Microsoft CEO claps back at Slack, asks if Slack would exist without Windows

Satya Nadella at Build 2018
Satya Nadella at Build 2018 (Image credit: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella discusses big tech companies in a recent interview.
  • One topic he touches on is Slack and how the open nature of Windows shaped Slack becoming popular.
  • Slack and Microsoft have had a heated relationship over the last few years.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella discusses big tech companies and the role of competition in an interview with Bloomberg Televisions' Emily Chang (via The Seattle Times). Among the many topics that Nadella discusses is Slack, the communication platform that's in a "don't call it a rivalry" rivalry with Microsoft Teams.

Slack has an interesting history with Microsoft. When Teams came out, Slack said they were "genuinely excited to have some competition." In March of last year, Slack's CEO said "Teams is not a competitor to Slack." A 10-Q filing from Slack from October 2019 states that Slack's "primary competitor is currently Microsoft Corporation."

Slack also accused Microsoft of anticompetitive practices in a complaint to the EU last July. Microsoft responded by stating, "Slack suffered from its absence of video-conferencing."

Despite all of this back and forth, the companies are tied together. Slack is available on Windows, and Nadella points out how the nature of Windows paved the way for Slack:

I always ask the question, would Slack have even existed if it was not for the free access they had on top of, say, the Windows platform? They didn't have to call Microsoft. They didn't have to go through any of our app stores. They didn't need any of our permission compared to any of the other platforms that they're available on. We perhaps provide the most open platform in Windows and even in Office 365.

Nadella raises an interesting point. These days, walled gardens aren't that rare. Many operating systems have restrictions, and app stores are curated. While Microsoft does have an app store of its own, developers are still free to make apps and release them how they'd like.

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As pointed out by our executive editor Daniel Rubino, Microsoft played a major role in computers becoming ubiquitous. Microsoft and Windows played a major roll in Slack being possible.

Sean Endicott
News Writer and apps editor

Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at (opens in new tab).

