Despite a varied portfolio of collaboration services, Microsoft is still struggling to field a strong competitor to enterprise group messaging apps like Slack and HipChat.
It has SharePoint, Skype for Business and Yammer, but none of them is really a direct competitor to the slickly designed, GIF-stuffed and bot-laden crop of modern messaging applications.
That may be about to change, according to a report from MSPoweruser on Tuesday.
Microsoft is supposed to be working on Skype Teams, a new service with group chat capabilities that's a more direct competitor to Slack. The service, currently being tested internally at Microsoft, is supposed to let users chat both privately and in groups. It has a number of features now found in Skype, including video and voice calling.
According to the report, Skype Teams also lets users have threaded conversations in a chat, a sought-after feature that Slack is working on but hasn't launched. The service also includes a "Fun Picker," which makes it easy for users to insert memes, GIFs from Giphy, and other visual accents.
It's in line with Microsoft's overall vision of creating products and services that help people be more productive. The company already has several products that do similar things. Skype for Business (previously known as Lync) is the company's offering for enterprise telephony, videoconferencing and instant messaging, including group chat. Yammer, which Microsoft acquired in 2012, also offers instant messaging, along with a Facebook-style news feed for sharing information.
Then there's SharePoint, which lets teams operate sites where they can post blogs, collaborate on documents and do a whole host of other things. While all these address some component of what Skype Teams is trying to do, none of them compete directly with the hot products in this space.
One of the advantages that Microsoft would have in building Skype Teams is that the company already has the infrastructure to build videoconferencing into the app. HipChat just added videoconferencing to its desktop, and Slack is still building it.
According to the report, Microsoft is also planning to bundle Skype Teams with Office 365. That could be another advantage to Skype Teams, since companies that already pay for Microsoft's productivity suite as a service might also get the chat app at no additional charge. If those organizations want to use Slack, they have to pay for two things. Slack costs $8 per user, per month for its cheapest paid plan.
It's not clear when Microsoft plans to roll out the service, though it might make an appearance at Microsoft's Ignite conference at the end of this month. Ignite is aimed at operations professionals and served last year as the launchpad for GigJam, a Microsoft productivity service that's supposed to make it easier for people to quickly work together on a specific task.
The news comes half a year after a TechCrunch report claiming that Qi Lu, the executive vice president of applications and services at Microsoft, contemplated bidding as much as $8 billion to buy Slack. That plan was shot down, according to TechCrunch's anonymous source, by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and company CEO Satya Nadella.
Gates favored building more features into Skype to compete with Slack, according to that report.