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Slack Files EU Competition Complaint Against Microsoft

peter profile image Peter Kim Frank ・1 min read

Per the Slack announcement:

Microsoft has illegally tied its Teams product into its market-dominant Office productivity suite, force installing it for millions, blocking its removal, and hiding the true cost to enterprise customers.

Should be interesting to watch this unfold. What are everyone's thoughts about this news?

Discussion

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Via this Verge article, Microsoft has eclipsed Slack in daily users by a healthy margin, and very quickly.

chart of Teams vs. Slack usage

This has been made possible by their integrated strategy alongside the Office 365 products, and their large Enterprise relationships.

 

Just like how Google+ allegedly overtook or rivaled Facebook in usage based on how they were tallying measurements and how Google+ worked into the other Google products, I'm always skeptical of the apples-to-apples comparisons in these diagrams.

It's really easy for a company like MS to bundle Teams with stuff and then claim so many users while having those users be far less engaged or consistent. Inherently have no idea what "the truth" is, but just like how we don't really know what Netflix means when they're counting their numbers, we're only getting the story as Microsoft wants it to be spun.

 

I think Teams took over new growth with organizations going remote. A lot of larger organizations look an integrated stack versus single off programs. It's more cost effective and already taps into Outlook, which is heavily used in the corporate world.

Yeah that is definitely a component. Teams definitely benefited big time here. Quibi not so much 😂

 

Integrated strategy you say. A couple of months ago at my previous work Teams was suddenly installed and started up when I logged in. I uninstalled it. Next day, it was installed again. Apparently there was also a Team installer installer. Why did I get it in the first place? Because I had Office 365 installed. And no, this was not a company group policy thing.
It is basically the shit Microsoft recently pulled with their new Edge browser.

At my new job we use Teams, and I hate it.

 
 

I don't know. On the one hand, I can see how this might be similar to some of Microsoft's past activity in the "browser wars".

On the other hand, Slack is definitely blowing smoke, in part or in whole, about this being "unfair competition". So Teams is installed as part of Office. I don't know whether it's actually impossible to uninstall it, but I'm not sure that's relevant. Last I checked, installing Teams doesn't ever block or uninstall Slack. That's exactly like saying that because LibreOffice bundles Draw with their office suite, that unfairly competes with Adobe Illustrator. Give me a break, Slack!

If bundling is Sheer Corporate Evil™, every Linux distro on the planet had better duck.

For the record, I don't really use Teams...but I really dislike Slack's interface. Given the choice between them, I'd absolutely use Teams. I have to wonder if Slack is just sore that they're losing on what is already a level playing field, so they're trying to make up excuses for the fact their product is just not as good.

 

The key is in the phrase given the choice between them. When it comes bundled with an ecosystem and is hard/impossible to remove, the user ends up compelled to use it. Why downloading another tool if you already have one installed?

As you correctly pointed out, that's what made IE win the first browser wars: it was already bundled with 95% of the computers, why bother downloading another? It doesn't even need to be good, it just needs to be good enough and hard to avoid.

For that matter, Linux distros usually provide a way for users to select between a couple of alternatives on install. At least that I remember, the Fedora installer lists several browsers, office suites, video players, desktop environments for you to select.

 

Well, the users still have a choice. Back in the days of the browser wars, there was actually far less choice for the user. They would have IE installed already, and while they weren't prevented by Microsoft from installing another browser, there were barriers to actually install one: Internet connection speeds were as slow as a sleeping tortoise. That's what made it effectively an uneven playing field. People weighed the cost of downloading and installing a new browser against the ease of having one already there.

Cut to today, and installing something from the Internet is far easier, and usually takes seconds. The playing field is more even again.

Linux doesn't really have the same issue, as it usually installs more than one browser by default, rather than installing one and forcing you to select a different one via it's distros software center.

Linux doesn't really have the same issue, as it usually installs more than one browser by default, rather than installing one and forcing you to select a different one via it's distros software center.

You must have been using sooooome distro. I've used quite a few, and they always ship with one default.

Every distro I've ever used has several available: Firefox/Iceweasel (depending on distro), Eiphany, Konqueror, Lynx, Elinks, Galeon, and some more. Maybe a few of the lesser used distros only have one browser available, but I've never come across on of those distros.

They might only install a single one from their available repository if you pick a quick standard installation, but they're still always available on the install media and via the standard online repositories, which makes them as easy to install as any other piece of software on Linux.

Sure, of course they have several available. That's not my point. The only thing I'm saying is that there is one preinstalled default browser, which is not really functionally different than Microsoft bundling Teams with Office suite.

