Change to Microsoft Teams Free Version Means Downgraded Functionality

Classic Version of Teams Free Retires in April

On April 12, 2023, Microsoft will retire the Teams Free (classic) version that they launched in 2018 (Figure 1). I still have the Azure AD tenant created to support Teams Free and the software continues to work quite happily. The question is what to do when Microsoft brings the curtain down.

Microsoft lets Teams Free (classic) users know about the impending retirement
Figure 1: Microsoft lets Teams Free (classic) users know about the impending retirement

There’s been some ill-informed commentary about the retirement and what it means for users. Let’s discuss what’s happening.

Migration Options

The options presented by Microsoft are:

  • Switch to the new free version of Teams, confusingly named Microsoft Teams (free). The big downside is that none of the information currently in Team Free (classic) will transfer.
  • Upgrade to a paid version of Teams, such as Teams Essentials ($4/month) or the entry-level Microsoft 365 Business Basic subscription ($6/month). The big advantage of going for the Microsoft 365 subscription is access to the web and online versions of the Office apps.

When Microsoft retires Teams Free (classic), administrators will have until July 12, 2023, or 90 days the tenant was last used (whichever is earlier) to recover data. After the drop-dead date, Microsoft will remove the tenant and permanently remove the data.

No Migration for Free Versions

Unless you choose to upgrade to a paid-for version of Teams, it’s up to you to recover data created in Teams Free (classic). Essentially, if you want to continue using a free version of Teams, you’ll have to manually download the files shared in chats and channel conversations to a workstation and upload them to the new version. Given that Teams stores its files in OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online, you can use the OneDrive sync client to synchronize the files to a workstation and download them that way. The Teams Wiki still features in Teams Free (classic). You’ll need to cut and paste information from wikis to OneNote or another document because Microsoft’s wiki migration tool might not run for the free version.

There’s no way to save the messages in channel conversations unless you use a third-party ISV product designed for tenant-to-tenant migrations (or write your own code with the Teams export API). However, if you’re using a free version of Teams, you’re unlikely to want to cough up for a migration product or start to write code using an API that you’ve got to pay for. At the most basic level, you can rescue important conversations by copying them to a Word or OneNote document.

Why No Migration Tools are Available for Teams Free

You might wonder why Microsoft is not offering migration tools to move from Teams Free (classic) to Teams (Free). Both a financial imperative and a technical limitation exist:

  • There’s no revenue opportunity for Microsoft. The upside is to encourage people who’ve used Teams Free (classic) since 2018 to move to a paid-for version. Why encourage them to stay on a free platform? Making it easy for people to pay nothing does nothing to increase the average revenue per user from Microsoft 365.
  • The new Teams (free) is based on Teams for Home. Microsoft is closing the infrastructure that serviced Teams Free (classic). This isn’t surprising because Teams Free (classic) came along quite soon after the launch of Teams and shared the same platform accessed through the endpoint. Teams for Home uses a different infrastructure, accessed through Teams (free) doesn’t have teams. Instead, it uses group chats to host conversations for the up to 300 people that a Teams (free) organization can host. Teams (free) doesn’t use SharePoint Online either. There’s no teams to organize discussions. Instead, Teams (free) offers communities, announced in January 2023 and currently available only for mobile clients. In a nutshell, the dramatic difference in the implementations of Teams Free (classic) and Teams (free) is the basic reason why Microsoft doesn’t support migration.

On the other hand, if you choose to upgrade to a paid-for version of Teams, your existing Azure AD tenant will remain in place and you’ll get licenses to allow you to continue to use Teams. No migration is necessary.

Less Functionality for Teams Free

It’s not surprising that Microsoft should want to move the free version of Teams off their production paid-for infrastructure to join their existing free Teams for Home offering. The change won’t affect those who simply want to use Teams for chat and calls. However, the new Teams Free represents a substantial downgrade in functionality that might affect how some organizations use Teams. If that’s your situation, maybe it’s time to think about using the paid-for version.

Learn about using Microsoft Teams (the paid-for version) and the rest of Office 365 by subscribing to the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook. Use our experience to understand what’s important and how best to protect your tenant.

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