  • What permission do you require on MacOS? A lot less users though of course.
  • > What permission do you require on MacOS?
    Epic for example, you need to keep Apple happy.
  • In all the fanboying over Apple we all forget it was Microsoft who shaped the landscape Apple now plays in. Microsoft/Bill Gates never get enough attention for this.
  • This is a very interesting point in today's computing landscape. All new OSes and platforms are walled gardens now :-(. Only the 'old school' platforms - Windows, Linux, macOS are still truly open. Every new guy in town is a walled garden.
  • No Windows? Interesting to think about. But had Microsoft tripped up early on, IBM may still be around and have a OS that would surpass what Windows is today. Even Mac would have stepped up their game a lot sooner because they would have had a trove more users and would have had to hire more and grow faster. The companies really don't matter, it was the people with the ideas that went to those companies to make it a reality and they would have just gone to whatever company would fund it.
  • Yeah, Apple or IBM would run the PC universe. Apple had the original black and white Mac before Windows existed, so something from Apple like the modern-day Mac could be there. IBM hired Microsoft to make DOS which paved the way for MS to become successful with Windows. They had PC-DOS (really just a licensed version of MS-DOS), and there was the nearly identical competitor, DR DOS and a few others. IBM had OS/2 (but to be fair, that was also originally developed with MS before they had their falling out). In spite of all of this, I agree with Dan's comment: regardless that there would have been someone else if there were no Microsoft, the fact is that Microsoft did these things. Microsoft deserves the credit for creating the open ecosystem that defines the PC universe. Everyone else either failed, gave up, or has been relegated to being a small player.
  • tbh, working with OEM, other hardware makers and enterprises (e.g. have a driver hosting service) is the key to success. Also, Apple is a hardware company and MS is a software company.
    Voice font, customizable chat bot, Game Stack, IOT, visual studio, office, programmable shader, etc. Apple doesn't invest as much as Microsoft in tech tbh. e.g. MS might not be using ML / AI chatbot full force themselves but, Pepper the bot from Softbank, the app called Navitime, Lawson the convenient store has a chatbot too. Then in financial services, retail, automotive, real estate, textiles... well, more than 900 million users access MS's chatbot via 3rd party apps and device integrations. So, when everyone wins, MS wins and Apple is the opposite example. Open source isn't the solution. Many times, people just wanna pay someone to do the chore. e.g. Adobe stuffs, Office, IOT, Azure, Visual Studio, Unity or Unreal Engine. Pay a group of professionals (crowdfunding) to do the defining, designing, future proofing, maintaining, etc, so we can focus on making games or apps.
  • OS/2 was meant for corporations, not end users, and intentionally crippled to prevent cannibalization of big iron. That is what led to the split between MS and IBM. So don't assume OS/2 would be everywhere Windows is. And don't forget Apple nearly died before MS backed them with money and credibility.
    Best guess is today we'd have a world of a hundred platforms, most Unix-based, all incompatible, none big enough to support the variety, sophistication, and interoperability of Windows applications since developers would be spending their time porting thrir apps from platform to platform instrad of improving them.
    Remember when WingZ was the most advanced spreadsheet? They spent the next few years porting it to every UNIX around. MS spent that time adding features and sophistication and by the time WingZ noticed, Excel had lapped them.
    Also, since Windows offers a single target platform for 90% of the market, smaller companies can target Windows with niche software, say for a 1% slice, and make a good living there. Not doable when you have 20, 30, or a hundred mutants to support.
    Web apps would be more compelling but with less PCs around without the Gates mantra, the web might still be running Lynx.
    Alternate history can be fun but you need to factor in all the forces that created the real world. Removing one would create an entirely different balance, not necessarily one where somebody else stepped in to do *exactly* the same things as the one you remove. There's a few books on historians playing the game for serious analysis, not for fun. Try looking for a pair called "WHAT IF? " One of the more interesting scenarios involves the battle of Salamis between the Athenians and the persians. Everybody remembers the spartans at Thermopolis but it was at Salamis, at sea, that western civilization was born. Good read. Fun and educational.
  • nice. ask this question. Would the US Civil war happened if the cotton gin was invented in 1830 instead of 1790? Or would the US Civil War happened if the mechanical cotton stripper was invented in 1850 instead of 1950? Technology often drives socio-economic development. The existence of Windows (moving from DOS to Windows) happened because there was a natural advantage to an open OS for many people to produce new tools to drive porductivity and thus greater utility and thus greater wealth. Someone was bounded to occupy the space we call Windows.
  • The demand for something big was in the air. The creative people that hungered to be part of this revolution were ready. Had Microsoft not been a big part of the picture most likely it would have been IBM and Apple. Apple would be just fine because Microsoft would not be there to take away their prospective customers. And IBM would have been fine because those creative geniuses would have gone over to or stayed with IBM. It clearly would not of been exactly the same, and could very well have been much better. IBM had much more money than start up Microsoft and could have stepped on the gas to fill the need for consumer buyers. I really believe is was the creative minds of individual people that worked together to make it happen, they could have worked anywhere, they just happened to work at Microsoft in our time line. I'm glad Microsoft did what they did to be here today and hope they can figure out how to work with consumers better in the future.
