Featured Article – Microsoft Teams User Numbers Up By 12 Million In A Week

Microsoft’s collaborative working platform ‘Teams’ is reported to have seen a massive 12 million user boost in one week as a result of remote-working through the coronavirus outbreak, and through Microsoft making the platform generally available through Office 365 from March 14.

What Is Teams?

Teams, announced in November 2016 and launched by Microsoft in 2017, is a platform designed to help collaborative working and combines features such as workplace chat, meetings, notes, and attachments. Described by Microsoft as a “complete chat and online meetings solution”, it normally integrates with the company’s Office 365 subscription office productivity suite. In July 2018, Microsoft introduced a free, basic features version of Teams which did not require an Office 365 account, in order to increase user numbers and tempt users away from competitor ‘Slack’.

Microsoft Teams is also the replacement for Skype for Business Online, the support for which will end on 31 July 2021, and all-new Microsoft 365 customers have been getting Microsoft Teams by default from 1 September 2019.

March 14

Microsoft Corp. announced on March 14 that Microsoft Teams would be generally available in Office 365 for business customers in 181 markets and 19 languages.

Increased To 44 Million Users

The move to make Teams generally available to businesses with Office 365, coupled with a mass move to remote working as a result of COVID-19 has resulted in 12 million new users joining the platform in a week, bringing users up from 32 million on 11 March to 44 million users a week later.  The number is likely to have increased significantly again since 18 March.

What Does Teams Offer?

Microsoft Teams offers threaded chat capabilities which Microsoft describes as “a modern conversations experience”, and built-in Office 365 apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, SharePoint and Power BI.  Also, Teams offers users ad-hoc (and scheduled) voice and video meetings and has security and compliance capabilities built-in as it supports global standards, including SOC 1, SOC 2, EU Model Clauses, ISO27001 and HIPAA. Users are also able to benefit from the fact that workspaces can be customised for each team using tabs, connectors and bots from third-party partners and Microsoft tools e.g. Microsoft Planner and Visual Studio Team Services. Microsoft says that more than 150 integrations are available or coming soon to Teams.

New Features

Microsoft reports that it has added more than 100 new features to Teams since November 2019.  These include an enhanced meeting experience (with scheduling), mobile audio calling, video calling on Android (coming soon to iOS), and email integration.  Teams has also benefited from improvements to accessibility with support for screen readers, high contrast and keyboard-only navigation.

Walkie-Talkie Phone

In January, Microsoft announced that it was adding a “push-to-talk experience” to Teams that turns employee or company-owned smartphones and tablets into walkie-talkies.  The Walkie Talkie feature, which can be accessed in private preview in the first half of this year and will be available in the Teams mobile app, offers clear, instant and secure voice communication over the cloud. 

Competition

There are, of course, other services in competition with Microsoft Teams. Slack, for example, is a cloud-based set of proprietary team collaboration tools and services.  Slack enables users (communities, groups, or teams) to join through a URL or invitation sent by a team admin or owner.  Although Slack was intended to be an organisational communication tool, it has morphed into a community platform i.e. it is a business technology that has crossed over into personal use. 

That said, Slack reported in October last year that it had 12 million daily active users, which was a 2 million increase since January 2019. 

Slack has stickiness and strong user engagement which help to attract businesses that want to get into using workstream collaboration software but, it faces challenges such as convincing big businesses that it is not just a chat app and that it is a worthy, paid-for alternative to its more well-known competitors like Microsoft’s Teams.

Like Teams, Slack has just introduced new features and has experienced a surge of growth in just over a month. 

Another competitor to Microsoft’s Teams is Zoom, which is a platform for video and audio conferencing, chat, and webinars that is often used alongside Google’s G Suite and Slack.  It has been reported that Zoom is now top of the free downloaded apps in Apple’s app store, and Learnbonds.com reports that downloads for Zoom increased by 1,270 per cent between February 22 and March 22.

Real-Life Example – Teams

A real-life example from Microsoft of how Teams is being put to good use is by bicycle and cycling gear company Trek Bicycle.  Microsoft reports how Teams has become the project hub for the company where all staff know where to find the latest documents, notes, tasks relating to team conversations thereby making Teams a central part of the company’s “get-things-done-fast culture.”

Looking Forward

Many businesses are already using and gaining advantages from the speed and scope of communication, project context, and convenience of a cloud-based, accessible hub offered by collaborative working platforms like Teams.  The decision to make Teams generally available with Office 365 for business can only make the platform more popular and the need for companies to quickly set-up effective remote working has stimulated the market for these services and given users a crash-course in and a strong reminder of their strengths and benefits. 

