Microsoft has finally released its freemium version of Teams, its collaboration app which is widely seen as the company’s answer to Slack. The rumor mill has been working overtime about freemium Teams for months and while Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft refused to comment about it officially, there were too many "leaks" for the rumor not to be true. The question was what form it was going to take.

Teams launched in November 2016 and came as part of a business's paid subscription to Office 365. At the time, it was widely believed that this was another tactic to push businesses toward Office 365, but a subscription to Office 365 even for a microenterprise was too pricey, especially given they could use the free version of Slack.

Slack's free version has a lot to offer. It provides users with 10,000 searchable messages, 10 app integrations, 5GB of file storage and one-on-one video chats. There are no guest accounts, but for small companies, this was more than adequate.

Teams as part of an Office 365 subscription was clearly more powerful, but at last count only 200,000 Office 365 customer are using it. The free version is likely to change that. While the free version doesn’t have the muscle of the paid version, it still offers more than Slack for organizations up to 300 people including:

  • Unlimited chat messages and search.
  • Built-in audio and video calling for individuals, groups and full team meetups.
  • 10 GB of team file storage plus additional 2 GB per person for personal storage.
  • Integrated, real-time content creation with Office Online apps, including built-in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote integrations.
  • Unlimited app integrations with over 140 business apps to choose from — including Adobe, Evernote and Trello.
  • Ability to communicate and collaborate with anyone inside or outside your organization.

The release of the freeium version of Teams is going to put real pressure on Slack, whose salient selling point has been cost as well as an alternative to Microsoft environments. However, with Teams, the appeal seems to be too good not to at least consider. It also looks like a good way of pulling non-Microsoft organizations into the fold.

Slack Upgrades Search

Slack is going to have to find something special to counter this new threat from Teams. Over the months the company has continued to upgrade its offering to keep users onboard. The latest offering is the introduction of better in-app search.

One of the big criticisms of Slack since its release has been its relatively poor search, which has often made finding pertinent messages difficult. The new search upgrade announced this week intends to address that by enabling users to search through a large pop-up search bar that appears over the window a user is interacting in. The search bar will provide results based on who you chat with, what channels you’re in, and what the search term is.

According to the Slack blog as you and your teams continue to use Slack to collaborate and share information, you’ll find your search results continue to improve, pulling in the channels, messages and files that matter most to you.

The blog adds there will be more improvements to come which, given Microsoft’s ongoing moves in the collaboration space, will have to be substantial. The Slack search improvements will be introduced over the coming weeks.

Quest Swallow SharePoint Migrator Metalogix

The will-they-won't-they drama around the fate of the Washington, D.C.-based SharePoint migration specialist Metalogix came to an end on June 29 when Quest Software announced it acquired the company. Metalogix is one of the biggest migration application providers in the tech business, and probably the best known in the SharePoint and Office 365 space.

Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based Quest Software is a systems management and security software provider. With the addition of Metalogix, Quest strengthens its Microsoft Platform Management solution portfolio by extending capabilities to support SharePoint, SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business. It also pushes the company a step closer to fulfilling its ambition to become the industry’s top Microsoft workload and infrastructure management provider.

While any acquisition raises questions for existing customers, Quest representatives tried to assure Metalogix customers the company was in safe hands. “Metalogix’s rich set of SharePoint migration and management solutions has made it one of Microsoft’s most valued ISV partners. Adding these solutions to the Quest Microsoft Platform Management portfolio supports Quest’s commitment to offering the most complete set of migration, management and security solutions for Microsoft environments in the industry,” the company stated in the press release. What happens next for Metalogix customers remains to be seen, but with SharePoint 2019 on the way, it seems like a good time to Quest to buy.

G Suite Docs Adds Natural Language Processing

Google G Suite users received some good news with the announcement that Google is injecting natural language processing (NLP) capabilities into its Docs, Sheets and Slides workflows. At the heart of this announcement is the expansion of Quick Access, which it released in 2016. Quick Access is a feature in Google Drive that uses machine learning to surface the most relevant documents for an individual user when that user visits the Google Drive home screen. Originally available only for G Suite customers on Android, Quick Access has been available for anyone who uses Google Drive (on the web, Android and iOS) since 2017.

Learning Opportunities

With the expansion of Quick Access into Google Docs, which consists of Docs, Slides and Sheets, users now see suggestions for relevant files in the right hand “Explore” panel of Docs. The choice of files is based on the users’ Google Drive activity as well as the information within the documents. Users can use this to add related resources to a document you’re working on, discover additional content that’s relevant to projects, and more. With natural language processing users can also make their queries more "natural and intuitive" according to the company.

Quick Access and NLP-enabled search aren’t the first AI enhancements to come to G Suite. In April, the enterprise tool got an improved Gmail experience with machine learning-powered phishing protection, while in February, Google rolled out a Calendar that automatically selects the appropriate conference room for upcoming meetings.

Diane Bryant Leaves Google

One further announcement from Google is worth noting. According to reports in Business Insider, Diane Bryant has left the company. Bryant was recruited last year by Google while on a leave of absence from her position as the head of Intel’s data center group to be Google Cloud’s COO. This was a big deal at the time, but it only lasted seven months. In a statement to Business Insider, a Google spokesperson said: "We can confirm that Diane Bryant is no longer with Google. We are grateful for the contributions she made while at Google and we wish her the best in her next pursuits.”

The statement didn’t shed any light on what Bryant will now be doing, but it is no secret that Intel is currently looking for a CEO and, in general, likes to recruit from its pool of insiders at the company.

Before joining Google in late November 2017, Bryant spent more than 25 years at Intel, most recently leading its data center group. She took what was supposed to be a temporary leave from that role in May due to "family matters," but ended up joining Google instead, under Cloud CEO Diane Greene.

Automation Anywhere Raises $250M

Finally, this week, San Jose, Calif.-based Automation Anywhere, which develops robotic process automation software, announced it raised $250 million in a Series A round of funding which brings the company's valuation to $1.8 billion.

In a statement about the funding, the company said the money would be used to extend Automation Anywhere traction in the rapidly-expanding robotic process automation market and accelerate its global customer engagements and product development in North America, India, Europe, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Singapore (ASEAN), with plans to deploy its technology in additional geographies.

RPA is a fast-evolving technology which uses software robots (bots) to automate business processes that have never been automated by traditional technology platforms. “Customers tell us that traditional process automation technologies are capable of automating only about 20 percent of an enterprise’s business processes. We believe our Intelligent Digital Workforce Platform can automate up to 80 percent of these processes. It’s a stark contrast and an enormous opportunity,” said Mihir Shukla, CEO and co-founder of Automation Anywhere.