Microsoft: To Slack or not to Slack?

Would a Microsoft-Slack match-up be collaboration heaven or redundant-technology hell?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

There's been a lot of talk over the past year plus as to if, when and whether Microsoft would buy instant-messaging and team-collaboration vendor Slack.


This week, TechCrunch claims that Microsoft actually went so far as to consider paying $8 billion (no, that's not a typo) for the San Francisco-based startup. Allegedly, Microsoft Apps and Services chief Qi Lu was in favor, but CEO Satya Nadella and Founder Bill Gates were not.

In some ways, Slack seems like it could be a good fit into the new Microsoft's product line up. Slack is focused on productivity and communications. It is cross-platform. It's all about teams. And it is big with younger users, especially those in the Valley.

But I can see why Microsoft might have opted to take a pass on Slack, especially at its supposed current asking price.

Slack is building out its collaboration platform to include voice and video chat. Microsoft already has an app for that: Skype/Skype for Business. Microsoft paid $8.5 billion in 2011 to snag Skype, even though its Lync product already did much of what Skype itself provided at that time.

Microsoft also already bought a social-collaboration company, Yammer, back in 2012 for $1.2 billion. It looked like the combination of a social-collaboration brand that was cooler than SharePoint, plus cross-platform support, might have made Yammer seen like a good buy at the time. But in the months since, Microsoft has ended up siphoning off much of Yammer's technology for inclusion in other products and struggling to keep the rest of it alive by refocusing it.

Yes, Microsoft has been hot to grab companies with business apps that dominate the iOS and Android charts. Slack's pricing structure (ranging from free to $12 per user per month, with an even higher-priced enterprise subscription version "coming soon") looks like a perfect fit with Microsoft's business model.

But what would Slack bring to the Microsoft collaboration and communication party beyond its brand -- plus whatever value-add Microsoft is able to get via its recently-announced Skype-Slack integration preview? Skype already has the messaging, calling, authentication and federation and analytics pieces already in place that Slack is working to add to its portfolio. (Skype doesn't always work flawlessly and still needs syncing and federation improvements, but it's already been bought and paid for.) Meanwhile, Yammer's Groups are already built into Office 365.

Redundant technologies weren't enough to prevent Microsoft from buying Yammer or even Skype back when the Softies originally shelled out for both companies. But given Microsoft's current push to Skype all the things, I wonder if there's much room left for Slack.

It's probably also worth mentioning that even though Slack definitely has its fans, not everyone thinks it's an asset. Too much unstructured collaboration does not a productive worker make....

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