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Slack Bashes Microsoft in Antitrust Claim, Calls Teams a 'Weak, Copycat Product'

But some are questioning the timing of the claim, calling it a "publicity stunt."

Jeffrey Schwartz

July 22, 2020

4 Min Read
Antitrust Law
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Microsoft shrugged off an antitrust claim filed by Slack with European regulators alleging that bundling Teams with Office is illegal.

Slack revealed Wednesday that it filed the claim with the European Commission, charging that Microsoft is violating European Union (EU) laws. Also, Slack is reportedly talking to U.S. authorities about Teams.

The antitrust claim was unexpected, considering Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield recently said he doesn’t see Microsoft Teams as a competitor.

According to Slack, Microsoft is using its market dominance with Office by blocking the removal of Teams from the suite. The fact that customers are unable to uninstall Teams from their systems is anticompetitive, Slack said in its antitrust claim; however, modern versions of Office don’t let customers remove any components of the suite.

Nevertheless, Slack is asking the EU to intervene.

“Slack threatens Microsoft’s hold on business email, the cornerstone of Office, which means Slack threatens Microsoft’s lock on enterprise software,” according to Jonathan Prince, Slack’s VP of communications and policy.

David Schellhase, Slack’s general counsel, accused Microsoft of reverting to its 1990s-era practice of bundling Internet Explorer into Windows. Microsoft’s insistence on tying its browsers to Windows resulted in the infamous antitrust suits by EU and U.S. regulators.

Slack Calls Microsoft Teams a “Copycat Product’

“Microsoft is reverting to past behavior,” Schellhase said. “They created a weak, copycat product and tied it to their dominant Office product, force installing it and blocking its removal, a carbon copy of their illegal behavior during the ‘browser wars.’”

Microsoft refuted the notion that Teams is a copycat product — in responding to Slack’s claims.

“We created Teams to combine the ability to collaborate with the ability to connect via video, because that’s what people want,” according to the statement. “With COVID-19, the market has embraced Teams in record numbers while Slack suffered from its absence of video conferencing. We’re committed to offering customers not only the best of new innovation, but a wide variety of choice in how they purchase and use the product.”

CollabTalk principal Christian Buckley, a Microsoft MVP and collaboration consultant who works with partners, doesn’t agree with Slack’s statements.

Buckley-Christian_CollabTalk.jpg

CollabTalk’s Christian Buckley

“There are multiple SKUs available for the Office productivity suite, some of which do not include Teams,” Buckley said. “But even where Teams is included, the administrator has the option to restrict/turn off the installation of Teams. As part of any large-scale, enterprise deployment, which can be assumed as the primary focus of their complaint, you can customize the provisioning process and exclude Teams.”

Moreover, Buckley noted there is nothing to stop any customer from using both Microsoft Office and a third-party messaging platform.

“Almost all of my clients are ISVs within the Microsoft ecosystem, some of whom have products that compete directly against other Microsoft workloads, and yet they thrive,” Buckley added.

Kevin Keiller, co-founder and lead strategist with EnableUC, which offers Microsoft collaboration consulting and integration services, agreed.

“Microsoft has a long history as a platform company. And it continues to open up Microsoft Teams to third-party developer access,” Keiller said.

Moreover, Keiller said Teams has emerged as a core component of the Office 365 platform.

“Microsoft Teams is a hub designed to tie together the disparate Office 365 workload and capabilities to better provide a complete business solution,” he said. “Trying to divorce Teams from other Office 365 workloads would be like trying to remove the foundation and first floor of a house and expecting the second floor to be able to exist in isolation.”

Timing of Complaint Questioned

Observers questioned the timing of Slack’s antitrust claim.

Slack revealed the complaint during the second day of Microsoft’s Inspire event, its annual partner conference, held virtually this year.

“My personal feeling is that this is a publicity stunt, not a valid antitrust concern,” Buckley said. “The timing of the filing during Microsoft’s annual Inspire conference, with Microsoft sharing very successful Teams and M365 adoption numbers, and a healthy stock price, makes this even more suspect.”

The Slack complaint also hit as Microsoft released its quarterly earnings report. Microsoft revenues of $38 billion beat analyst expectations of $36.5 billion. Commercial bookings increased 12%, and Azure revenues were up 47%.

No one brought up Slack’s antitrust claim during Wednesday’s earnings call.

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About the Author(s)

Jeffrey Schwartz

Jeffrey Schwartz has covered the IT industry for nearly three decades, most recently as editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner. Prior to that, he held various editing and writing roles at CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek and VARBusiness (now CRN) magazines, among other publications.

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