In a move that’s got some strong late 90s/early 2000s vibes, Microsoft are the subject of a new EU antitrust complaint. Slack have accused Microsoft of:
“illegally [tying] its Teams product into its market-dominant Office productivity suite“
and go on to say that they are:
“force installing it for millions, blocking its removal, and hiding the true cost to enterprise customers“
Slack’s VP of Communications and Policy, Jonathan Prince, says they’re “confident” that they beat Microsoft when it comes to the merits of their product but that they:
“can’t ignore illegal behavior that deprives customers of access to the tools and solutions they want“
Their statement about the complaint makes it clear they see this as a proxy for a larger battle, referring to it as “gateways versus gatekeepers“. It feels a bit like they’re playing on the old trope of “EVIL MICROSOFT” here – implying that Microsoft are not open or innovative and treat their customers unfairly, and in fact saying that “Microsoft is reverting to past behavior“. Let’s take a look if that’s true…
A look at the claims
- Slack describe Teams as a “weak, copycat product” but is that correct? One could argue that Microsoft’s history of products such as:
- Office Communication Server
- Skype for Business
predates Slack by several years and that Teams is a natural progression from those.
2. This is a weird way of “blocking its removal” – https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/uninstall-microsoft-teams-3b159754-3c26-4952-abe7-57d27f5f4c81
ZDNet’s Ed Bott has a great article here that provides some great extra info on Microsoft’s previous antitrust cases, and shows I’m not the only person who thinks this is much ado about nothing too 😄
It’s fair to say that Microsoft Teams has improved massively in the years since it’s launch, particularly in the last 6 months or so – with many additions driven by increased usage due to COVID-19 remote working. The improvements – and the fact that so many of these new users have gone to Microsoft rather than to them – have clearly worried Slack, as their tune has changed significantly since they ran a pretty confident advert in the New York Times almost 4 years ago which said:
“You’re not going to create something people really love by making a big list of Slack’s features and simply checking those boxes.“
“We know that playing nice with others isn’t exactly your MO “
“If you want customers to switch to your product, you’re going to have to match our commitment to their success and take the same amount of delight in their happiness“
They finished their letter to Microsoft by saying:
“So welcome, Microsoft, to the revolution. We’re glad you’re going to be helping us define this new product category. We admire many of your achievements and know you’ll be a worthy competitor. We’re sure you’re going to come up with a couple of new ideas on your own too. And we’ll be right there, ready“
It looks now that they’re not quite as happy to have Microsoft around! Ever since the early days, Microsoft have been very good at coming to a product area behind other organisations but, eventually, becoming the #1 in that area – Windows, Office, and Active Directory are all examples of this and they certainly seem to be on their way to doing the same in this collaboration space…hence Slack’s apparent worries!
As well as the above, many of Slack’s other claims can be taken with, at least, a pinch of salt – the 75 million daily users show that Microsoft are giving customers what they need/want and there’s a dizzying amount of third-party software and tools that you can add into Teams.
All in all, I don’t think there’s much to this but it will be interesting to see how seriously the EU take this complaint and what, if anything, comes of it.