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.
Microsoft 365 comes in two editions. The Enterprise version combines Office 365 Enterprise with Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility + Security suite and Windows 10 Enterprise. The Business version, which entered general availability last October, bundles the Business Premium edition of Office 365 with specially-developed endpoint protection, mobile device management, and system administration tools. It’s tailored to organizations with up to 300 users.
According to Nadella, the system has sold well in its first year. “We’ve now seen it scale to over 200,000 organizations in 180 plus countries in 40 languages, so it’s great momentum,” he said in recorded comments.
Wright described Microsoft 365 as an especially relevant offering for smaller organizations. “SMBs represent 95 percent of the world’s companies and account for 63 percent of total employment,” she said. “The opportunity to help them get their work done is significant.”
Microsoft Inspire takes place next Sunday through Thursday. This year, for the first time, Microsoft has rolled that show together with a historically separate in-house sales and marketing meeting that it holds every July. The goal is to drive home the central role that partners, who generate 95 percent of Microsoft’s commercial revenue, play in the company’s go-to-market endeavors.
Because the internal sales and marketing meeting has always been off-limits for reporters, however, the media has been banned from attending this year’s Inspire show. ChannelPro will be reporting from just outside the show in Las Vegas next week anyway. Please visit this website regularly for updates throughout the week.