Microsoft introduces a free version of Teams, going head-to-head with Slack

Microsoft is making available starting today a preview version of its Teams group-chat service that is free and doesn't require a subscription to Office 365, plus other new collaboration tools.

Video: Microsoft drops Teams, Yammer, Skype for Business from Windows Phone

Beginning today, July 12, Microsoft is offering a free, preview version of its Teams group-chat platform, providing Redmond with an entry-level tier that can compete with the free version long offered by its rival Slack.

Read also: Here's how you can still get a free Windows 10 upgrade

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Credit: Microsoft

The free version of Teams -- rumored to be coming since earlier this year -- doesn't require users to subscribe to a business version of Office 365, unlike the current version of Teams. The free version also doesn't require a Microsoft email account to sign up; any email address works.

The free version is available immediately in 40 languages at Office.com/TeamsFree.

This version, which is for small/mid-size businesses and limited to use by groups of 300 people, includes unlimited chat messages and search; audio and video calling for individuals groups and teams; 10 GB of team file storage, plus an additional 2 GB per person for personal storage; guest access; integration with Office Online (web) apps; and more.

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What's not included in the free version of Microsoft Teams, but is part of the paid version? Scheduled meetings, meeting recording with Microsoft Stream, phone calls and audio conferencing, enforced multi-factor authentication, admin tools for managing users and apps, searchable transcription and timecoding and more. I think it's fair to say the free version is definitely meant to work like a freemium service and entice users to upgrade to the paid version of Teams.

In other Microsoft collaboration news, the company also is adding to Microsoft 365/Office 365 a new way to create live and on-demand events using Microsoft Stream, its business video service, plus information provided by the Microsoft Graph API.

Microsoft is touting these "Live Events"capabilities as AI-powered. They include:

  • A speaker timeline using facial detection to identify who is talking, enabling users to jump to a particular speaker in an event
  • Speech-to-text transcription, timecoding and transcript search
  • Closed captioning

Events using these capabilities can make use of webcams, screen sharing or streaming at levels of "studio-quality" production. The public preview of Live Events will be available to those using the paid version of Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Microsoft Stream over the next month.

Microsoft showed off in a concept demonstration at its Build 2018 conference earlier this year some of the capabilities that will be part of Live Events (though officials didn't explain at that time how these capabilities meant to improve and modernize meetings would come to fruition).

Microsoft also is announcing officially today that its Microsoft Whiteboard app is now generally available for Windows 10. Microsoft officials said the app will be "coming soon" to iOS and be available soon as a preview on the web. ("An Office 365 commercial account is required for the iOS and web experience at this time," according to Microsoft.)

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The Whiteboard app lets people collaborate simultaenously using pen, touch and keyboard.On Windows 10, starting July 12, the app will be available for download from the Windows Store on any Windows 10 or Windows 10S device, via theApp Store on any iOS device, and via the web at https://whiteboard.microsoft.com. Users can sign in with a free Microsoft Account.

The company also is adding some new capabilities to Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics insights offerings that are meant to help users and companies change patterns and habits in the name of making collaboration more productive.