Microsoft is making some big changes to its Office software Monday, with the announcement that the company is changing the suite’s name and adding major chat features for the average consumer. The changes come at a time when such apps are more important than ever as the coronavirus outbreak forces people to remain in their homes and away from family and friends.
Starting April 21, Office 365 will be called Microsoft 365, a move that illustrates the company’s desire to shed the stuffy image of the Office branding, and position it as a people first suite of apps.
And the most significant change in that respect is the inclusion of Microsoft’s (MSFT) Teams software for everyday consumers. Until now, Teams has been primarily designed as a communication app for large and small organizations, similar to Slack (WORK).
Pricing for the service will remain the same: $6.99 a month for a single subscription, and $9.99 for a family subscription for up to 6 people.
Teams for everyone
Teams has seen significant growth over the last year, with Microsoft announcing the app had exploded in popularity from 20 million business users in November to 44 million in April. Part of that bump, about 12 million users, joined the service between March 11 and March 18 as more people around the world began working from home due to coronavirus lockdowns.
Microsoft’s move to bring more functionality to its productivity suite of apps comes as the company’s software is forced to contend with ever more rivals from across the spectrum ranging from Google (GOOG, GOOGL) to Slack.
Those rivals, like Microsoft, have seen similar increases in use as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Liat Ben-Zur, Microsoft CVP of consumer and Edge and Bing marketing, told Yahoo Finance that the company’s decision to make Teams more broadly available came after consumers said they wanted a single app to be able to chat with family and friends, make plans, access their calendars, and share files rather than dealing with multiple disparate apps.
Ben-Zur gave the example of a family planning a reunion using the app, getting notifications when guests left the airport, putting together to-do lists, and sharing flight information and photos with the entire planning group.
It’s got the makings of an incredibly helpful app for ensuring you and your family are all on the same page when it comes to planning and sharing get-togethers and major life events.
AI, Money, and more
Outside of the inclusion of Teams for consumers, Microsoft is bringing a number of other changes to its suite of apps. The company says that it will drastically expand its AI-powered Editor feature in Microsoft 365.
Editor is a built-in piece of software that can help improve your writing by offering suggestions to literally rewrite text to make it sound more concise (so much for my job). There’s also a plagiarism check that will determine if what you’ve written is too close to comfort to what’s already out there, and a feature that eliminates potential bias by, for example, changing the world policeman to police officer.
PowerPoint also gets an AI upgrade with a feature that listens to your voice before you give a presentation and can offer suggestions for how to adjust the pitch to ensure you don’t sound monotone and inadvertently put the room to sleep.
Then there’s the new Money feature coming to Excel. A means to track your spending in the spreadsheet app, Money will allow you to import your financial data from participating banks and credit unions, and provide you with information including how much you spend on certain categories like groceries, and whether recurring payments for services have increased.
Finally, Microsoft 365 will now include a new Family Safety app. The service, which will be available on both iOS and Android for Microsoft 365 subscribers, will let you track where your kids are via geofencing features that alert you when your child enters or leaves a tagged area such as their school or playground.
You’ll also be able to see what apps your kids and family members are using and limit their time in those apps, though that feature will only be available to Android and Windows users, not in iOS.
Office was increasingly looking like a stale work only app, while Slack and its ilk provided a hipper, more personalized way of working and collaborating. With this update, Microsoft appears to want to make what it now calls Microsoft 365 far more consumer friendly, which could help pull users away from Google and Slack.
We’ll have to wait until April 21, when the service is available to everyone, before we can tell if it works.
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