Microsoft announced a new chat-based collaboration platform on Wednesday that might give Slack a run for its money.

Currently available in preview for Enterprise and Business customers, the software giant's new collaboration tool dubbed "Microsoft Teams" bundles Office 365 applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It also integrates with third-party programs like Twitter, Outlook, Sharepoint and Yammer. It further allows for thread-style team chats, file sharing and collaborative editing, and video conferencing.

"Empowering teams is more than just solving any logistical challenge of bringing people to the same place," said Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella. "We think about more challenging aspects of team and teamwork. How do you bring coherence around ideas, around codes, actions, and values that drive teams."

This platform may sound familiar--maybe you've heard of a little program called Slack. The San Francisco-based company, which has been producing a very similar product for seven years, tackled its new competition from Microsoft head-on Wednesday morning. Its message wasn't subtle. A full-page letter in the New York Times addressed "Dear Microsoft" reads, "You're not going to create something people really love by making a big list of Slack's features and simply checking those boxes."

This stabs at the heart of why Slack was named Inc.'s company of the year in 2015. Of the company's customer loyalty, Modest CEO Harper Reed told Inc., "It's very, very, very quick for anyone who interacts with Slack to consider Slack, the entity, their friend. That's super weird." Despite Microsoft Teams' similar functionality and powerful name recognition, it has some catching up to do if it wants to win over Slack's loyal fanbase.

Like Slack, Microsoft's chat-based platform allows for one-on-one and group chat channels, to which employees must be added by an Admin user. A channel name in bold font indicates unseen activity, and if a user is tagged in a message they'll see a red badge count next to the channel. And the fun stuff is there too: emojis, stickers, GIFs. But users can create customized memes, and the Giphy integration is searchable, so you won't be surprised by what the command "/giphy rodeo" produces.

But arguably the most important difference, which could put Microsoft Teams ahead of its feisty competition, is its integration with Skype to allow video conferencing. This isn't possible with Slack, and it's the main reason North Carolina-based Hendricks Motorsports, which fields a NASCAR racing team, switched to the Microsoft platform, says Matthew Cochran the company's manager of information technology. His team has been using Skype for years and only adopted Slack for its continuous group chat capabilities. When Microsoft said its new collaboration platform would including Skype capabilities, Cochran was sold.

Though Slack announced in March it would be introducing video chat, it has yet to do so, and it's running out time to get ahead of Microsoft Teams in this arena--the platform will be available to all Microsoft users in early 2017.

Published on: Nov 2, 2016