  • Don't forget the biggest "victim" of Windows success wasn't Apple or big iron; it was Unix.
    Back in the 80's the entire computer science world dreamed on a universal OS being Unix. But they never solved the matter of compatibility across suppliers. Its successor, LINUX, is still grappling with an infinite number of mutant distros. The year of desktop Unicx/Linux never came.
    Absent Windows, the UNIX workstation market would still exist as something more than a niche. Netware might still exist. Even Amiga OS and Atari GEM environment would have survived. The BBC COMPUTER, Acorn. Even the failed Japanese OS from their "Fifth Generation" Project might have gotten traction outside industrial controls.
    Windows succeeds by providing a "good enough" lowest common denominator platform for developers.
    The likeliest alternative to a world without Windows isn't a world where something else took over because the companies behind the alternatives had, from the beginning, different goals tban a universal platform. That would have resulted in a balkanization of microcomputing just as the mainframe and minicomputer eras were balkanized. And the home computer wars would never have ended. So yes, Nadella, who normally is vefy circumspect and doesn't trash talk is 100% correcf.
    A world without Windows would be a very different world, fragmented by market and by geography.
  • What is slack? Who's nadella.
  • Would Windows even exist if it wasn't for silicon?
  • chicken meet egg.
  • *meat Lol jk jk
  • “If there had been no Windows” sounds like the basic over the top elementary response to someone debating with you. It’s like “yeah, well, YOUR MOM!” What a response. What a cop-out.
  • It's not a cop out, think about it as 1) Slack would probably not have existed without Windows and 2) if (that's a big if) similar events came together despite Windows not existing then Slack wouldn't be same as it is today. You need to look at both the picture and all the jigsaw pieces that make the picture.
  • Obviously. Just about no apps on Windows would exist if windows didn’t exist first. But my comment still stands. It’s an elementary response in a debate.
  • I'm sorry that doesn't make any sense lol if Windows didn't exist of course no apps on Windows would exist. Therefore, Slack as it is would not exist and as I said similar events (that includes the entire life events of the individuals that ultimately created Slack) will have to occur for a similar app to be made on predominant o/s in this fictional universe. Soo, your point does not still stand as it's still not a cop out lol... right now all your doing is trying to valid a meaningless point lol...
  • Seeing as we're playing that game....would Teams even exist without Slack? Because it seems to me that Microsoft were fully asleep behind the wheel before Slack came along and gave people a whole new way of working, communicating and collaborating
  • Actually, MS had several Team -style products in the 90's and early naughts. The first few were companions to MS PROJECT, the latter were addons for SHAREPOINT.
    Look up Microsoft Team Manager 97. The Press Release says it all. Also, the late 90's is when MS bought Visio and evolved it from a diagraming tool favored by network managers into a network visualization and manzgement tool. In general the 90's is when MS saw how their software was changing workflows in corporations and they jumped in to maker their server environments more convenient to manage. So no, Teams doesn't exist as a response to Slack, but as the *third* MS attempt to crack the collaborative work environment. And as everybody knows by now, it usually takes MS three attempts to get their new products right.
  • Satya must not have any ability to process the concept of irony. His company is piggybacking on the initial efforts on the Chromium engine to try to make up for their inability to get web developers and users to keep Internet Explorer relevant or adopt Microsoft Edge. In addition, his company's trying to bring back their twice-failed mobile business by adopting the free-to-play Android OS to power the Surface Duo. They're doing that because a) they couldn't manage to get developers (like Slack) to adopt their mobile platforms (all 3 iterations), and b) they couldn't manage to get Windows 10X functional to release on the Neo anyway, let alone the Duo. Besides, he's going to talk about "walled gardens" of his competitors while they're trying to enforce that kind of stuff with the Microsoft Store and Windows 10S? Does he really think Microsoft is some kind of benevolent exception to the evolution of tech? Windows gave those applications a chance with a semi-open platform, but they also got sued for antitrust issues. Those applications had a platform to thrive, but the semi-open nature of Windows is also what made it thrive--because it had those applications. Remember, it's the lack of applications that doomed Windows Mobile...and Windows Phone 7...and Windows Phone 8...and Windows 10 Mobile...and Windows RT...
  • I don't think you realize the level of incoherence of your "argument".
  • If the EU actually takes Slack's wingeing seriously, the first thing MS is going to do is bring up MS PROJECT (80s!), Team Manager (90's), Sharepoint, Communication Server/Lynx/Skype for business and their extensive catalog of network management apps. They've been working to address workflow collaboration since before Windows existed, constantly adapting to how corporation work is changing. Teams is just the latest iteration and the first to get wide attention outside corporate IT. Teams doesn't exist to take away Slack's customers but to better serve Microsoft's customers. Which is why Nadella got testy and showed his teeth for once.
    It pays to know your history.
  • @fjtorres Well said.