Arguably, Office suite bundles Microsoft OneNote, but you've likely never heard complaints that was competing unfairly with Evernote. Plenty of people use Microsoft Word and Evernote, and utterly ignore Microsoft Onenote.

The point I'm making is, "it's preinstalled" is not unfair competition, any more than most Linux distros preinstalling some software is. Nothing prevents installing another option, either in that case or in this one.

Slack's complaint is baseless. They're losing business because some customers are fairly deciding Microsoft Teams is the better product, and they're crying foul rather than either figuring out how to improve their product or focusing on their own unique strengths.

Ok, I maybe don't ever have only one installed by default, because as a web developer and a Linux nerd, I always go for the custom installations and pick the web development group app list.

However, it is very different from MS bundling MSOffice on a machine, as until recently MS had no app store or central software repository, and the one they have now doesn't have a very large offering. Linux on the other hand has has a software center for many years longer, and it's the way to install software (in-fact it's often quite rare for most users to ever need to install software outside of using a software center).

I'm not saying that users are prevented from installing other software, but if it's made more difficult beyond a certain amount of effort, then people won't do it. That's why it's not a like-for-like comparison to say that Windows bundling MSOffice is the same as Linux installing something by default.

I agree that Slack has no case here, but it's because the barrier to install is virtually nothing, given that Slack requires an Internet connection to work, so there's no problem relying on that connection for installation, unlike software which doesn't (or shouldn't) require an Internet connection.

Glad you see my core point. :)

I agree that the Linux situation is not quite the same thing. I'd say it's also dissimilar in another way, a way in which one can't even compare Slack v. Teams to the browser wars of yesteryear...Microsoft Office suite is not automatically installed on most machines! You have to install it from a download or the app store, the exact same medium as how you would install Slack. Microsoft Teams does not ship with Windows 10. It's voluntarily installed, either directly, or as a side-effect of another voluntary installation (Microsoft Office suite).

Anyway, we already agree on the central point of all this: Slack's argument is wholly baseless.

 

When it comes bundled with an ecosystem and is hard/impossible to remove, the user ends up compelled to use it. Why downloading another tool if you already have one installed?

That's on the client-side though. We're talking about something that has to be set up by the organization! It is quite different from the browser wars in this, as the company or project has to select a tool to use, so "installed by default" has little to no bearing whatsoever.

...it was already bundled with 95% of the computers, why bother downloading another? It doesn't even need to be good, it just needs to be good enough and hard to avoid.

You're describing "availability bias", and again, it has little bearing when the project manager mandates the tools, as is the case with virtually all software development teams. And besides that, if we want to talk about availability bias, we need to acknowledge that "Slack" has been the household name for organizational chat for several years, so arguably, the availability bias is going to be in their favor.

For that matter, Linux distros usually provide a way for users to select between a couple of alternatives on install.

Fedora, maybe. Anything Debian-based (most of the market), nope.

 
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Do you have a source on that? Because the two look nothing alike, and C# is not an interpreted-compiled language.

 
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I'm sorry, that doesn't exactly back up your assertions. Microsoft built their own language that was inspired by Java, but they didn't steal Java. You'd have to make some pretty big assumptions to jump to that.

(By the way, I'm definitely among the louder anti-Microsoft voices of yesteryear, so my responses are not out of any sort of good will towards Ballmer's Microsoft.)

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They certainly did, if "stolen" could even be said at that point. By that point, the mouse was getting adopted on a broader scale.

Understand, I'm fully conscious that Gates's Microsoft, and Ballmer's Microsoft, has indeed stolen things. They've committed some major crimes against ethics, and yes, they've broken some laws in the past. But we have to be careful that our accusations are indeed based in truth. Stick to facts...and be sure you actually have said facts.

We also have to recognize that the leadership in a company makes a fundamental difference. Nadella's Microsoft has not replicated the patterns of theft. They've built bridges where it would have been more profitable to burn them. They've made above-board acquisitions instead of under-handed thefts. They've given at least three of the companies they acquired the latitude to make their own autonomous decisions, something Ballmer's Microsoft would have never done. They've put more money, time, and resources into things like open source than they could ever hope to recover from any scam. If they violate the early trust they've won in the open source community, they stand to lose a lot.

Corporations are not strange macroorganisms unto themselves, they are a group of people with a clear chain of command. Microsoft's current C-suite is NOT the same as that under Ballmer or Gates. After everything he has done so far, to judge Satya Nadella's leadership by that of his predecessors is, frankly, unreasonable prejudice.

