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Atlassian Stride, First Take: A relaxed approach to collaborative chat

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Announced earlier this year at Atlassian's Summit event, the Stride collaboration tool is now rolling out to customers. Perhaps best thought of as an update to Atlassian's existing HipChat platform, Stride moves into the increasingly crowded team-working market that's dominated by Slack.

Atlassian's growing portfolio of development support tooling offers many places for development teams to collaborate -- managing tasks, writing documentation, and handling code. It's also long had tools for relatively freeform collaboration, allowing ad hoc conversations. That model carries forward into Stride, with its ability to quickly bring together teams inside and outside an organization, with simple email invitations.

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Your first Stride user is automatically an admin. Stride's admin portal lets you control users and groups, as well as manage integration with other apps and services.

Image: Simon Bisson/ZDNet

Like many of Atlassian's tools, Stride is intended for bottom-up adoption. Anyone can set up a free trial account, and the first adopter automatically becomes the service's first admin. Other users can be granted admin rights as needed, allowing you to transition to a paid subscription once Stride has become widely used.

Similarly, you can bring a Stride account to an existing Atlassian 'organization' to take advantage of single sign-on, and to enforce two-factor authentication to keep your conversations secure. If you're using G Suite, you can also link your Stride instance to your G Suite account, importing users and keeping your user directory in sync. Once you've linked the two, any new users added to G Suite will automatically get access to Stride.

Once the initial three-month trial expires, you can choose a free limited version; this still will support unlimited users, but won't allow screen sharing and will only store up to 25,000 messages. A $3 per user subscription adds unlimited storage, as well as integration with an unlimited number of apps and bots. An API allows you to develop your own apps, or link Stride to existing software you use in your development team.

Stride's room-based metaphor makes sense; after all, meetings happen in rooms. Each room can mix team members, allowing you to build rooms that focus on specific tasks or on specific projects. Need to plan an office social event? Set up a room. Need to manage the Kanban board for a development sprint? Set up a room. As Stride takes a freeform approach to collaboration, there's no prescriptive nature to how you use it. There's also the option to start a quick one-to-one chat, using Stride as an enterprise instant messaging tool as well as a collaboration platform.

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Formatting options for text are good, with support for much of the familiar Markdown, as well Stride's own basic formatting tools. As befits a developer-focused tool, it's easy to add formatted code, using either Markdown or Stride's own keyboard shortcuts. There's no syntax highlighting at present, but as Stride will soon allow support for third-party plugins and apps, we hope to see integration with familiar code editing tools.

More informal communication benefits from support for emoji, and while there's no built-in support for GIFs, Atlassian's existing support for plugins like Giphy in HipChat should mean that they'll be available when plug-in support launches. Images uploaded to Stride's file-sharing tools will show in-line, giving you a workaround until you can work with GIF apps.

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You can pick any application window to share in a Stride meeting, or share your entire desktop.

Image: Simon Bisson/ZDNet

As relaxed as Stride is, it's important to be able to extract key decisions and points from a conversation. The familiar @ convention will highlight an individual, and alert them, while special formatting options indicate whether a message is a decision or an action point. Combining @ mentions and actions is a good way to quickly assign tasks -- although again, add-in support should add links to Atlassian's other collaboration tools and third-party platforms.

If you're reaching the limits of text-based collaboration, Stride includes a built-in video chat service, so you can quickly promote a conversation to a face-to-face chat, with screen-sharing for apps and documents. You can share meetings by emailing a link, or open them from a prompt in a Stride desktop or mobile app. Conferencing is very easy to use, sound quality is good, as is image quality, with minimal lag and easy signals to allow someone to ask questions or to make a point.

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App versions of Stride are available for desktops running Windows or macOS, as well as for iOS and Android.

Image: Simon Bisson/ZDNet

You're not limited to using the web. Mobile versions of Stride run on iOS and Android, while there are desktop apps for Windows and macOS. Still, the web is the easiest way to get started, as Stride will run in any modern browser. We tested in both Chrome and Edge, and were able to use all the key features, including video chat tools, with no issues.

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Stride runs well in any modern web browser: we had no issues in either Edge or Chrome.

Image: Simon Bisson/ZDNet

Conclusions

Perhaps it's best to think of tools like Stride as alternatives to the email list. Instead of drowning in a waterfall of messages, Stride gives you a chat history that you can dip into, with highlights that let you quickly jump to key areas of a conversation. There's also the option of switching to a focus mode that sets a status to show what you're working on and which mutes all incoming messages until you switch back. You can also set 'busy' and 'away' status, so colleagues can keep track of whether you're available for a conversation.

It's hard not to compare Stride to tools like Slack or Teams, but Atlassian is clearly trying to do something different here. While Stride brings a more relaxed and casual approach to collaboration, the real promise is in its prospective integration with the rest of Atlassian's portfolio. Where Slack is a standalone tool, Stride feels more like part of a larger whole -- part of the glue bringing all the elements of a modern agile development toolchain together.

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