Microsoft has given its suite of Office applications a major update and I’m worried because they actually seem useful for regular people. Raise your hand if you’ve ever tracked your monthly budget by copy and pasting your bank account transactions into Excel. Raise your hand if you hate typing formulas into Excel. Or raise it if you wish Word be as good as Grammarly or if Outlook was a little more like Google Calendar.
Today, Microsoft announced that starting Tuesday, April 21, Office 365 Home and Office 365 Personal subscriptions will be renamed to Microsoft 365 Family and Microsoft 365 Personal, respectively, for the same monthly subscription price: $US7 ($11) a month for the personal tier and $US10 ($16) a month for the family tier. If you’re a current subscriber, your account will automatically roll over on April 21, and you’ll have access to all the new features. There will also be major changes to its Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook applications that should hopefully make them equally as friendly for personal and family use as they are for work. Two new applications will be available later this year as well: Family Safety and Teams for Consumers.
But first, let’s talk about Excel, because it’s not often a person gets excited about spreadsheet software but here I am. It’s mainly down to Money, an Excel feature that supposedly connects to any or all of your online bank and credit card accounts, and import your transaction history into an auto-organised spreadsheet—from any of 10,000 supported banking institutions. From that data, you can generate “monthly snapshots” (complete with pie charts) of your spending habits. Think of it like Mint or another personal finance tracking service, but built into your Microsoft subscription. Money isn’t available right now in Excel, but it will be in the coming months in the U.S. first, and hopefully will not involve you handing Microsoft all of you’re financial data.
Microsoft has attempted to make Excel more friendly to non-business users in other ways too. It will now have over 100 new data types which include “food, movies, places, chemistry, and even Pokémon.” If you type ‘Pikachu,’ into a cell, this new feature will auto-generate Pikachu’s stats, like strengths and weaknesses, into a chart. Essentially, Excel will be able to extrapolate data in real-time from the internet into what Microsoft calls a smart template. These two features will be available to Office Insiders this spring and to Microsoft 365 Personal and Family subscribers in the U.S. in the coming months.
Moving on to Word, Microsoft (finally) added the ability to give you comprehensive edits on whatever you write, similar to the way Grammarly works. Now called Microsoft Editor, it offers suggestions beyond simple spelling and grammar corrections: acronyms, clarity, formality, and even inclusiveness. For instance, if you write ‘mailman,’ it should suggest something like ‘mail carrier.’ Microsoft claims it even offers rewrite suggestions of entire sentences. I doubt it will be helpful with purposeful misspellings, unique syntax, and non-standard grammar, but for getting rid of excess ‘verys’ and ‘justs?’ Sure.
There’s also a “similarity checker,” which will tell you if your text is too close to your source material and help you cite your sources correctly. Editor will also be available in Outlook and as a stand-alone browser extension for Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome, too. According to Microsoft, the new Editor will start rolling out today, with general availability by the end of April. You will have to manually download the browser extension, though.
Other new features to Microsoft’s fleet of apps include a “Presenter Coach” in PowerPoint that will tell you if you are talking too slow, too fast, too monotone, or using too many ums. PowerPoint will also receive a new template option called “Design Ideas” that can take the information on a current slide and format it into a pre-made layout. Some of those layouts also have animated backgrounds. “We’re providing Microsoft 365 subscribers with exclusive access to over 8,000 beautiful images and 175 looping videos from Getty Images, plus 300 new fonts and 2,800 new icons to create high-impact and visually appealing documents. And you can use all this new content in Word and Excel too,” says Microsoft in the blog announcing all the new features.
In Outlook, Microsoft is adding the ability to link your personal calendar to your work calendar—something that Google has had for a while—but with Google’s calendar you have to manually give access for someone to see your personal calendar. And even then they can see every detail you include in those personal appointments. The new outlook feature allows you to “show your real availability in your work account, while still maintaining privacy around the details of personal appointments and business meetings.”
The Edge browser is also getting some new features, including Collections, Vertical Tabs, and Smart Copy.
Microsoft’s new apps, Family Safety and Teams for Consumers, which are rolling out later this year, introduce a host of new features to help parents manage their kids’ screen time, and organise trips and other activities with family members. The Family Safety app is something that my parents probably wish they had back when I was in high school. It lets parents set time limits across all the devices their kids use (PC, Xbox, phone, etc.), set alerts when family members arrive/leave their current location, the number of times they pick up their phone while driving and the average driving speed, as well as set age limits so they can only download specific apps, games, etc. as parents deem appropriate for their kids. Microsoft also says it will not share data with your car insurance company.
If all this sounds like an invasion of your privacy, don’t worry—Microsoft says you will have access to your own stats and will be able to opt out of sharing that information with your parents—if your parents say that’s ok. A limited preview of the app across iOS and Android will be available in the coming months.
Finally, to hop on the new trend of group video calls, Microsoft is rolling out a consumer version of its Teams app, called…Teams for Consumers. Teams is Microsoft’s attempt to take on Slack, and the version for consumers it’ll do the same, allowing you to chat in groups, make video calls, share stuff and assign tasks…to you family? A roommate who won’t clean the dishes? Unsuspecting friends who download Teams for Consumers because you beg them too? Who knows, but whomever its for, Teams for Consumers will be coming in preview to the Microsoft Teams mobile app in the coming months.