Microsoft is making its Teams collaboration tool free to use starting Thursday. Alongside this, Microsoft announced a number of things, including its Whiteboard collaboration tool, new Workplace Analytics features and more.
These announcements come ahead of Microsoft Inspire and Ready, its educational conferences for partners and employees, which start next week in Las Vegas. For the first time, the conferences will be held simultaneously.
Teams launched last year to take on Slack — its main competitor in the team collaboration space — with integration to Microsoft services. Unlike Slack, Teams features easy integration with apps like Word, Excel and PowerPoint, among other Microsoft apps.
Initially the Redmond-based company bundled Teams into Microsoft 365, its all-encompassing subscription package. Microsoft 365 bundled Office 365, Windows 10 and Enterprise Mobility and Security. Alternatively, users could get Teams on its own, for a hefty price. Now, the company is spinning Teams out as its own free service.
Free Teams in 40 languages
The free version of Teams will be globally available in 40 languages for teams of up to 300 people. Additionally, Teams has built in video and audio calling for individuals, groups and whole team meetings. Teams offers 10 GB of free file storage for your whole team along with 2 GB of free storage for each individual team member.
Teams features real-time integrated content creation with Office Online apps as well, meaning you can work without leaving Teams.
Along with the integration to Office, Teams has unlimited app integration with more than 140 third party apps like Trello, Adobe and upcoming acquisition Github. Whether you’re a freelancer, small business owner or part of a team inside a larger organization, you can start using Teams free. Simply go to the Teams website and login with your email to start.
Microsoft also announced some new features coming to Teams. The first is inline translation which allows users to easily translate messages from one of the 40 available languages. This makes it easier for global teams to communicate and collaborate. Additionally, Teams will have automatic background blur in video calls to help minimize distractions when you’re communicating with coworkers. This feature will be available soon.
If the free version isn’t enough, the paid version gets extra storage starting at 1 TB per user, along with file collaboration in the desktop Office apps. Teams will also have meeting scheduling and intelligent video capabilities — more on that below — and extra first and third party app integration. Finally, paid Teams will have advanced IT controls and Enterprise-level security.
Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics
Workplace Analytics can be best described as a tool to help organizations use time more efficiently. Microsoft introduced the tool last year and continues to improve it with AI features, as well as a new ‘nudges’ feature. Workplace Analytics can use AI to suggest ways to improve collaboration, such as pointing out which groups work well together, whether meetings are using time efficiently and more.
While some might balk at the tool as a way for employers to track their workers, it’s important to note this is a macro tool.
“Workplace Analytics isn’t a solution to have the boss spy on you,” said Ron Markezich, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365 marketing. “It anonymizes information and lets you see how organizations work together.”
A big part of Workplace Analytics is MyAnalytics, an offshoot to help individuals develop good workplace habits.
MyAnalytics is built into applications using a feature called nudges, which pops up with helpful advice. For example, nudges surfaces tips in Outlook to help you collaborate more effectively. For example, it might notify you that your coworkers respond to your emails outside of work hours. The nudge may suggest clarifying the urgency of the email you’re sending.
Another example is setting up meetings. If MyAnalytics notices you’ve scheduled a number of meetings in a week, it may suggest you schedule time for focusing on work. Nudges will even suggest available times you can schedule for work.
Whiteboard and live events
Whiteboard is now generally available for Windows 10 and is coming soon for iOS and the web. In the future, Whiteboard integration will come to Teams as well.
Whiteboard is essentially the digital reincarnation of a physical whiteboard. Users can interact with Whiteboard using pen, touch and keyboard to jot notes quickly and collaborate easily.
Unlike physical whiteboards, Microsoft’s digital incarnation works remotely across multiple devices. Teams from all over the world can collaborate through Whiteboard sessions with ease. Whiteboard will be available for free here.
Along with the digital canvas, Microsoft is working to make meetings a breeze with intelligent live events in Microsoft 365. Anyone can create a live event in Microsoft 365. Its easy to pull in video, content like PowerPoint slides and more.
Most importantly, live events are easy to watch, too. You can watch events in real-time or on-demand. For on-demand viewers, AI makes it easy to catch up on what you missed. AI automatically transcribes events for easy closed captioning. Users can search the automatic transcription and easily find information from the event relevant to them.
Furthermore, AI will automatically recognize faces in the video. Users can jump to points where that person is speaking, making it easy for users to follow specific speakers.
Many of these features are included or are coming to Teams soon and will roll out to Microsoft’s Yammer platform in the coming weeks.
Microsoft also announced a number of things related to its Azure and Power BI platforms.
Azure is getting Expert Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to help companies discover capable for cloud projects. Additionally, Azure’s SQL Data Warehouse has set a new performance benchmark. Data Warehouse is able to deliver two times faster performance than before.
Thanks to this advanced performance, Microsoft’s business analytics platform Power BI is getting new capabilities such as improved self-service prep for vast data amounts.
It’s clear, after these updates, that the cloud and collaboration are at the pinnacle of Microsoft going forward. The company is doing some really cool things with its collaboration software and its hardware as well.
Microsoft also recently released some new hardware, including an addition to its Surface line.
Correction 07/12/2018: Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics were introduced in 2017, however the AI and nudges features were added Thursday. The article was updated to reflect this.