Back in the late 1990s, as instant messaging became popular, you could tell who’d been on what team by seeing which consumer IM tools they’d been using. Eventually, of course, everyone had an account on every service, and the first decision a new project team had to make was which IM tool it’d use for group chats.

That problem is back, as teams decide between collaboration platforms like and HipChat. Now, of course, there’s Microsoft’s entry in the collaboration space: .

Microsoft’s recently released service builds on its existing Office 365 and Skype for Business framework to give you a way to handle ad hoc collaboration and chat in existing teams. Like Slack, it’s a free-form channel-based app where Office 365 accounts are used to control access to team discussions, with easy options for adding new Teams members and sharing common documents and information. Users can dip in and out of threaded conversations, and they can quickly receive notifications from colleagues, with the option of changing to real-time video and voice where necessary.

Although an ad hoc channel for conversation is useful, it’s only part of the story. Teams can also bring other applications and services into one informal team-focused hub. Like Slack and HipChat, it can connect to external services, working with web standards to simplify the development and integration process.

. This lets you take advantage of a range of cloud-hosted machine learning services for natural language parsing. Going from chat to actionable data is relatively easy, and users can interact with bots in Teams with text or images.

Working with bots lets you start incorporating Teams into a chat ops strategy; users can interact with services via chat in Teams channels—for example, creating and launching virtual machines or subscribing to services.

But chat is only one way of working with bots in Teams. The can also deliver a richer card experience, with more interaction options. If you don’t want to have a free-form chat approach to your bots, this interactive card approach could be the basis of a more structured set of interactions between a user in Teams and an external application.

Microsoft needs to make its Teams service as much of a platform as its competition. Although its key differentiator is its integration with the Office graph that’s built around Office 365 users and their content, it needs to offer access to other tools and services. Using web standards like webhooks and Markdown makes a lot of sense, giving organizations an on-ramp to Teams from other collaboration platforms.