teams.

Microsoft Teams' guest access

The new Microsoft Teams' guest access feature lets administrators add to Teams anyone listed in an Active Directory account in Microsoft's Azure cloud. Administrators can also revoke access.

Active Directory is Microsoft's system for automating network management of user data, security and services. In the future, Microsoft will make it possible for administrators to add to Teams anyone who subscribes to one of Microsoft's online accounts.

In time, Teams could become the user interface for Skype for Business. A Sept. 7 notification sent to Office 365 users said the company would eventually "upgrade" Skype for Business to Teams, according to the Petri IT Knowledgebase site. Microsoft removed the notification shortly after posting it.

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