TechCrunch has discovered that Facebook has stealthily launched official desktop PC and Mac chat apps with screen sharing — two features users have been begging for. Right now, they’re only available for Facebook Workplace, its enterprise collaboration software that competes with Slack and other business apps. But users would surely enjoy if the consumer Messenger app got its own desktop app and screen sharing options one day.
Workplace has over 14,000 businesses on board paying $1 to $3 per user, and recently signed up Wal-Mart. Screensharing could help Facebook Workplace attract more clients and disrupt the clunky screen sharing of enterprise apps like Skype and WebEx. It’s clear that Facebook is applying its rapid development style in an bid to conquer offices with an all-in-one collaboration app while competitors only offer a piece of the puzzle.
Facebook bursts back into desktop software
Buried in the help section of Workplace, TechCrunch spotted a download link for the beta version of the Workplace Chat desktop app for both PC and Mac. It makes it easy to message with co-workers throughout the day without relying on a browser tab that can get lost amongst all your other tabs.
Facebook Workplace spokesperson Vanessa Chan confirmed the launch of the desktop app to TechCrunch, saying “This was one of the most widely requested features by customers, so we built it. The desktop app is still in beta and being tested by Workplace customers who are providing feedback that we’ll use to improve the product before a wider rollout.”
The desktop app works similarly to Workplace Chat’s dedicated website, which in turn is modeled after Messenger.com. It provides a big dashboard of all your conversations, text search, and the typical photo, video, voice clip, emoji, GIF, and web cam sharing. You can also set up desktop notifications that ride over your other windows so you never miss a message.
Workplace Chat is one of Facebook’s only pieces of desktop software besides its casual gaming platform Facebook Gameroom. Facebook tried offering a Messenger for Windows app in 2012 before shutting it down in 2014. Since then, several convincing but fake third-party desktop apps have proliferated. The Messenger team has been largely focused on mobile rather than desktop or even web features. Now that it has 1.3 billion monthly users, though, it could potentially explore desktop software to keep growing.
Share anything, even your screen
What’s totally new to Facebook is screen sharing. As Facebook evolves from text towards visual communication, being able to show people what you’re looking at could be an important complement to video chat. While Slack only added screen sharing in May over four years after launch, Workplace now has it less than a year after its debut.
Screen sharing is now available on both the Workplace Chat desktop apps and on web. Not only can you share your full-screen, but you can select to only share a specific desktop app you’re running. That could be invaluable if you want to avoid embarrassing yourself or exposing sensitive work data or communications. For example, you might only share Excel or your web browser, but not Slack or your email client.
Establishing this level of privacy for screen sharing is important since that’s one of the biggest concerns of clients using office software made by Facebook. It’s the reason that Facebook does not directly integrate your normal social network profile with Workplace, opting to keep them completely separate. Just because a News Feed and instant messaging are useful for work doesn’t mean you want your boss seeing how you socialize.
Overall, the new desktop software gives Facebook Workplace a preferred spot on your computer when it might otherwise drown within Chrome or Firefox. Combining the familiarity of Facebook’s design with the prominence of dedicated desktop apps could encourage the constant collaboration the company hopes to enable.
Workplace is designed not just for traditional white-collar office employees but to allow everyone in a company from top to bottom to communicate. That’s why additional access points are important. While most enterprise software is thought of as ugly and inconvenient, Workplace is flipping that idea on its face.