Microsoft added a free access tier to its Teams workplace collaboration software Thursday, ahead of the annual Microsoft Inspire conference. Previously, access to Teams was limited to Office 365 subscribers.

Microsoft added guest access capabilities to include people outside of their own organization in March, after missing their self-imposed deadline for the feature by nine months.

With the free access tier, Microsoft Teams is now approximately positioned as an actual competitor to Slack, which essentially introduced a new paradigm for workplace communication and collaboration software when it launched in August 2013. Naturally, as a Microsoft product, Teams is more tightly integrated with Office and OneDrive than competing platforms. Teams is also the only communication tool that natively supports the ability to call out to landline and mobile phones in the United States, though this feature is not available in the free tier. (The feature is available through third-party integrations in Slack.)

According to our sister site ZDNet’s resident Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley, the free version of Teams lacks scheduled meetings, meeting recording, landline calls and conferencing, forced two-factor authentication, and user administration tools. The free tier is also limited to 2 GB of file storage per user, with 10 GB shared storage.

SEE: Comparison chart: Enterprise collaboration tools (Tech Pro Research)

Prior to the addition of the free tier, there was no effective way to use Teams without the relatively steep buy-in price of an Office 365 subscription. This being the case, use of Teams may have been motivated by the fact that the product was already being paid for, rather than a volitional interest in Teams itself as a standalone product. In an editorial for ZDNet, Ed Bott characterized the distinction as “Slack is a product. Microsoft Teams is a feature,” noting that Microsoft (at the time) had no plan to introduce a free tier at all.

Teams has had a tortured route to market. Teams–at least, in its current iteration–is evidently the result of Bill Gates and Satya Nadella vetoing a potential $8 billion purchase of Slack in March 2016. Teams entered beta that November of that year.

In September 2017, Microsoft abruptly announced to Office 365 subscribers that Skype for Business was being assimilated into Teams, making that the fourth brand for that feature in a decade. Skype for Business came into existence in 2015 as a rebranded version of Lync, which was introduced in 2010 as a rebranded Office Communicator.

Teams also has a nontrivial amount of overlap with Microsoft’s business-social networking service Yammer, parts of which have been subsumed by Office 365.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • Microsoft added a free access tier to Teams workplace collaboration software, expanding access to Teams beyond existing Office 365 subscribers.
  • With the free access tier, Microsoft Teams is now approximately positioned as an actual competitor to Slack.