IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Microsoft Introduces Free Version of Teams, Enhancements to Microsoft 365 Suite

Announced on the eve of the vendor’s annual partner conference, the new and updated products give SMBs new options for experimenting with Microsoft’s answer to Slack, running online events, and more. By Rich Freeman

Microsoft has introduced a free version of the Microsoft Teams collaboration solution and enhancements to the Microsoft 365 productivity suite that it unveiled last July, adding new online event capabilities and new workplace analytics tools.

The announcements come on the eve of Microsoft’s Inspire partner event, which takes place next week in Las Vegas.

Microsoft Teams, which entered general availability in March 2017, is Microsoft’s answer to Slack, the popular command line driven collaboration tool. Currently an integrated component of some Office 365 plans, Teams is now available at no cost to customers with or without an Office 365 email address.

The new initiative is specifically designed to motivate companies at the low end of the SMB spectrum with limited budgets to give Teams a try.

“That means any business whether it’s a startup or a small business [or] a non-profit now can get started,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella this morning in pre-recorded remarks.

The no-cost version of Teams, Microsoft emphasizes, offers unlimited chat messages and searches. The free edition of Slack, by comparison, limits users to 10,000 searchable messages a day. Similarly, according to Microsoft, the new Teams release includes support for small group and full team audio and video meetings, while Slack allows one-to-one meetings only.

Other features in the free edition of Teams include 10 GB of team storage and 2 GB of personal storage for users, and built-in access to the online versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The system is available in 40 languages globally.

Also unveiled today are new capabilities designed to help Microsoft 365 users conduct live and recorded online events. Powered by artificial intelligence, the functionality includes automated closed captioning and automated speech-to-text transcription services with support for timecoding and searching. Facial detection technology capable of identifying speakers lets attendees jump ahead in an on-demand event to a specific presenter’s content.

Microsoft announced today as well that its Microsoft Whiteboard meeting room collaboration solution has entered general availability for Windows 10. A “shared digital canvas” that supports pen, touch, and keyboard input, the system lets users create tables, find and insert images from the web, create freeform drawings, and more. A version of the solution for Apple’s iOS operating system will be available soon.

A new Workplace Analytics addition to Microsoft 365, also introduced today, draws on data from the Microsoft Graph to study productivity-related statistics about how much time employees are spending in meetings, whether that figure is trending up or down, how much multitasking workers are doing in meetings, and more.

Businesses can draw on those workplace applications in conjunction with another new addition to Microsoft 365 called “nudges” that automatically proposes “habit-changing tips” aimed at increasing employee output and satisfaction. Suggestions could include sending fewer after-hours emails or scheduling more time for solo activities requiring focused concentration.

“Bad habits can make or break a team, but when people run efficient meetings and create time for focused work teams truly thrive,” said Lori Wright, general manager for Microsoft 365 Teamwork, in a virtual press briefing today.

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