The hope by Microsoft and other collaborative working platform providers is that companies will go on using the platforms long after they technically need to in order to deal with COVID19 lockdown and that they will decide to use them going forward to keep improving the flexibility and productivity of their businesses, compete with other companies that are getting the best from them, and guard against excessive damage to the business from any future lockdown situations.

Tech Tip – Deleting Your Personal Metadata From Microsoft Documents

If you really want to make sure that you fully protect your data and identity, one thing you may not know is that Microsoft Office documents store metadata which (although largely useful) could be linked back to you.  There is an easy way to stop this from happening – here’s how:

For Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint:

– Click on ‘File’ (top left).

– On the Info page, click on ‘Check for Issues’.

– Click on ‘Inspect Document’ (which opens the Inspector window).

– Make sure all the checkboxes in the Document Inspector are checked.

– Click the ‘Inspect’ button.

– A green checkmark in a circle indicates that no data of that type has been found. A red exclamation mark means it found data of this type.

– Next to that data type’s description, click the ‘Remove All’ button.

– You can also click the ‘Reinspect’ button to make sure that nothing was missed.

Tech Tip – Format Painter

If you’re preparing a Word document in Windows 10 and you like the look of the formatting in one section and you’d like a quick and easy way to apply the same formatting to other sections, try using ‘Format Painter’.

You can find Format Painter on the top left of the screen – a paintbrush symbol. To use it :

– Highlight a paragraph in your document which has the formatting you like.

– Click on the Format Painter symbol.

– Click in the document next to the section you’d like to change to that formatting (you’ll see the paintbrush symbol appear) and highlight the new section.

– The formatting you like will automatically be applied.

The Battle Between ‘Slack’ and ‘Teams’

With Microsoft’s announcement that it’s Teams product has 20 million daily active users (and growing), sending Slack’s share price downwards (Slack has 12 million users), the battle is well underway in the $3.5 billion chat-based collaborative working software market.

What Is Slack?

Slack, launched in 2013, is a cloud-based set of proprietary team collaboration tools and services. It provides mobile apps for iOS and Android, and is available for the Apple Watch, enabling users to send direct messages, see mentions, and send replies.

Slack teams enable users (communities, groups, or teams) to join through a URL or invitation sent by a team admin or owner. Slack was intended to be an organisational communication tool, but it has gradually morphed into a community platform i.e. it is a business technology that has crossed over into personal use. Slack recently introduced an “email bridge” into its platform that will allow those who only have email to communicate with Slack users.  Back in May last year, ‘Slack’ introduced a new ‘Actions’ feature that made it easier for users to create and finish tasks without leaving by having access to more 3rd party tools.

In October this Year Slack announced that it has 12 million daily active users, which is 2 million increase since January.

What Is Teams?

Teams, announced in November 2016 and launched by Microsoft in 2017, is a platform designed to help collaborative working and combines features such as workplace chat, meetings, notes, and attachments. Described by Microsoft as a “complete chat and online meetings solution”, it normally integrates with the company’s Office 365 subscription office productivity suite. In July 2018, Microsoft introduced a free, basic features version of Teams which did not require an Office 365 account, in order to increase user numbers and tempt users away from Slack.

Microsoft Teams is also the replacement for Skype for Business Online, the support for which will end on 31 July 2021, and all new Microsoft 365 customers have been getting Microsoft Teams by default from 1 September 2019.

Share Tumble For Slack

Slack’s share value fell earlier this year after it announced that its projected sales growth would be lower for the second half of the year. Slack became a publicly-traded company on the New York Stock Exchange in June, and investors have been saying that it will need to maintain an impressive growth rate to compete against competitors like Microsoft (with Teams), Alphabet (Google) and Facebook.

The recent announcement by Microsoft that Teams has 20 million daily active users compared to Slack’s 12 million and has increased daily active users by more than 50% from June caused another downward push on Slack’s share value.

Slack’s Challenge – To Get More Large Paying Customers

Slack, which enjoys popularity in the U.S corporate workplace has been trying to emphasise that it is not just a chat/messaging app, but that it can connect to companies’ other applications in a way that can streamline workflows and aid real value addition and savings.  Slack is, however, facing a challenge in convincing big businesses that it is worthy, paid-for alternative to its more well-known competitors, and according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Andrew Eisenson, less than 1% of Slack’s customer base are large customers that spend more than $100,000 a year. One of the problems that Slack has is that although large companies in the US use it and like it, they currently have a free version, so Slack will have to convince them to upgrade to the paid-for version.

Despite having lower user numbers than Teams, some tech commentators have noted that Slack has stickiness and strong user engagement which help to attract businesses that want to get into using workstream collaboration software.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Microsoft has the advantage of a very well-known and trusted brand with huge reach, Teams already integrates with Office 365’s subscription office productivity suite, and there’s now a free version that doesn’t even require an Office 365 account.  Also, Teams is set to replace Skype for Business Online next year, and Microsoft has made sure that Skype for Business Online customers know that Microsoft’s investment and interoperability will make the migration to Teams a fairly painless one.

