Google released an update to its internet chat tool Hangouts on Wednesday, aiming to make it suitable in workplaces so the Alphabet Inc unit can compete with business software makers including Microsoft Corp and Slack Technologies Inc.
Hangouts Chat supports instant messaging across devices between workers, including group conversations. It also allows users to integrate widgets to access data from other corporate software in a chat window.
Google announced the service last March, but told Reuters it would be available to all customers for the first time on Wednesday.
Hangouts Chat sits in Google’s G Suite, a workplace software package that includes email and word-processing tools, for which more than 4 million businesses globally pay as much as $25 per user each month.
Hangouts launched as a free service in 2013. But Google began tuning it for businesses when the company expanded enterprise sales efforts and sought to bring customers many of the same features it has internally.
“I see this as the second incantation of Hangouts,” Scott Johnston, director of product management at Google, said in an interview. “We want to move toward helping people move faster at work.”
But businesses have other options. Chat app Slack has signed up 50,000 paying teams as workers adopt more robust alternatives to email for long-distance communications. Microsoft’s Teams provides similar functionality in its Office 365 package, which is well ahead of G Suite in customers.
Microsoft held about 37%, and Slack about 5%, of the nearly $2 billion global market for collaboration software in 2016, according to research firm IDC.
Google is keeping a free version of Hangouts as it does for Gmail and Docs.
The paid version of Hangouts supports group conversations with up to 8,000 participants. Messages save indefinitely by default, though granular controls are available.