Microsoft Teams goes live with new email integration, enterprise bots

Microsoft's Slack competitor is rolling out to Office 365 business users worldwide starting March 14. More features are still to come, including guest access, in late June.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is counting on its decision to make Microsoft Teams an on-by-default Office 365 feature as a way to build the market for its competitor to Slack.

Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft is rolling out Teams, its team-collaboration service, in 181 markets and 19 languages to Office 365 business customers starting today, March 14. There are more than 85 million active Office 365 business customers who will be getting Teams for no additional cost beyond what they already pay for their Office 365 subscriptions. (There's still no word on when Microsoft will make Teams available to Office 365 education users; I asked again last week.)

Microsoft has added 100 new features since Teams entered public preview in November 2016, officials said. The much-requested external guest-access feature is not there yet, but will be coming starting at the end of June 2017, officials said. Public teams support, bots in teams, and a new scheduling assistant were all added to the public preview last week.

Unlike Slack, Microsoft isn't trying to eliminate the need for email with Teams, company execs emphasized. Microsoft is working to simplify moving conversations from email into Teams, and is providing the ability to email a Teams channel with formatting, flags, and attachments all supported. And Microsoft Outlook-Teams integration will continue to get deeper, officials said.

"We see Teams as a chat-based workspace," said Brian MacDonald, the corporate vice president who heads up Microsoft Teams. "There are different types of teams and collaboration, and different types of tools for each."

"Outlook is a hub you live in. Teams is a hub you live in," MacDonald continued. "Unlike Slack, we are not trying to kill email. We're building strong integration between the two."

Yes, there are stickers and emoji in Teams. But Microsoft also is putting the focus on the enterprise with Teams. As of today, there are more than 150 integrations available or coming soon with bots and connectors from companies like Meekan, Growbot, ModuleQ, SAP SuccessFactors, and Trello.

"We're trying to make a bot platform applicable to enterprise IP developers. So far, most bots have been written by small companies," MacDonald said.

Microsoft also is continuing to integrate Teams with its own productivity software and services (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Skype, etc.), its Microsoft Stream business-focused video service, Visual Studio, and more, said MacDonald.

Microsoft wants Teams to be a centralized, organizing entity for the different cloud objects, people, and things that may figure in a collaboration, he said. The Microsoft Graph API platform will be key to these integrations moving forward, he said.

Microsoft is relying on Office 365's security and compliance functionality (eDiscovery and Legal Hold are only for those with Office 365 Enterprise E3 and E5) and will be manageable with Microsoft Intune, officials said.

Teams is available to Office 365 commercial customers with one of the following plans: Business Essentials, Business Premium, and Enterprise E1, E3, and E5. (Microsoft Teams will also be available to customers who purchased E4 prior to its retirement.) There will not be a free, standalone version of Microsoft Teams.

For more resources and links to help administrators and users prepare for Teams, check out this Microsoft Tech Community page.

Microsoft Teams' tricks should make Slack nervous:

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