All this means that Teams appears to be in a very good position to continue what has been a rapid growth this year, and despite Slack’s positive features, Slack will have to fight hard to get big businesses interested in order to compete.

For users, there are now several good collaborative working services to choose from, but at the present time, the facts that investors don’t know when Slack is going to be profitable, coupled with a fall in revenue have led some commentators to think that Teams is looking as though it could come out on top.

Microsoft Edge Gets Business Upgrade

Billed as “the browser and search engine for business”, Microsoft’s new Chromium-powered version of Edge (and now more serious competitor to Google’s Chrome) is set to be released in January with new business-focused capabilities.

Chromium Source

Back in December 2018, Microsoft announced that it was adopting the Chromium open source project, which is the web rendering engine that powers Google Chrome.  This forms the basis for the new, upgraded version of Edge which many see as a serious attempt by Microsoft to make it more relevant, particularly to larger business customers, and compete more seriously with Google’s Chrome.

January 2020

The new business-focused version of Edge has only been released as ‘Beta version 79’ (the final Beta before it becomes a general “Release Candidate”), with the general release of the download of the stable version for Windows and macOS scheduled for 15 January 2020.

More Productive At Work

One of the key challenges that Microsoft says it’s trying to address with the improved version of Edge is difficulty in finding and accessing corporate information that is known to exist on company intranets.  With this in mind, Microsoft says that it has added “new experiences” to Microsoft Search in Bing such as enabling users to type in the address bar to search for people on the company Intranet, using natural language, such as by their title, team name and office location.

Also, users will be able to:

  • Search for office location and find answers that show floor plans for directions.
  • Get definitions for company acronyms.
  • Use a broad set of question and answers to find internal company information.

What Else?

Other business-focused features that the new version of Edge will offer are:

  • Expansion of Microsoft Graph connectors which expands the reach of Microsoft Search for 365 customers by adding over 100 connectors including Salesforce.com, ServiceNow, and Box. This will mean that business users can find more using Microsoft Search.
  • The ability to easily access Search in Bing on a mobile phone so that workers can search for company information on the go.
  • SmartScreen and Tracking prevention to protect users from phishing schemes, malicious software and new types of malware (crypto-jacking).
  • A new InPrivate mode for Microsoft Edge and Bing (for searching and browsing) to help improve privacy and security
  • A ‘Collections’ feature for Microsoft Edge to help users to collect web content, organise research and export that content into Word and Excel for analysis and collaborative working.

Extras For IT Professionals

The new version of Edge will also include some new features for IT professionals including the expansion of the Microsoft FastTrack deployment program to deploy the new Microsoft Edge in Q1 2020, the expansion of the App Assure program to cover Microsoft Edge in Q1 2020, and a new security baseline for the new Microsoft Edge.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The migration to Chromium last year was a clear sign that Microsoft was looking to make Edge browser a much more serious competitor to Google’s Chrome.  Microsoft has identified some key challenges that businesses (with Intranets and programs like Salesforce) have with accessing important company information through a browser search.  Microsoft has, therefore, incorporated some very business-focused, productivity-boosting solutions in this version of Edge that can help office and mobile/remote workers.  Focusing on the needs of business-users could help Microsoft maintain its position at the top of the business OS market as well as giving its Edge browser a long-overdue boost.

Microsoft Announces New, Integrated ‘Office’ Suite App For Mobile Devices

Microsoft has announced that it is working towards the launch of its ‘Office’ mobile app (currently only available in public preview) which integrates Word, Excel, and PowerPoint mobile apps into a single app.

The ‘Office’ Vision

Microsoft says that the mobile app, called simply ‘Office’, represents their vision for what a productivity solution would look like if first built for mobile devices. 

The idea is that users have all their Office documents together in one place, can reduce the need to switch between many different apps, and can reduce the amount of space that they use on their phone compared to multiple installed apps.

“Simple, Integrated Experience”

The ‘Office’ app is intended to provide users with what Microsoft describes as a “simple, integrated experience”.

The app combines Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, access to recent and recommended documents stored in the cloud or on a user’s device, the ability to search for documents across a user’s organisation if using a work account, and easy access to Sticky Notes e.g. for reminders and writing down ideas.

What Can You Do?

Microsoft’s Tech Community web pages say that users of ‘Office’ will be able to create content “in uniquely mobile ways” such as snapping a picture of a document and turning it into an editable Word file with just the press of a button or transforming a picture of a table into an Excel spreadsheet so that users can quickly work on the data. Also, a new Actions pane in the app will enable users to complete tasks such as creating PDFs with their camera and signing PDFs just by using their finger or scanning QR codes to open files and links.

