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Microsoft’s Slack killer has arrived but only as a preview for businesses

On Wednesday, Microsoft finally unveiled its online team collaboration tool that will compete with the popular Slack platform. Simply called Microsoft Teams, this chat client brings team members together in one online hub for communicating in real time no matter where users are located. Unfortunately, it is not generally available yet, as the full rollout will not begin until the first quarter of 2017.

According to Microsoft, the Teams service is currently offered as a preview in 181 countries to commercial customers only who are subscribed to Office 365 Enterprise or Business plans. Visually, Microsoft Teams looks like any other Windows-based app, with the main menu tucked over to the left side donning icons to expand major components. However, like Slack, the main window gathers the available groups in one narrow strip, with the main chat window seated to the right.

Related: Skype Teams emerges as Microsoft’s answer to team-based chat tool Slack

“Team conversations are, by default, visible to the entire team, but there is of course the ability for private discussions. Skype is deeply integrated, so teams can participate in voice and video conferences. And everyone can add personality to their digital workspace with emojis, stickers, GIFs, and custom memes to make it their own,“ said Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for the Office team.

Based on a provided image, the left-hand menu displays tabs that load up the user’s profile, the Activity panel, the Chat panel, the Teams panel, the Messages panel, and the Files panel. For instance, after clicking on Teams, the main window will sport a list of available chat rooms for Marketing, Customer Accounts, Development, and so on, whereas the main chat window displays all the current messages. More tabs can be added to the side menu for quick access to frequently used cloud services and documents.

The chat rooms can be based on anything the company needs to establish, just like Slack. The difference is that Office 365 products such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Planner, Power BI, and Delve are integrated into Microsoft Teams, which could hurt the popular Slack collaboration tool once this solution rolls out to the masses next year.

In addition to integrated support for Skype, Microsoft Teams supports Office 365 Groups, the company’s cross-application membership allowing customers to move from one collaboration tool to another. It is backed by Microsoft Graph, a platform that enables applications to grab digital work/life data from Microsoft’s cloud. According to Microsoft, this aspect helps with “information relevancy, discovery, and sharing.”

“Microsoft Teams also shares the same Connector model as Exchange, providing notifications and updates from third-party services like Twitter or GitHub,” Koenigsbauer added. “Further, we are including full support for the Microsoft Bot Framework to bring intelligent first- and third-party services into your team environment.”

On the security front, Microsoft Teams keeps all data encrypted — while in transit or at rest — so company collaborations and secrets do not fall into the wrong hands. The Microsoft Teams operational model is transparent, meaning the company reveals everything behind the service and does not have a contract to pipe sensitive data to government agencies. It supports compliance standards such as EU Model Clauses, ISO 27001, SOC 2, HIPAA, among others.

With the launch of Microsoft Teams Preview comes the Developer Preview as well. This tool will allow developers to “extend” Microsoft Teams to other applications and services. Already on board are more than 150 partners including Zendesk, Asana, Hootsuite, and Intercom.

Finally, Microsoft Teams is available to commercial customers on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and web-based platforms. The company provides a short FAQ about Microsoft Teams at the bottom and instructions on how to activate Microsoft Teams here. Happy chatting!