Today’s Cache dissects big themes at the intersection of technology, business and policy. Written by John Xavier, tech news lead at The Hindu
Slack needs help from regulators to rein in Microsoft
Who doesn’t hate emails? It’s one of those activities that nibbles away time and robs productivity. People wanted something more efficient and effective to replace emails, but they weren’t sure what that would be. That’s how Slack entered workplaces eight years ago.
The founders of Flickr, a web-based photo sharing service, decided to kill office email with an application that businesses could use on a daily basis. They developed the Searchable Log for All Conversations and Knowledge (Slack). Within 24 hours, nearly 8,000 companies signed up.
The office-email alternative quickly took off among developers at tech firms after co-founder Stewart Butterfield made it publicly available in 2014. Microsoft suddenly had a competitor to its email service Outlook. The Windows-maker’s Office suite has been an important service to its enterprise users. And that pool was slowing shifting to an alternative way of business communication.
Microsoft knew that Slack was a threat that it has to handle this competitor effectively. So, the software-maker even considered buying Butterfield’s company, according to some reports. But later, in 2016, the Redmond-based company decided to build a service that would rival Slack.
Instead of tinkering with Outlook, it launched a beta version of Teams, a web- and app-based business collaboration tool, for enterprise users. While it wasn’t an instant success, the pandemic helped Microsoft push the adoption and use of its Slack plus Zoom like service. People increasingly started to use the software giant’s tool for office meetings and collaboration.
European Union flags.
That’s when Slack filed a complaint last July to the EU competition watchdog alleging that Microsoft abused it dominant market position. The email killer alleged that the software-maker bundled Teams along with its widely used Office productivity suite. It also noted that the Windows-makers forces businesses to install Teams, blocks the app’s removal, and makes certain types of interoperability impossible. Microsoft said that it provides its clients a variety of choices and is even open to providing additional information to the European Commission.
Now, more than a year later, EU’s antitrust regulators are following up on Slack’s complaint, according to a report by Reuters.
In the questionnaire from the commission, seen by the news agency, Microsoft’s Rivals were asked for a list of customers who have switched to Teams or its bundled Office, the percentage of revenue they had lost as a result, as well as the impact of the integrated products on their investments in innovation and the quality and price of their products.
Based on responses from the survey, the commission will take up the case against Microsoft, which has been handed $2.6 billion in EU fines for cases involving so-called tying and other practices in previous decade.
After filing the complaint last July, Slack’s head of communication and policy Jonathan Prince said “This is much bigger than Slack versus Microsoft – this is a proxy for two very different philosophies for the future of digital ecosystems, gateways versus gatekeepers.”
The antitrust watchdog will weigh the two different philosophies to rule in favour of the one that puts free markets and competition at the centre.
(This column was emailed on October 11.)
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