Public Preview and Only On Phones

The Office app is currently available in public preview for Android and iOS, can be downloaded and used for free, and doesn’t require a sign-in to use it.  Those with work, school, or personal Microsoft Accounts can, however login and gain access to their files stored in the cloud via the app.

Microsoft has said that it will continue to support and invest in the existing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint mobile apps (‘Office’ isn’t replacing them), and that the new ‘Office’ app is currently only available for phones, although plans are afoot to extend this to tablets.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Back in February, Microsoft announced its new, free “Office” app for Windows 10 as an update to the former My Office app, and as a way for those who do have a 365 subscription and have Microsoft’s apps installed on their device to open Office from the Office app, and those who don’t have a subscription to be automatically directed to the online version.  This latest announcement of the preview stage, available to all, soon-to-be-launched ‘Office’ mobile app is a progression of Microsoft’s move to publicise, raise awareness about, and get more people using its (free) versions of Office.  This will also help Microsoft adapt and compete with rivals, such as Google, and appeal to business and other existing Microsoft Office users who are now used to being able to carry out most of their business on-the-go with mobile devices and apps.  Some of the features, such as taking a picture of a document and turning that into an editable file are likely to add value for many business users who are spending less time at the desktop. 

The new app could mean time-savings (not switching between multiple apps), convenience and greater leverage of mobile capabilities for users, and for Microsoft, it offers them a way to keep existing users loyal to their OS and Office Suite, gain new users, and stay competitive in a rapidly evolving mobile working market.

Office 365 Voicemail Phishing Scam Warning

Security company McAfee has reported observing a phishing scam which uses a fake voicemail message to lure victims into entering their Office 365 email credentials into a phishing page.

How The Attack Works

According to McAfee’s blog, the first step in the phishing scam is the victim being sent an email informing them that they have missed a phone call.  The email includes a request to login to their account to access their voicemail.

The email message actually contains an HTML attachment which, when loaded, re-directs the victim to a phishing website. Although there are slightly different versions of the attachment, the most recent examples are reported to contain an audio recording which is designed to make the victim believe they are listening to the beginning of a legitimate voicemail.

Once re-directed to the bogus Microsoft account login page, the victim will see that their email address has already been loaded in the login field, thereby helping to create the illusion that this is their real Microsoft login page.

If the victim enters their password, the deception continues as they are shown a page saying that their login has been successful, and they are being re-directed to the home page. 

Three Different Phishing Kits

Cybercriminals frequently buy-in phishing kits to launch their attacks. These are collections of software tools, created by professional phishers, that can be purchased and downloaded as a set. These phishing kits make it much easier for those with limited technical and coding skills or phishing experience to launch a phishing attack.

McAfee reports that as many as three different phishing kits are being used to make the fake websites involved in this scam. These are:

  1. Voicemail Scmpage 2019 – being sold on an ICQ channel, and used to harvest your email, password, IP Address and location details.
  2. Office 365 Information Hollar – similar to Voicemail Scmpage 2019 and used to harvest the same data.
  3. A third unnamed kit, which McAfee says is the most prevalent malicious page they have observed in the tracking of this particular campaign.  McAfee says that this kit appears to use code from 2017 malicious kit that was used to target Adobe users.

File Names For The Attachments

To help you spot this phishing attack McAfee has listed list the file names for attachments in the phishing email as being:

  • 10-August-2019.wav.html [Format: DD-Month-YYYY.wav.html]
  • 14-August-2019.html [Format: DD-Month-YYYY.html]
  • Voice-17-July2019wav.htm [Format: Voice- DD-MonthYYYYwav.htm]
  • Audio_Telephone_Message15-August-2019.wav.html [Format: Audio_Telephone_MessageDD-Month-YYYY.wav.html]

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Reports indicate that this phishing attack has proved quite successful up until now, partly because the pages and steps appear authentic (and load the users email address as real login page does), and it uses social engineering and urgency (with audio) in a way that may prompt may people to suspend their critical faculty long enough complete the few short actions that it takes to give their details away.

The advice to businesses is, therefore, to be vigilant and to not open emails from unfamiliar sources or with unfamiliar attachments.  You may also want to use Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) where possible, and enterprise users may wish to block .html and .htm attachments at the email gateway level so that they don’t reach members of staff, some of whom may not be up to speed with their Internet security knowledge.

There is also a strong argument for not using the same password for multiple platforms and websites (password sharing).  This is because credentials stolen in one breach are likely to be tried on many other websites by other cybercriminals (credential stuffing) who have purchased/acquired them e.g. on the dark web.

Keeping anti-virus and software patches up to date and making sure that staff receive training and education about cybersecurity risks and what procedures should be followed if suspicious emails or other messages are spotted can also help companies to maintain good levels of cybersecurity.