The world may have been turned upside down by Covid-19, but that does not mean the new tech products stop coming. If anything, the current state of the world makes the news that Microsoft dropped today that much more compelling. Microsoft’s Yusuf Mehdi announced today, via a video event, a bevy of new features and solutions and, most notably, a revamping and rebranding of its Office 365 suite with a major focus on consumers and families. Let’s take a look at what was announced.
Adieu to Office 365 consumer brand
The first consumer announcement of the day was that Office 365, Microsoft’s long-standing, signature suite of productivity tools (Word, Excel and Outlook) brand will soon be a thing of the past. In its place, its 38 million+ subscribers will find a new service known as “Microsoft” 365, which will include new family and personal plans. This consumer services bomb of an announcement drops at a fortuitous time. With more and more people relegated to working from home due to the coronavirus outbreak, the lines between work and personal continue to blur.
When Satya Nadella took the helm at Microsoft, one of his starting pitches was that “consumers and families still needed to be productive.” Think about all the work the average person does in their personal time: they manage finances, work on side hustles, pursue creative projects such as writing, and so much more. In this day and age, family and friends can be scattered across the world; how do you deepen relationships and stay in touch? Long story short, productivity and collaboration tools aren’t just for the workplace. Referred to by the company as “the subscription for your life,” this overhaul of 365 is designed around that concept. The company is building on Office by supplementing it with new AI, content and temples, and cloud-powered experiences, all of which will roll out to Microsoft’s subscribers in the coming months.
New Microsoft 365 features
Microsoft 365 will also feature some new experiences, including the entirely new Microsoft Family Safety app, which it says will help families keep each other safe across the digital and physical planes. The app, which will be available to Microsoft 365 subscribers on iOS and Android, helps parents monitor and manage kids’ screen time across Windows PCs, Android and Xbox, by setting limits to promote healthy habits, and protecting them from non-age appropriate conduct. Additionally, Microsoft Family Safety provides location sharing and notifications for when a person arrives or leaves home, school, work, and more. The app can even be used to give parents driving reports on their inexperienced teenage drivers (without the worry of the information being shared with insurance companies).
Microsoft also announced new enhancements to its immensely popular Teams offering, which is used by over 44 million people in the workplace. Now Teams is coming to your personal life as well, with features specifically designed to help maintain and deepen family and friend connections. These include the ability to organize social gatherings, plan trips, make video calls, share pictures, share passwords and account info, and more. Additionally, users can share and collaborate on grocery lists, calendars, and to-do lists (and even assign chores!). Basically, Teams seeks to be a one-stop shop for connection, organization, and collaboration between family and friends. I have seen a lot of these applications over many years I have to say this looks to be the best representation that I wish I had when my kids were younger.
The company also introduced Money in Excel for Microsoft 365 subscribers, an offering that enables users to manage, track and analyze money and spending within Excel. Essentially, it allows you to securely connect to your bank and credit card accounts to automatically important transactions and account balances. Microsoft says it can also provide personalized insights into spending habits, and immediately alert you about overdraft warnings, bank fees, price changes for recurring payments, and other events that require immediate attention.
Additionally, the company announced a significant broadening of its AI-powered Microsoft Editor service. Basically a spelling/grammar check on steroids, Microsoft Editor can now be utilized on Word and Outlook.com, and also as an Edge or Chrome standalone browser extension. Its basic spelling and grammar functions are available for free for anyone on Word, Outlook.com, and the web, while subscribers to Microsoft 365 Personal and Family receive more advanced tools for refining their writing. These advanced features include rewrite suggestions for entire sentences, a plagiarism checker, and advanced style critiques. As my business is primarily about writing I am super excited about this, particularly to see how well it works compared to Grammarly. I have been using Grammarly for years but it seems to have stagnated without any new features or improvements which has been very disappointing.
Microsoft upgraded its PowerPoint Presenter Coach for Microsoft 365 subscribers, with two new AI-powered features to assist the podium-shy. The Presenter Coach will soon be able to give real-time feedback to users on how to improve their monotone pitch. Presenter Coach will also be able to help refine users’ speech by suggesting better grammar and phrasing. If this feature works half as well as the videos highlight, this will truly be a game changer and I don't use those words lightly.
PowerPoint Designer also received some enhancements, like the ability to auto-generate slide layouts based on pictures and the ability to transform text into a nice timeline. Additionally, Microsoft 365 subscribers will now be able to access an 8,000+ pool of images and looping videos from Getty Images, as well as 2,800 new icons and 300 new fonts. Across Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, Microsoft says its 365 subscribers will gain exclusive access to over 200 premium templates to aid in design. I already use designer a lot in my hope is that it will suggest improvements for more slides as in my prior uses only certain slides showed improvement suggestions.
Microsoft Edge upgrade
In another part of Microsoft’s shift towards consumers, the company announced several new consumer services for its Edge browser. Microsoft’s new Collections feature enables users to organize web research and either export it into various files, or revisit later. Microsoft announced that Collections will be available for mobile later this spring, while Collections for desktop is now in the Insider channels and coming soon to the Stable channel. This feature was already supposed to be out but it's one of those features that have to be perfect for people to come back to so I am hopeful it will be a high quality experience.
Microsoft also announced Vertical Tabs (exactly what it sounds like) for Edge, a multi-tiered tracking prevention feature, a smart copy feature that retains formatting, images, Password Monitor (which monitors the dark web for your stolen credentials), enhancements to its InPrivate mode, a built in Immersive Reader feature geared towards those with dyslexia and other reading disabilities, Give with Bing mode (which donates rewards points to the user’s choice of charitable cause), and the ability to stream 4K video on Netflix (the only Windows 10 browser that supports this). I am super excited about Password Monitor.
I switched from Chrome to the new edge months ago and I never looked back. I recommend you give it a try.
Microsoft’s events are always so chock full of upgrades and enhancements that it can sometimes be overwhelming to digest it all. The long and short of it is, is that Microsoft’s consumer overhaul and reintroduction of its Office 365 offering as Microsoft 365 represents the company’s continued efforts to not just occupy, but be the go-to provider of productivity tools that cover the ongoing blurring between work and personal lives. It’s a smart move that I think is a great testament to Nadella’s leadership and vision.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.