Microsoft gives 365 a facelift, launches a free version of Teams

Microsoft Corp. dropped a bunch of news ahead of its annual Inspire event in Las Vegas next week, including updates to Office 365 and Microsoft 365, but the most compelling announcement of all might be the launch of a free version of Teams.

The $60 per year fee for Teams – Microsoft’s answer to Slack where users can combine workplace chats, meetings and notes – didn’t resonate well with many smaller businesses and startups, so Microsoft decided to introduce a free version that actually comes with several features, 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 an additional 2 GB per person for personal storage;
  • Integrated, real-time content creation with Office Online apps, including built-in Word and Excel;
  • Unlimited app integrations with 140+ business apps to choose from—including Adobe, Evernote, and Trello;
  • The ability to communicate and collaborate with anyone inside or outside your organization.

During a briefing with reporters this morning, Microsoft acknowledged the fact that SMBs make up more than 95 per cent of businesses globally, and also represent 63 per cent of total employment. Introducing a free version of Teams means they can tap into millions of more devices, and consequently get more users plugged into the Microsoft 365 suite.

“We designed this free version for the needs of small and mid-sized businesses,” said Lori Wright, general manager for Microsoft 365 Teamwork. “The opportunity to help them get their work done is significant.”

The free version of Teams is available in 40 different languages starting today.

Upgrades to Microsoft 365

Microsoft’s long line of subscription services got a facelift as well. Microsoft 365 can now host live events and comes equipped with new AI tools such as facial recognition and speech-to-text conversion. These new capabilities can be used across the rest of the Office 365 lineup, including Yammer, Stream, and Microsoft Teams.

First introduced last year, Microsoft 365 brought together various productivity services from Microsoft including Office 365 and Windows 10, in addition to enhanced security, mainly for enterprise customers.

Teams in Microsoft 365 includes everything in the free version plus additional storage, enterprise security, and compliance for organizations of all sizes.

The company is also rolling out a preview version of a new Workplace Analytics solution, which uses insights from the Microsoft Graph to help teams run efficient meetings and make the balance of life and work less of a chore.

Whiteboard app arrives for Windows 10

Finally, Microsoft is releasing its Whiteboard app – software that lets teams work across multiple boards on shared digital canvas – to Windows 10 users. They also announced that iOS, Android, and web clients will get in on the action in the future, but no specific date has been set.

The app has been in preview for Windows 10 for the past seven months and was created after the Microsoft acquired Intentional Software last year.

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Alex Coop
Former Editorial Director for IT World Canada and its sister publications.

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