Slack is arguably the most popular team messaging/collaboration application out there.
While it is not an open-source solution, it is available for Linux, Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS.
We at It’s FOSS use Rocket.Chat (Self-hosted) for internal team communication. But, we have also had a fair share of experiences with Slack.
Is Rocket.Chat better than Slack? What benefits do you get if you use Slack over Rocket.Chat?
If you are on the fence about deciding on a good team communication app, let me compare the offerings to help you explore more about them.
Free vs. Premium
An essential factor for picking a team communication application includes the pricing.
Open-source or not, not everyone wants to invest in getting started. Of course, it depends on your preferences, but most users will prefer something free.
In comparison, Rocket.Chat is not entirely free to set up. Technically, you don’t need to pay a dime to use it. However, it would help if you had a server to deploy it to.
So, considering you already have an infrastructure in place, it should be free for you without any limit to its available features.
But, if you would rather not invest in a server to host it yourself, Slack gives you the free option.
Furthermore, Slack does present you with some special regional pricing, which is not the case with Rocket.Chat.
Generally, the pricing for premium subscriptions is almost similar, but it will differ per your organization’s requirements. You might want to check out Slack’s and Rocket.Chat’s pricing page to learn more about it.
Rocket.Chat offers a straightforward interface that is easy to use. It does provide a good user experience, but as per my usage (for a few years now), I wouldn’t rate it as the “best experience”.
Things like searching for a particular message and a few subtle interactions aren’t the strongest points of Rocket.Chat.
But, if you like a simple and effective user interface that keeps up with the modern standards, Rocket.Chat is your friend. It does not have any significant issues, but it may not be the most engaging experience for some.
With Slack, the user interface takes a modern approach (in other words, a feature-filled user experience).
Considering the mobile and desktop experience of Slack, it works great with its subtle animations and works pretty much flawlessly.
With that being said, I would recommend trying both of them to check your preferences. Just for my opinion, I give Slack a bit of an edge here.
Self-hosted vs. Hosted (Data Privacy)
While it can be a hassle to self-host it, if you are someone who values data privacy more than the setup convenience, Rocket.Chat can be the perfect fit.
Fret not, we have a guide to help you self-host Rocket.Chat, if you prefer doing that.
Of course, Slack does not wildly steal any of your data, but technically, your data resides on someone else’s server. You do not get control of it, but get access to some toggles to manage the workspace.
With Rocket.Chat lets you control the data and any practices that help you secure your communications.
Note that for some users, securing and deploying proper practices to secure their server can be a headache (if you are not experienced). So, you might have to end up hiring an expert to set it up and maintain it for you.
Fortunately, Rocket.Chat also offers you a hosted option like Slack for a premium giving access to certain enterprise-grade features.
Overall, with Rocket.Chat allows you to opt between a self-hosted option and a managed hosted plan. But, with Slack, you only have the option to rely on a managed hosting option.
Rocket.Chat supports end-to-end encryption out of the box using the “Off the record” feature conversations. So, you can toggle it in every conversation when needed.
The feature is still in its beta phase and does not support sharing files when writing this. Hence, it isn’t as pleasant as using some of the best WhatsApp alternatives for instant messaging.
The enterprise edition, mentions that it offers end-to-end encryption by default. Of course, with the self-hosted option, you get more control, so you get to decide what you want to do with it.
Slack encrypts the data at rest and data in transit for all users. With its enterprise edition, you get an Enterprise Key Management feature to take control of your encryption keys for sensitive conversations.
Overall, both Slack and Rocket.Chat offers options for encryption and security. It all depends on what your organization needs or what you need as an individual.
Numerous brands aim to customize every service/app experience they use by incorporating the company’s theme/name/color/logo.
And, Rocket.Chat gives you total freedom to customize the experience.
Ranging from color changes to full CSS customization to help an organization tailor the collaboration/messaging experience for their employees. Just like we have a few things customized in our case.
You can even choose to customize from the source code for advanced tweaks.
Unfortunately, Slack falls short on this. Whether an individual or an enterprise, you must stick to Slack’s default themes/color choices.
You should get all the essential messaging features with both of them.
Message reactions, threaded replies, the recipient’s time zone, notification controls, etc. Several such features can make a difference.
To make things simpler, here, I highlight some of the key feature differences (and similarities) that could help you decide what’s better for you:
- Two-Factor Authentication support.
- You can edit messages.
- Quote messages and reply to them.
- Create separate channels, and add members for access.
- Pin messages.
- Dark theme.
- Privacy options.
Now that you know some of the fundamental similarities. It would help if you also looked at some of the introductory videos embedded that give you an overview of both.
In either case, let us take a look at some of the important differences:
- Start a discussion for a separate topic
- Toggle end-to-end encryption
- Channel cannot be entirely limited to admins for messages (other users can reply to the new messages).
- No reminder feature for a conversation thread in a channel.
- No separate drafts section.
- No separate section to find all the files you sent.
- Easily export your data. (HTML/JSON)
- No discussion feature
- No user toggle for end-to-end encryption
- Channel can be easily limited to the admins (with no option to reply to other members).
- Ability to set a reminder to get notified of new replies in a conversation thread.
- All drafts get saved and can be accessed from a single place.
- You can find all the sent files quickly.
- Only a workspace admin/owner can export data.
In addition to some key points, you should find many other subtle differences making up the entire user experience.
Third-Party Integrations and Extras
Regarding third-party integrations, none of the choices should disappoint you.
All the major services like Outlook, Zoom and Google Drive work well with both Rocket.Chat and Slack.
However, Rocket.Chat offers some extras that can have the edge over Slack:
- Ability to integrate Matrix protocol, making Rocket.Chat one of the best Matrix clients. In other words, you get a decentralized messenger with Rocket.Chat.
- Adding integrations through Zapier.
Open Source vs. Proprietary
Rocket.Chat already offers some good perks as an open-source solution—for instance, the option to self-host, the freedom to customize the source code, and more.
So, if you prefer an open-source software for its transparency, privacy benefits, and more, Rocket.Chat is the easy pick.
If you do not care about any of the perks that come with an open-source tool, you can pick Slack for some of its convenient features and a slightly better user experience.
Final Verdict: What Should You Use for Team Communication?
Rocket.Chat gives you more control of your data and the freedom to customize things. So, if you have no issues with a self-hosted solution, Rocket.Chat is a clear choice.
However, if you do not want to set it up yourself and want an enterprise (managed) offering, you might want to try them first to evaluate the user experience and its features per your preferences.
And, if you are just getting started and do not want to invest in a server/premium subscription, Slack should be a good start.
What would you pick? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.