Suffice it to say, these are NOT the folks who committed the crimes of Microsoft's yesteryears! These are different folks. Would you like your work and character to be assessed primarily through the lens of the previous person who held your job, especially if that person was a rake? I guarantee you wouldn't!

Google provably changed from the good to the bad; that alone demonstrates that corporate character is not "fixed". Conversely, Microsoft has provably changed from the bad to what may be good, but in the least, they are not following the patterns or practices of Ballmer and Gates.

Judge Nadella's Microsoft through the lens of the actions of Nadella's Microsoft. It's just basic human decency.

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Clearly you haven't used Teams, as it is not a clone of Slack. I've used both. They don't even look alike.

Similarly, C# is a riff on C++ if anything, but has little resemblance to Java in either syntax or implementation, save their common heritage as C-style ALGOL descendants. Learn the difference between competing products and clones. Learn the difference between stealing and re-implementing features.

You don't have to trust them, but you NEED to stop misrepresenting their actions. As it stands, the way you're approaching this is destroying any credibility present opponents of Microsoft have; if you have to distort and falsify data to make your point, your point is invalid. Rely on verifiable facts, or else don't get involved in the debate.

 

I wonder if Slack regrets their snarky ad they took out in the Times now after Microsoft announced Teams. It's crazy how quickly they got Teams to a competitive state and just how much more feature rich it already is than Slack. As someone who used Slack exclusively for almost 3 years and now have been using Teams for the past 5 months, I can definitely say that I prefer Teams for work. It's integrations are so much better plus it's like always having Slack merged with Zoom - Slack dreams of being able to host meetings as nicely lol. I do miss some of the fun stuff that Slack did easier and Teams can get pretty weighty pretty quick, but still, I'm getting to the point where it's my sole means of communication and daily work coordination.

 

Considering Microsoft has a history with competition law cases in the EU, this one has good chance to become a case as well, as the EU takes this very serious, which may as well result in the EU ordering Microsoft to at least ship an alternative Teamless version of Office for the European Market.

 

But if we go down that route, one would legally have to argue they should unbundle the entire Office suite altogether. After all, bundling Excel might "unfairly compete" with FreeOffice, or OneNote might "unfairly compete" with Evernote, or Outlook might "unfairly complete" with Thunderbird.

But then, none of those entities have ever complained of unfair competition, because merely bundling software in a voluntarily installed suite (as opposed to an operating system) has literally never equated to unfair competition. I suspect that will be taken into account.

In the worst case, maybe Microsoft should put back the "Advanced installation" method they've always had in prior versions. But I'd say that's as much as could be legally or rationally expected of them here.

 

I first noticed this when I switched a client to Office365 for desktop office installations. I tried to uninstall Teams after a few installs, thinking I messed up the auto-deployment script but it came back every time. Since then I wondered what issues this would cause with this same scenario (resembling their Windows Media Player issues in the EU from about a decade ago).

Now, I like what I have seen from Teams. About 3 or 4 clients my company works with have switched to Teams for their office communication. The integrations are spot on and work great if you are full on Office365 tenet (there are a good bit of issues with integration if you leave Sharepoint or Exchange on-premise), but that does not mean this practice isn't a bit overbearing. It is annoying for me on my home computer, since I have Office365 enterprise license installed, so it force installed Teams. I can definitely see this complaint going in Slacks favor, but I do not think there will be a large market repercussion from it.

 

My company standardized on Slack a few years ago. I've had a love/hate relationship with it, especially in light of it really just being an IRC clone (it reminded me a lot of Gnome IRC that I used to use back in the early 2000s).

Until the pandemic hit I had never seen Teams. Then some of my kids' teachers started using it. It looks pretty organized, but it was hard to find some things (a little too much organization). But, in many ways, it looks more powerful than Slack, especially with the video conferencing. That's an area where I really despise Slack. The video streams on Slack get blurry under a light load and I've started experiencing freezes more frequently. Heck, WebEx (our company's choice of conferencing) does a significantly better job.

 
 

am not sure if that qualifies as same story - apple dictates how spotify users can subscribe within spotify app & takes a 30% cut - this gradually reduces over years but still there is a fee to operate in apple's ecosystem while also competing against apple's own music service.

In this case slack was the market leader before Microsoft came along with their offering. Microsoft don't stop customers from using slack just makes it sweeter for O365 customers.

And this is again different from the browser wars

 

What's wrong with this ? Its same like Google, One Account All of Google.
Also Microsoft Teams best suits with office 365, And its used in offices around the world ?