Here at PC Advisor we've been using Slack for some time to facilitate team conversations in a way traditional email clients just can't manage. Originally thought to have been looking to buy out Slack, Microsoft has instead created a rival product to its group chat app, announced in beta today. We explain what is Microsoft Teams, and the Microsoft Teams UK release date and availability. Also see: Microsoft Teams vs Slack | How to use Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams UK release date: When is Microsoft Teams coming out?

Microsoft Teams is available in 181 countries and 18 languages in beta form from today (2 November 2016). Microsoft expects the general release to take place in Q1 2017.

Microsoft will also be opening its developer preview programme today, with 150 integrations expected at launch totalling 70 connectors and 85 bots.

In order to use Microsoft Teams you must subscribe to the Business or Enterprise editions of Microsoft Office 365, which start from £3.10 per month.

Microsoft Teams Activity

What is Microsoft Teams?

Previously known as Skype Teams, Microsoft Teams is what Microsoft calls a "chat-based workspace" that facilitates real-time collaboration and allows people to come together to have casual conversations and create work plans. Also see: Best free email software

In essence it is a group chat app, which is significantly easier to use than email for managing multiple conversations in a team environment. Microsoft Teams is a cross-platform app (available for desktop and mobile, for Android, iOS and Windows Phone) that integrates Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

Teams is like Slack in a number of ways: it allows conversations to be separated into various channels (topics) and across teams, of which you can be a member of as many as you like. There can be both open group chats and direct messages, and Microsoft Teams supports the use of memes, GIFs, stickers and emoji. 'Connections' allow you to also bring in content from elsewhere, such as Twitter. Also see: How to get Word free on Windows 10

Microsoft Teams Twitter

Microsoft Teams is also secure, with data encrypted at rest and in transit, with multi-factor authentication and compliance leadership with EUMC, HIPAA and more.

Slack builds in the Slackbot helper bot, which Microsoft answers with its T-Bot. But this is just one of multiple bots, and with support for the Microsoft Bot Framework other bots demonstrated at Microsoft's event include Polly, which helps you create polls within a conversation, and WhoBot, which sits on top of the Microsoft graph and can answer questions about people. For example, you could ask WhoBot who is Ben Walters, or who knows about ticket sales, and it will bring up cards with people related to that query and whatever information it has about them.

Microsoft Teams WhoBot

Other ways in which the two group chat apps differ include Skype support. With Microsoft Teams it's really simple to switch from a text chat to a face-to-face conversation, with one or multiple other users.

Microsoft Teams also supports threaded conversations, and makes it easy to flag a message as important, give it a title or target it at a specific person. You can 'like' messages too. Also see: How to use Excel

Microsoft Teams Power Bi

An interesting part of Microsoft Teams is its support for Sharepoint, Power BI, and Planner. With Teams you can share data that perhaps only a few members of the team might previously have been able to access.

Slack's open letter to Microsoft

Slack has this to say to its new competitor:

"Dear Microsoft,

"Wow. Big news! Congratulations on today’s announcements. We’re genuinely excited to have some competition.

"We realised a few years ago that the value of switching to Slack was so obvious and the advantages so overwhelming that every business would be using Slack, or “something just like it,” within the decade. It’s validating to see you’ve come around to the same way of thinking. And even though?- being honest here? - it’s a little scary, we know it will bring a better future forward faster."

Slack continues by giving Microsoft some friendly advice, that "it's not the features that matter", "an open platform is essential", and that "you've got to do this with love".

Slack signs off its letter to Microsoft thus: "Slack is here to stay. We are where work happens for millions of people around the world. You can see Slack at work in nearly every newsroom and every technology company across the country. Slack powers the businesses of architects and filmmakers and construction material manufacturers and lawyers and creative agencies and research labs. It’s the only tool preferred by both late night comedy writers and risk & compliance officers. It is in some of the world’slargest enterprises as well as tens of thousands of businesses on the main streets of towns and cities all over the planet. And we’re just getting started."

Follow Marie Brewis on Twitter.